Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Pandemic ethics and beyond: Creating space for virtues in the social professions

Banks, Sarah

Pandemic ethics and beyond: Creating space for virtues in the social professions Thumbnail



Background: During the pandemic, social and health care professionals operated in ‘crisis conditions’. Some existing rules/protocols were not operational, many services were closed/curtailed, and new ‘blanket’ rules often seemed inappropriate or unfair. These experiences provide fertile ground for exploring the role of virtues in professional life and considering lessons for professional ethics in the future. Research design and aim: This article draws on an international qualitative survey conducted online in May 2020, which aimed to explore the ethical challenges experienced by social workers during Covid-19. Participants and research context: 607 social workers responded from 54 countries, giving written online responses. This article first summarises previously published findings from the survey regarding the range of ethical challenges experienced, then develops a new analysis of social workers’ accounts of ethically challenging situations from a virtue ethics perspective. This analysis took a narrative ethics approach, treating respondents’ accounts as stories featuring the tellers as moral agents, with implicit or explicit implications for their professional ethical identity and character. The article is illustrated with accounts from the 41 UK respondents, drawing particularly on two case examples. Ethical considerations: Ethical approval was gained from Durham University and anonymity was ensured for participants. Findings/results: This article explores the nature of the ethical space created during the pandemic showing how practitioners were able to draw more on ‘inner resources’ and professional discretion than usual, displaying virtues such as professional wisdom, care, respectfulness and courage as they took account of the specific contexts of their work, rather than simply adhering to blanket rules. Conclusion: Exploring practice through a virtue ethical lens provides valuable lessons for ‘building back better’ in social and health care professions.


Banks, S. (2024). Pandemic ethics and beyond: Creating space for virtues in the social professions. Nursing Ethics, 31(1), 28-38.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 6, 2023
Online Publication Date Jul 6, 2023
Publication Date 2024-02
Deposit Date Aug 18, 2023
Publicly Available Date Aug 18, 2023
Journal Nursing Ethics
Print ISSN 0969-7330
Electronic ISSN 1477-0989
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 31
Issue 1
Pages 28-38
Keywords social workers, virtue ethics, Covid-19, professional discretion
Public URL


Published Journal Article (Advance Online Version) (561 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (

You might also like

Downloadable Citations