Hospitals worldwide were overwhelmed by the abrupt onslaught of COVID-19 in March 2020; contingency planning, preparations, and provisions were often inadequate. And nursing programs came to a sudden halt at a time when healthcare workers were needed most. Nurses, being at the frontlines of this battle, have a high risk of exposure to the virus due to the nature of their work. As a result, they are at an increased risk for long-term mental health issues as well as illness, isolation, and death. Ethical dilemmas surround the duty to treat vs. duty to self and family. Nursing students were caught amid this chaos, many initially anxious to go to hospitals to help, but also sometimes suffering extreme anxiety themselves due to the evolving dangerous situation, along with the uncertainty of their being able to graduate. By early March 2020, the California Nurses Association was already decrying the lack of personal protective equipment [PPE] and the mistreatment of nurses.
Nursing students were assigned to write a paper on ethical and legal issues related to COVID-19 and the nurses' duty to treat. Topics raised by students included the inadequate preparation of the U.S., the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, mental health concerns, communication issues, relevant laws, and the need for public policies to protect nurses as well as the public. This article explores the issues surrounding duty to treat and some solutions to assist nurses in making difficult decisions during such times. Minimizing nurses' risk during pandemics includes adequate personal protective equipment, staffing, and training. Focus is given to the students’ perspectives. The category of the article is a regular paper.