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Keywords:

  • moral dilemma;
  • ethic of care;
  • justice;
  • educational reforms

Abstract

Nurse educators, like many of their health care professional colleagues, frequently face moral dilemmas when they identify a student as presenting an unacceptable risk to public safety. In this situation, the statutory requirement of nurse educators to protect the public, under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act (2003), competes with the rights of the student to receive education under the Education Act (1989). Using the different moral voices of justice and care, identified by Gilligan (1982), this moral dilemma is examined within the context of one school of nursing in a New Zealand tertiary education organisation.

Overall, the justice voice dominated within the tertiary education organisation. Academic committees, and appeal panels, operating within the educational statutory framework, used democratic processes to reach decisions. The individual committee members, acting as autonomous moral agents, made decisions using universal principles and abstract moral reasoning. The focus was on individual rights, natural justice and due process. Nurse educators articulated both justice and care moral voices. Those with care voices described how they agonised between their duty to protect the public, and their wish to facilitate students, with whom they had built relationships, to succeed. The education management process did not acknowledge the statutory obligations of nurse educators, as registered nurses, or the implications of this within the education context. The moral dilemmas were either ignored, or rendered invisible. As a result of this, nurse educators engaged in various survival strategies, and the broader educational context remained intact and unchallenged.