The results of the 2022 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics are in, and nurses are once again at the top of the list! Nurses have earned this honor 21 years in a row.
In the poll, 79% of Americans who participated in the survey rated nurse honesty and ethics as very high or high. The 2022 rating is two percentage points lower than the 2021 poll and 10 percentage points lower than the 2020 poll, when nurses were on the front lines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, nurses still far surpassed the professions — medical doctors (62%) and pharmacists (58%) — ranked second and third, respectively.
“Patients trust nurses to be empathetic and provide safe, effective care when they are in their most vulnerable state,” said Felicia Sadler, MJ, BSN, RN, CPHQ, LSSBB, Partner in Acute Solutions at Relias. “This level of trust fosters a strengthened bond of mutual respect that leads to a positive patient experience and overall improvement in well-being and clinical outcomes.”
Gallup has measured the public’s views of professionals’ honesty and ethics since 1976, and over the years, nurses have maintained the public’s trust. With the exception of one year — in 2001 when firefighters topped the list after 9/11 — nursing has outpaced all other professions since it was added as a category more than two decades ago. The latest results are based on a Gallup poll conducted from November 9, 2022, to December 2, 2022.
Ethical practice isn’t just lip service. Treating patients with compassion and respect has always been part of nurses’ creed.
“The Code of Ethics [for Nurses] helps nurses by giving them structure as to how to own their accountability and their responsibilities within their nursing practice and help make those decisions based on what would be providing the most optimal care for the patient,” said Emily Emma, DNP, RN-BC, NEA-BC, the director for Magnet and professional practice at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Hospital, in a Nurse.com blog. “Having ethical principles in nursing really guides the nurse to make the best, most moral decision on behalf of themselves as practitioners and for the patients.”
2022 marked by old and new challenges
By 2022 the COVID-19 pandemic had wound down from a full-blown global outbreak to an ongoing pandemic — one where risks, symptoms, and impact were better understood by healthcare professionals, researchers, and the public — but it was far from over. Nurses continued to care for patients with COVID-19 and address the fears that come with the diagnosis.
The pandemic also exacerbated the challenges nurses already faced before COVID-19 and created new ones. Some of the biggest challenges for nurses in 2022 included:
- Nurse burnout and moral injury
- Inadequate staffing
- Workplace safety
“Most nurses go into the profession with the highest of hopes that they will be able to provide excellent patient care and improve outcomes,” shared Cara Lunsford, Vice President for Community for Relias and Nurse.com.
Lunsford said that nurses don’t seek out the profession for the prestige that may come with climbing a professional ladder. “They do it because they have a genuine passion to provide great care,” she said. “Understaffed and unsafe work environments make it impossible for nurses to do the work they signed up to do. My biggest concern in the coming years is that the public will not understand why the quality of care is suffering and why nurses are striking.”
Nurse burnout and moral injury – According to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety, “Burnout is a public health crisis that impacts one in three registered nurses in the United States and the safe provision of patient care.” Moral injury, often described as emanating from fear — fear of not being able to protect oneself, one’s patients, and even one’s family — is a root cause of nurse burnout.
Nurses are at higher risk for burnout and moral injury due to the demands of their jobs than the general population, which puts them at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, trauma-like symptoms, relational problems, and suicide, said Relias Senior Clinical Effectiveness Consultant Rola Aamar, PhD, in the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report by Nurse.com.
Inadequate staffing — Staffing shortcomings have nurses questioning their career choice. According to a Nurse.com blog, a McKinsey study found nearly one-third of nurses said they’re considering leaving their direct patient care role. The biggest factor driving this decision was insufficient staffing levels and concerns over unsafe nursing ratios.
Workplace safety — Whether the setting is a hospital med-surg unit, a busy ER, or patients’ homes, ensuring safety for nurses continues to be a problem in dire need of a solution. A National Nurses United survey found that 48% of hospital nurses reported seeing an increase in acts of violence.
Despite these challenges, nurses continue to put patients first. “Right now, acute and critical care nurses are struggling to uphold our promise to patients due to unhealthy work environments and a lack of appropriate staffing,” said Amanda Bettencourt, PhD, APRN, CCRN-K, ACCNS-P, president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. “To know that the public sees us and appreciates our work at a time like this is priceless. We do what we do because of a deep commitment to providing quality, patient and family-centered care to all those we serve.”
Why they became nurses
Often, nurses join the profession because of a dream to help others or to “pay it forward.” For some nurses, the dream can be traced to childhood. “I had known I wanted to be a nurse since I was a child. I used to wrap my stuffed animals, friends, and family in bandages and always tried to help others,” said Melanie Anon, RN, in a Nurse.com blog.
Some nurses completely change career direction after witnessing a nurse in action. Maria E. Vanhart, RN, for instance, had planned to get a degree in musical theatre and dance. As a teenager, watching how nurses cared for her mother in the ICU, altered her path.
“Sometimes I wish I had followed my dreams of touring the world singing and dancing and signing autographs,” she said in a Nurse.com blog. “Then I think about being able to save lives and all the people whom I have cared for while they fought through the darkest times in their lives. I have lived a blessed life and I’ve been fortunate to use my skills and compassion to help strangers suffer just a little less.”
Over the years, nurses have been at the forefront of stories that illustrate not only their honesty and ethics, but their compassion. The public has often witnessed firsthand nurses’ work before, during, and after natural disasters strike, in the aftermath of mass shootings, and other extreme scenarios.
And 2022 was no different. Their work throughout the year demonstrated the burden they have chosen to carry is heavy, and the public is thankful.
“The public’s positive perception of us is one of the things that keeps us going, especially in these very difficult times,” said Lunsford.
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