Ethical dilemmas, perceived risk, and motivation among nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Background: Positioned at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 disease, nurses are at increased risk of contraction, yet as they feel obligated to provide care, they also experience ethical pressure. Research question and objectives: The study examined how Israeli nurses respond to ethical dilemmas and tension during the COVID-19 outbreak, and to what extent this is associated with their perceived risk and motivation to provide care? Research design: The study implemented a descriptive correlative study using a 53-section online questionnaire, including 4 open-ended questions. Participants and research context: The questionnaire was complete by 231 registered and intern nurses after being posted on nurses’ Facebook and WhatsApp groups, and through snowball sampling. Ethical considerations: The research was pre-approved by the ethics committee of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at the University of Haifa, Israel. Findings: In all, 68.8% of the respondents had received some form of training about COVID-19. Respondents positioned themselves at perceived high risk levels for contracting the virus. About one-third feared going to work because of potential contraction and due to feeling inadequately protected. While 40.9% were scared to care for COVID-19 patients, 74.7% did not believe they have the right to refuse to treat certain patients. When asked about defining an age limit for providing patients with scarce resources (such as ventilation machines) in cases of insufficient supplies, respondents stated that the maximum age in such scenarios should be 84 (standard deviation (SD = 19) – yet most respondents (81.4%) believed that every patient has the right to receive optimal treatment, regardless of their age and medical background. Discussion: Correlating with their strong commitment to care, nurses did not convey intention to leave the profession despite their stress, perceived risk, and feelings of insufficient support and protection at work. The nurses did not hold a utilitarian approach to resource allocation, thereby acknowledging the value of all people and their entitlement to care, regardless of optimal outcomes. Conclusion: While experiencing significant personal risk and emotional burden, nurses conveyed strong dedication to providing care, and did not regret working in the nursing profession, yet they did seek a supportive climate for their needs and ethical concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-22
Number of pages14
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Allocation of scarce medical resources
  • COVID-19
  • duty of care
  • ethical dilemmas
  • motivation
  • risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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