Maintaining Dignity in Healthcare

Maintaining Dignity in Healthcare



I was working in a nursing home as a student nurse under the supervision of my mentor where I was assigned to Mr. Jeff (not his real name), to assist with a dressing his wound in his private parts. The wound had resulted from a vasectomy surgery.  Mr. Jeff was feeling distraught about the wound and for some time now he had lost his dignity. With the help of the mentor, we reassured Mr. Jeff that all would be well and the wound heals with time, and that it should not interfere with how he felt about himself. We cleansed our hands with the antiseptic gel every time we attended to this patient. We also used sterilized items such as scalpels, needles, and clean bandages to prevent cross contaminating the patient with illnesses from other patients. At various instances, we enquired from Mr. Jeff what it is that he would like to be improved during the dressing. The mentor and I ensured that Mr. Jeff’s wound was dressed in privacy to avoid other patients preying their eyes. Lack of privacy would have adversely affected Mr. Jeff’s dignity and it is the duty of the health attendants to maintain the same. I took the time to explain the procedure of wound dressing to Mr. Jeff prior to the process, in order to make the patient feel comfortable. Mr. Jeff felt that he had lost all his dignity and was therefore not of the feeling that his family could be part of his healing process. It was my duty to encourage family participation in the healing process to help restore the patient’s dignity.


I was hoping that all would go well with the patient and before we embarked on our activity of dressing the wound. During the process, my mentor helped me a lot in maintaining dignity while I dressed Mr. Jeff’s wound. Mr. Jeff’s dignity was in no way compromised during the event. Instead, his dignity was restored in areas where he had lost due to the placement of the wound and loss of self value.

Later I told my mentor about the whole procedure and together we had a talk with the doctor who had been treating the patient on the same issue. The doctor further emphasised on the importance of maintaining patient dignity in healthcare.


In my opinion the dressing procedure went well and the patient was treated as they deserved. The doctor, my mentor and I ensured the patient's privacy which helped maintain his dignity. We also ensured that the patient felt that the procedure was not just about dressing the wound but also ensuring that his family could be part of the healing process. We did the best we could to help maintain Mr. Jeff’s dignity by reassuring him that the wound being in his private parts was normal and that is was not something to be ashamed of. This action helped to reassure Mr. Jeff that all would be well. It also helped him to realise his self worth again.


Most of the people working in the healthcare department are driven by passion. They are willing at heart to help the sick and be with the patients and their families in the road to recovery. Health attendants range from doctors, nurses, clinical officers, public health officers, those working at the help desk, cooks, cleaners, and many others. Although these attendants are lead by passion, some shortcomings in the health department such as work related pressures, ‘systemic issues and complexities’ may arise thus interfering with the care given to patients (Approach, n.d.). Such challenges may lead the health attendant into acting in such a way that the patients lose their dignity. Patients and their families look up to the healthcare givers for more than just body healing, they want to see a positive reflection of them (Approach, n.d.). It is therefore, important for the medical personnel to appreciate the patient wholly so as to help create and sustain their dignity.

All patients are worth of honor and respect despite the kind of illness they may be suffering from (Kennedy, 2016). In our case, one might treat Mr. Jeff with disrespect owing to the fact that the wound is on his private part. Such an action will cost the dignity of the patient. Communication, listening, and involving patient in the decision making process are ways of helping maintain dignity in healthcare (Keneddy, 2016). When the patient is involved in decision making they gain confidence with the care giver and they are open to options. Mr. Jeff felt that I was not only concerned with dressing the wound but also on his whole well-being. 

A person’s dignity can be affected by various factors while they are dealing with a medical condition. The medical personnel should be aware of these issues so as to handle the patient accordingly. The illness can make the patient lose independence, lead to undesired symptoms and overwhelming anxiety (Approach, n.d.). Some illnesses such as the one Mr. Jeff was suffering from could lead to overwhelming anxiety and if the care giver is not careful with the patient, he might end up losing his dignity. Another thing that could affect the patient’s dignity either positively or negatively is the person’s own approaches and perspectives (Approach, n.d.). The way the patient is treated by other people and the care givers helps create or break their dignity. I talked with the family of Mr. Jeff so as to embrace him and not dwell so much on his illness. The patient’s dignity was greatly improved and he also learnt to embrace his illness.

According to the Royal College of Nursing, a health care assistant has the power to either break or build a patient’s dignity in everything that they do (2013). The word ‘everything’ used in the latter sentence means every detail whether big or tiny. Mr. Jeff was given the best treatment ever from being involved in decision making to have his wound dressed in private. The doctor and I also observed infection prevention control practices such as hand washing and using sterilized objects, all of which show that the patient safety is of importance. These actions help the patient realize that they are not just a bunch of cogs in a health facility but are people of dignity (Royal College of Nursing, 2013).

It is important to maintain dignity in healthcare as it is part of good working ethics. The UK Government has placed the issue of dignity in healthcare high on their agenda: and later launched a dignity campaign in 2006 (Allen & Dennis, 2009). Governments of the world are embracing the issue of dignity in healthcare as they have recognized the same as an important aspect. It is the Government duty to ensure that her citizens get the best services in healthcare. Some Governments have even taken the initiative of involving the citizens in the compilation of Patient’s Bill of Rights. The Scottish Government is one of them; in 2008, this Government consulted with its citizen on the possible inputs to be incorporated in the Patient’s Bill of Rights (Allen & Dennis, 2009). The report, titled Scottish Government, 2009 included the values of respect, dignity and compassion. The Government puts much effort on the issue of dignity in healthcare as it helps in the healing process. The patients once handled with dignity will appreciate the virtue of self worth.

Dignity in healthcare ranges from how a patient is received, addressed and treated (Griffin-Heslin, 2005). A patient should be given gowns that fit and those that ensure privacy. While addressing the patient, the health attendant should occasionally face the patient as a show of concern. The doctor should also involve the patient in discussing the appropriate treatment plan and this way the patient experiences some dignity (Finn, 2015). According to Dr. Hicks who is an associate at Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, there are ten elements of dignity in a healthcare setting (Finn, 2015). Some these elements include inclusion, understanding, acknowledgement, accountability, fairness, acceptance of each individual's identity, and safety (Finn, 2015). If a patient feels that they belong and are treated fairly, then their dignity will be intact.

People define dignity or dignified care in various ways. A certain survey of health conducted across four NHS Trusts in England, 47% of the respondents said that dignity meant respect, 40% claimed that dignity entailed getting treated as an individual, those who responded dignity meant getting involved in decision making were 26%, and 24% said that dignity meant respect (Cairns et al., 2013). It can be seen that dignity means attending to the patient in such a way that their dignity is not compromised. The patient is entitled to privacy, respect, and involvement in decision making (Stratton, n.d.). It is important to note that the patient is the major reason why any health attendant in that specific facility. Health care givers should therefore attend to the patients with all due respect and help them recover (Royal College of Nursing, 2015).

According to Nursing Homes Ireland, a person’s health can improve if the said person is treated with respect and dignity (n. d.). A patient is likely to cope better with whatever kind of illness they are suffering if they are treated with respect. If a patient realizes that they are of importance and that they are getting acknowledgment, they will have the zeal to fight their illness and stay strong. Building and maintaining dignity helps improve lives (Nursing Homes Ireland, n.d.). It is ethical for nurses to treat patients with respect to promote dignity (Adib-Hajbaghery & Aghajani, 2015). Without respect and passion, health attendants cannot provide the desired care. According to Middleton (2012), respect and dignity are the foundations of nursing practice.


From the analysis discussed above I have learn that it is very important to maintain dignity in healthcare as it helps improve lives. Once patients are treated with respect, their dignity is maintained and it helps them recover quickly. I have also learnt that even the tiny details matters a lot in maintaining or destroying the patient’s dignity. Some issues such as maintaining eye contact with the patient while making enquiries on their past medical information is minor but very important. The patient may take the above as lack of concern and this affects their dignity. Communication and listening to the patient are also important when it comes to maintaining dignity in healthcare. The patient should be involved in decision making and the doctor should take their time to listen to them.

Action Plan

The doctor who was my supervisor helped me in learning how to maintain dignity in healthcare. My supervisor and I treated Mr. Jeff with much respect. We ensured his privacy and reassured him that his wound should not affect his dignity in any way. I also ensured the patient’s safety by using hand sanitizers and sterilized equipments to dress his wound. The latter action proved to the patient that he matters a lot to the health attendants thus boosting his self worth. I with my supervisor did our best in serving Mr. Jeff and therefore, when faced with such a situation in future, I would carry out the same procedure.

Final Conclusion

The reflection on maintaining dignity in healthcare and its importance was beneficial. Many health workers often attend to patients with disrespect and even use abusive words. I have learnt that if a patient is given good care, their health improves and their lives become better. So then if a patient is insulted, their health may worsen as they feel that they do not belong and should die. The reflection also enlightened me on many other issues that either promote or demolish a patient’s dignity.

The framework was also useful in educating health attendants on the importance of dignified care. Patients and their families look up to health attendants for more than just body wellness. They also seek to build their dignity from the health care providers.



Adib- Hajbaghery, M., & Aghajani M. (2015). “Patients Dignity in Nursing.” Nurs Midwifery Stud., 4(1), 1-2. 

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Cairns, D., Williams, V., Victor, C., Richards, S., May, A., Martin, W., & Oliver, D. (2013). “The meaning and importance of dignified care: findings from a survey of health and social care professionals.” BMC Geriatrics,13(28).

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Kennedy, G. (2016). “The importance of patient dignity in care at the end of life.” Ulster Med J.,  85(1), 45-48.

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Stratton, D. (n.d.) Dignity in healthcare. Lenus. Retrieved from

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