Most people have established, throughout their lifetime, their own set of principles or values that drive their ethical behavior. Benjamin Franklin included in his list of virtues such things as cleanliness, silence, and industry. In today’s world, we don’t think of these things as virtues; they are assumed by many people to be a part of everyday life.
One should not perform an action which might threaten the dignity and welfare of another individual.
However, in today’s fast-paced healthcare environment, it is important to slow down enough to consider some of the most respected virtues. Some of these virtues include beneficence, empathy, fidelity, gentleness, holistic, humility, justice, perseverance, responsibility, sanctity of life, tolerance, and work.
· Beneficence—The action of helping others and performing actions that would result in benefit to another person. It cautions all those working in the healthcare field to do no harm to anyone. In fact, when we prevent harmful actions from happening to our patients, we are using this virtue to its fullest extent ( Figure 1.1 ).
· Empathy—An objective awareness of the feelings, emotions, and behavior of another person. (Also called compassion.)
· Fidelity—Loyalty and faithfulness to others. Fidelity implies that we will perform our duty. We must use caution when practicing fidelity. A strict adherence to a sense of duty or loyalty to an employer does not mean that we must perform actions that are wrong or harmful to our patients.
· Gentleness—A mild, tenderhearted approach to other people. Gentleness goes beyond compassion since it can exist in the absence of a person’s pain and suffering. A gentle approach to patient care is considered by patients to be one of the most welcome virtues. Both men and women have the ability to demonstrate gentleness.
Figure 1.1 Beneficence: Helping Others
· Holistic—A comprehensive total care approach to a patient including physical, emotional, and spiritual.
· Humility—Acquiring an unpretentious and humble manner. Humility is considered to be the opposite of vanity. It has been said, “honesty and humility are sisters.” This means that to be truly humble, we must be entirely honest with ourselves. Humility requires that we recognize our own limits. Vanity and a sense of self-importance have no place in medicine. When mistakes are made, they must be reported so that corrections can take place. It takes a humble—and honest—person to admit mistakes.
· Justice—Fairness in all our actions with other people. It means that we must carefully analyze how to balance our behavior and be fair to all. Justice implies that the same rules will apply to everyone. This means that as healthcare workers we cannot demonstrate favoritism with our patients or our coworkers. The four cardinal virtues are justice, temperance, prudence, and courage. Of these four, only justice is considered to be an absolute good. To emphasize this point, the philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “If legal justice perishes, then it is no longer worthwhile for men to remain alive on this earth.”
· Perseverance—Persisting with a task or idea even against obstacles. This virtue implies a steady determination to get the job done. For example, it takes perseverance to complete one’s education. This is an outstanding virtue for a healthcare worker to have. It implies that one will finish the job even if it is difficult.
· Responsibility—A sense of accountability for one’s actions. Responsibility implies dependability. A sense of responsibility can become weakened when one is faced with peer pressure. Medical professionals must be able to “answer” or be accountable for their actions. Taking responsibility is a sign of maturity.
· Sanctity of life—The sacredness of human life. All human beings must be protected. This means that we may have to become an advocate for people who cannot speak out for themselves, such as children and many elderly.
· Tolerance—A respect for those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, and nationality differ from our own. Tolerance requires a fair and objective attitude toward opinions and practices with which we may or may not agree.
· Work—An effort applied toward some end goal. Work, if performed well, is clearly a virtue that almost everyone enters into at one time or another. In its broadest sense, work is part of our everyday existence that includes activities such as studying, child rearing, home maintenance, gardening, hobbies, and religious activities. The work we do to earn a living can be performed with pride or can be performed poorly and grudgingly. The most satisfying work involves achieving a goal that we believe is worthwhile and worthy of our talent.
Not all patients are easy to care for. Many patients do not feel well, or may be saddened by a diagnosis. All patients have a right to our respect and understanding.