For this week’s blog post, I will be deconstructing the case and situation surrounding Doyle Byrnes, a nursing student who in 2010 was removed from her undergraduate program after taking a picture with a human placenta and posting it to Facebook.
Doyle Byrnes was examining and dissecting a human placenta with several classmates. The young ladies asked their clinical instructor if they could take photos of the placenta, and they explicitly said that they wanted to post on Facebook to show their friends and families. The clinical instructor gave permission, on the condition that no patient identifiers could be seen. Byrnes, as well as 3 other classmates, took pictures with the placenta and posted to Facebook. The following day, all 4 students were reprimanded by the Director of Nursing at their school, and dismissed from their program. Ultimately, this case went to court, with a judge ruling that while in violation of the school’s policy on professionalism, patient confidentiality was not compromised, and all 4 students were permitted to return to their program.
The way I see this scenario is two-fold.
On one hand,
Doyle Byrnes and classmates did not violate patient confidentiality.
Confidentiality is defined as being kept private or secret (merriam-webster.com, 2019). As no factors existed in which the patient could be identified, it stands to reason that Byrnes and colleagues did not compromise the confidentiality of said patient, and I believe that the judge ruled rightly in this regard.
On the other hand,
Doyle Byrnes and classmates absolutely, without a doubt, destroyed any semblance of professionalism that any of them once had by taking pictures and posting them to Facebook.
The College of Nurses of Ontario Code of Conduct Practice Standard (2019) outlines the accountabilities that all Ontario nurses have to the public. Of the 6 principles, one stands out as fitting this case in particular. The sixth principle states that nurses have a duty to maintain public confidence in the nursing profession (2019). That is to say that individual nurses must conduct themselves in a manner which promotes the public to trust the profession as a whole. By engaging in this act, all 4 students jeoparized the public’s trust in the profession. There can be countless patients who’s confidence in nurses to provide confidential and ethical care may have been irreparably damaged; the numbers are impossible to know.
Further to this point, these students not only let down the public, but the profession itself. The College of Nurses of Ontario Ethics Practice Standard (2019) addresses the commitment of each nurse to the nursing profession. Upholding the standards for the nursing profession and acting in a way that reflects well on the profession are at the core of this ethical value (CNO, 2019). Indeed, these 4 students let down the profession.
As a nursing student, with all the excitement and discovery that happens on an almost-daily basis, it is understandable to want to share these experiences with those close to you. However, as professionals of privilege, nurses and students alike must ensure that their actions can in no way damage their credibility or the public’s view of the profession. It is unfortunate that these young ladies failed to see this, and that their instructor did not guide them accordingly.
Code of Conduct. (2019). The College of Nurses of Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.cno.org/globalassets/docs/prac/49040_code-of-conduct.pdf
Confidentiality. (2019). Merriam-Webster, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/confidentiality
Ethics. (2019). The College of Nurses of Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.cno.org/globalassets/docs/prac/41034_ethics.pdf