The Ethical Dilemma: Secular Healthcare

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Secular Healthcare: I am a nursing student, about to graduate, and it’s time to apply for jobs. I have done so, but as of yet I have not applied to a Catholic Health Initiatives provider, though people in my program get hiring preference from this hospital.

My problem is that I believe, strongly, that healthcare should be secular. I wholly respect and would affirm a patient’s faith, but I am torn about working for an employer who may insert their dogma into the care of a patient in a way the patient or family does not want. This provides me a serious moral and ethical dilemma, and I am unsure whether I could restrict care based on a hospital employer’s religious doctrine.

I would appreciate just some honest and balanced discussion so I know I’ve considered everything appropriately.

—Providing Healthcare, Not Dogma

Dear Provider,

Congratulations on pursuing such an important profession and for entering the field armed with such an astute perspective on the kind of care you are committed to providing.

I’ve heard both that nurses are in incredible demand, and that nursing positions are impossible to find—so I suspect it all depends on what you want, where you are, what credentials you have, etc. Bear in mind that your first job will probably not be your last job. Sometimes people need to begin with a less-than-perfect position and work their way toward something closer to ideal. If the only or best position you can find is with a Catholic hospital, go for it and update your resume with that experience to better qualify you for the next opportunity. Once you are on the job, you will know first-hand to what extent religious dogma is applied to patient care. I expect you will not be doing any abortions or vasectomies or tubal ligations in any Catholic hospital, but there may be hospital-to-hospital variation on how far Catholic restrictions affect other areas, such as end-of-life care.

That said, it would be much better if you could find a job in a secular hospital, where you wouldn’t be bumping up against religious regulations you probably would have no power to change, and where your career might suffer if anyone realized you were not with the program.

It would be constructive if Catholic hospitals began to recognize that they can’t get some of the best people to work for them, or stay with them—or patients to come to them—due to their restrictions. Then maybe they would “divine” some loophole that allowed them to relax their rules. Cluing them in may be appropriate on an exit interview from a Catholic hospital when you’re leaving for a secular post, but never burn bridges in the event that you may need to return—perhaps at a higher level where you might be able to affect policy.

So see where your job search leads you. Even if you widen your net to include Catholic institutions and one catches you, you can be a positive force for patient care and patient rights no matter where you go.