Case Analysis: Tuskegee Syphilis Project

Case Analysis: Tuskegee Syphilis Project


The U.S. public health service conducted a syphilis study at Tuskegee more than 40 years ago. According to Alsan & Wanamaker (2018), this study was the most infamous in biomedical research where researchers abused more than 390 Black participants from Macon in Alabama who had syphilis. This paper analyzes the Tuskegee Syphilis Case study. It discusses the roles of a public health nurse to research participants, the competencies that guide a public health nurse leader when making an ethical decision, and the existing laws and policies to protect communities. This knowledge is important for public health nurse leaders as it helps to guide decision making when faced with ethical dilemmas.

Responsibility of a Public Health Nurse from A Leadership Perspective

A public health nurse must protect participants in a research study by ensuring that research participants understand all the processes and details of a study before participation. Besides, the public health nurse leader should advocate for the implementation of more safeguards in a study to safeguard the welfare and rights of participants. Greco (2020) emphasizes that failure to verify that researcher’s safeguard participants’ rights, failing to ensure inform research participants adequately about the purpose of a study, and failing to speak out in case of violation of participants’ rights is unethical and unprofessional with legal, ethical and professional implications.Case Analysis: Tuskegee Syphilis Project


Competencies That Guide A Public Health Nurse Leader

A public health nurse leader must follow the competencies for professional performance in public health to make ethical decisions. These standards require a public health nurse leader to protect research participants from harm by reporting any inconsistent activities with practice standards that are unethical, illegal, and impaired practice. The nurse must also challenge public health practices that jeopardize efforts in quality improvement or safety of research participants (American Nurses Association, 2013).To attain better population health outcomes, a public health nurse leader should adhere to the principles of public health ethical practice, and social justice. When delivering public health programs and services, one must maintain professional boundaries and relationships with groups and families in populations.

Guidelines for Decision Making

The author would propose the guidelines provided by the American Nurses Association (2013), which outline the principles of ethical public health practice. These guidelines are similar to those presented in the Belmont Report of 1979 guiding all research based on the following three major tenets: justice respect for persons and beneficence.

Progress Made In the Field of Public Health

There is immense progress in the public health field on addressing ethical violations to human subjects in research. Today, two agencies of the government oversee research namely the FDA and Office for Human Research Protections. Besides, organizations, universities, and hospitals are receiving funding for research to enter into agreements that promote the ethical conduct of research. As highlighted by Friesen et al (2017), this agreement requires an IRB to function in line with ethical reviews and to approve all the proposals that involve human participants taking part in a study within an organization.Case Analysis: Tuskegee Syphilis Project

Laws and Policies to Protect Communities

There are laws and policies set to ensure adherence to the federation regulation of research to protect the communities. Congress passed the National Research Act the year 1974 and formed the National Commission for Protection of Human Subjects of Behavioral and Biomedical Research. This law and commission require researchers to observe ethical principles in all studies involving human subjects. Besides, an IRB must review all the studies to establish whether it is a quality improvement initiative or a research study.


American Nurses Association. (2013). Public Health Nursing : Scope and Standards of Practice: Vol. 2nd ed. American Nurses Association

Alsan, M., & Wanamaker, M. (2018). Tuskegee and the Health of Black Men. The quarterly journal of economics133(1), 407–455.

Friesen, P., Kearns, L., Redman, B., & Caplan, A. L. (2017). Rethinking the Belmont report?. The American Journal of Bioethics17(7), 15-21.

Greco, D. (2020) Research Ethics and the Right to Public Health. Ethical Research: The Declaration of Helsinki, and the Past, Present, and Future of Human Experimentation, 385.



Case Analysis: Tuskegee Syphilis Project