The concept of integrity is a difficult one to define, especially in medicine. As nurses, we have a duty to act ethically according to our professional duties, but where does that meet with our personal integrity? Or does our personal life need to stay completely out of our professional dealings?
There are a lot of questions surrounding this concept, and you’ve likely had a few of these questions cross your mind once or twice. Let’s take a deeper look at just what integrity in nursing means and how you can practice it each day.
What is Integrity?
The dictionary definition of integrity is: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” A lesser-known definition is: “the state of being whole and undivided.” Both of these are suitable definitions that are applicable to the nursing world.
At its very heart, integrity insists that we act according to the values upheld by the nursing profession. It is entirely possible to have personal integrity in accordance with your own personal morals and values, especially as they relate to your own religious or spiritual leanings, that might differ from the integrity expected of you as a nurse. If we look at the second definition of integrity above, we want to maintain a state of actions that are undivided from our beliefs. As nurses, we take on the beliefs and values as set out by regulatory organizations and must act accordingly, to keep the foundation of our profession “whole and undivided.” In our personal lives, we do the same, though these actions may look different.
It is important to note that integrity relates more closely to the reasoning behind our actions, and not necessarily the actions themselves. In other words, intent matters.
The Benefits of Having Integrity
At the core of the concept, having integrity means that you are truthful and honest in your intent. This means that whether you are alone or surrounded by people, your actions will be the same. It doesn’t matter if people are watching; you will do the right thing regardless. Even when people expect you to be dishonest or encourage silence when saying something could get you in trouble, if it is the right thing to do, you will speak.
The great thing about this is that having a personal policy to always do the right thing means that you are dependable and trustworthy. Even in situations where someone else might get reprimanded because you spoke the truth, you will still be respected as a person that will do the right thing. For employers and managers, this is an unbeatable trait in a person that they might want to hire or promote.
Another benefit of showing integrity is that people are more willing to forgive minor missteps on your part. If you have shown consistently that you always try to do the right thing and then make a mistake, your coworkers will understand that it was not your intention to hurt anyone or cause problems. Because of your longstanding reputation as someone who does the right thing, even when things go a bit wrong, you’ll receive the benefit of the doubt.
How Can I Practice Integrity at Work?
You might have a very clear vision of what integrity means in your personal life. It could mean doing household chores without being asked or always giving your friends an honest, yet tactful, answer when they ask a question. But how does one practice integrity as a nurse? Here are some ideas to consider:
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Say what you mean. At a busy hospital, there’s no time to mince words, so it’s especially important that you are able to say exactly what you mean. Leaving room for interpretation could potentially allow others to misunderstand you and form incorrect opinions or ideas. If it helps, ask your listener to repeat what you said in their own words to check for understanding.
Mean what you say. On the other side of the coin, make sure that you follow up with things that you say you’ll do. If you make a promise, keep it. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to keep a promise, don’t make it! Instead, let the other person know you’ll do your best to follow through but that you can’t make any promises. This way, people will know that when you say “I promise” that you really mean it.
Be open with praise. Let others know when you appreciate their hard work. Recognizing the efforts of others goes a long way. If you do this consistently, even if you don’t necessarily get along with the other person, they will at least know that you are fair in appreciating hard work, regardless of who does it.