Virtuous Practice in Nursing

The Virtuous Practice in Nursing research report was published on 28th September 2017. Drawing on insights from nursing departments, students, and practitioners, this interdisciplinary report is designed to deepen understanding of the place of virtues and values in the initial education, training and subsequent professional practice in nursing.

Summary of Key Findings

  • Both students and experienced practitioners identified kindness and honesty as important character virtues for the nursing profession, suggesting that students develop a clear focus on the values of the profession during their initial training.
  • Many experienced practitioners tend to follow rule -and-code-based reasoning, rather than their own moral compass, when faced with moral dilemmas.
  • Experienced nurses identified the lack of staff, time and other resources as significant challenges to living out their character.

Summary of Key Recommendations

  • Moral role modelling should be put at the heart of nursing education and more attention be paid to theoretical aspects of virtues and values by including ethical theory in the education of nursing students.
  • A robust approach to character evaluation should be devised to assess the suitability of candidates for nursing, at the interview stage, and to monitor the development of their character throughout their studies.
  • Educational institutions in the UK should apply more focus to the ethical core of nursing and make it more explicit in the continuing professional development provisions for experienced nurses.

Project Overview

The Virtuous Practice in Nursing project is one of three projects exploring the ethics of professionals in the second phase of work in the Jubilee Centre, 2015–2017. This project is designed to deepen understanding of the place of virtues and values in the initial education, training and subsequent professional practice in nursing.

Engagement with policy makers was sought throughout the work of the project and the final report (2017) included recommendations for the development of future professional training that will be shared with practitioners in the field. These included developing teaching materials, advising on the design of teaching courses, and highlighting best practice in the nursing profession.

Read Research Fellow Jinu Varghese’s Virtue Insight blog post on ‘Virtue ethics and the modern day nurse‘.


A survey was completed by beginning undergraduates in nursing, by students completing their initial nurse training/education, and by established practitioners who have been in practice for five years or more, all in all about 750 participants. The survey data was complemented by data from semi-structured interviews with a selection of participants and educators who volunteer to take part within the survey.

Literature Review & Findings

A comprehensive literature review was conducted during the first stage of the project to get an overview of the state of play of virtue ethics in the nursing field. Compared to other applied fields, the virtue ethics field within nursing ethics is rather small. Few mainstream philosophers with a firm grounding in Aristotelian ethics have entered the field. However, virtue ethics connects with an earlier emphasis in nursing on an ethics of care. Virtue ethics may gradually be becoming the ‘theory of choice’ in nursing ethics, but so far it has not been conceptualised satisfactorily.

Project Milestones

Literature review, development of the study and instruments, and piloting with a small sample has been successfully completed during the first stage of the study. The second stage was launched with surveys and interviews continuing until January 2017. Reporting and publishing was estimated to be in the final stage between February and September 2017.


The project involved three Universities, Buckinghamshire New University, University of Dundee and University of Birmingham, which will reflect perceptions of participants from across the UK and will represent a good geographical representation.


The online appendices for the Virtuous Practice in Nursing report can be downloaded below: