By Catherine Robichaux PhD, RN, CNS


Recently, during a discussion on conflict engagement, I asked a group of new nursing graduates what is meant by the term, “moral environment”. From among the mostly perplexed looks, one responded “It has to do with ethics and patients and families”. While this observation is true, the concept also includes our relationships with co-workers as stated in the Code of Ethics for Nurses (currently under revision): “The nurse is responsible for contributing to a moral environment that encourages respectful interactions with colleagues, support of peers, and identification of issues that need to be addressed”.  Such issues may not always be high stakes “quandary” cases but the everyday ethical concerns that often involve interdisciplinary conflicts or system problems. Bioethics committees tend to address the former while the latter remain unrecognized and unresolved, diminishing the organization’s ethical climate.


Olson has described an ethical climate as “the organizational conditions and practices in which problems with ethical implications are identified, discussed, and decided.”


These organizational conditions and practices can constrain or shape ethical dialogue and practice,  thus privileging whose voices are heard.


How do you contribute to a moral environment? How would you rate or assess the ethical climate in your workplace?


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Catherine Robichaux PhD, RN, CNS, Alumnus CCRN Assistant Professor, Adjunct Department of Health Restoration and Care Systems Management The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, Texas

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2 Responses to “Moral Environments and Ethical Climates”

  1. Kathleen K Walsh says:

    Ethical climate is certainly important, and in many ways is inseparable from the overall organizational climate. If collaborative interprofessional dialogue is the norm, the ethical climate is a part of that. The high stakes cases will benefit from an open, transparent atmosphere where interprofessional conversations about moral issues are frequent and respectful. The converse is true as well. Each of us is obligated to create that environment in our own ways. The Ethics Committee where I practice is focused on this, even if it does not appear directly as an agenda item. Our focus is education and open dialogue.

  2. Douglas Houghton, MSN, ACNPC, FAANP says:

    Dr. Robichaux raises an important topic for discussion. The ethical culture or climate of a unit or institution can strongly affect how care is delivered, how problems are solved, and how much moral distress is experienced by staff. Changing a culture is rarely easy, but one strategy that can contribute to improving the ethical climate is the provision of education in ethics for nursing and medical staff. This knowledge often opens eyes and minds, which is is the first step toward positive change.
    An immediate contributor to a positive moral/ethical climate that each of us can control is through consistently honoring our words. If I commit to something, whether to a patient, family member, or another staff member, I improve the ethical climate through honoring that commitment. Personal accountability is a great first step that breeds trust.

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