What motivates us to do good work? Nurses and physicians who work to improve the health of critically ill and injured patients might answer this question differently depending on their individual circumstances and background. But is there a common understanding of what should motivate healthcare providers in critical care to do their best work for the patients and families they encounter?

Ethical theories offer different and sometimes conflicting descriptions of how people are motivated to do the good or right action. Immanuel Kant’s discussion of duty in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)1 and utilitarian ideas about maximizing pleasure or happiness are 2 such conflicting theories of motive. In contrast to both Kantian duty and utilitarian theory, theories of virtue ethics describe motivation to do good work as a part of character development. In other words, being...

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