How many of you spent time during your RT education considering the ethical issues you might face in your practice? Chances are your answer will depend on how long you’ve been in the game. Currently, most RT educational programs provide their students with at least some opportunity to discuss ethical issues in healthcare and how those dilemmas might be managed. But if you’re like me and have been an RT for a very l-o-n-g time, you probably spent little or no time discussing ethics when you were in school. I personally don’t remember it being mentioned even once. I imagine it was simply assumed that RT’s don’t face ethical issues in the same way as say physicians or nurses do. Every day, in every health care organization, RTs face numerous ethical challenges – some that they (veterans and rookies alike) are ill prepared to deal with.
What I have observed both from clinical practice and from a regulatory perspective is that newer and more seasoned RTs tend to experience different ethical predicaments. Let’s say you are the new grad and you observe a patient being pressured into undergoing a treatment plan that they clearly don’t want. Or perhaps you feel that, in order to keep your job, you need to do things that are not necessarily in the best interest of your patients. You know in your gut that you should speak up, but that’s easier said than done when you are still trying to get your feet underneath you or don’t have any other immediate employment opportunities. And so you stand by, say nothing and let it happen.
Most RTs who have been practising for a period of time usually have no problem speaking their mind; however, they can find themselves falling down very different ethical holes. Too many patients, not enough time and too little organizational support and over time it can seem like ethics is something they only have time think about when everything else gets done – or maybe they feel it’s someone else’s job.
RTs work at the leading edge of technology that can keep people alive – even beyond what they may feel is in the patient’s best interest. And yet these ethical considerations remain the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, failing to recognize the role that ethics plays in RT practice can result in disengagement, demoralization in some cases suboptimal patient care – and ultimately – burn out. We need to have an ongoing and open conversation about the ethical issues that all RTs face, the moral distress these issues can cause and the impact it can have on patient care.