9 Provisions for Being an Ethical Nurse

January 16th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

The political season is ramping up. Every day on the news, in print, on the internet we are hearing and seeing more politicians giving us rhetoric on why they should be president. Our job, as voters, is to choose the person we think is most qualified to lead our country. By November we will have considered who is most business savvy, who has the best feel for international relations, and whose moral and ethical compass we want to follow.

Every year for a decade nurses have been voted the most trusted profession in the Gallup Poll's annual Honesty and Ethics survey. Ethics—the term is applied to people and to their professions. I would venture to guess most folks don't think politicians are terribly ethical and apparently they think we nurses are. Great. Let's take look at how ethics is applied in nursing.

The term ethics refers to the study of philosophical ideals of right and wrong behavior. In professional practices such as nursing, a code of ethics provides guidelines for safe and compassionate care. Nurses' commitment to a code of ethics guarantees the public that nurses adhere to professional practice standards.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) initiated its Code of Ethics project in 1995. A task force was charged with establishing a comprehensive process of review, analysis and revision of the 1985 Code for Nurses. In June of 2001, the ANA House of Delegates voted to accept the nine major provisions of a revised Code of Ethics and in July 2001 the revised and resulting Code of Ethics for Nurses With Interpretive Statement was released.

  1. The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.
  2. The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, or community.
  3. The nurse promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.
  4. The nurse is responsible and accountable for individual nursing practice and determines the appropriate delegation of tasks consistent with the nurse’s obligation to provide optimum patient care.
  5. The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to continue personal and professional growth.
  6. The nurse participates in establishing, maintaining, and improving health care environments and conditions of employment conducive to the provision of quality health care and consistent with the values of the profession through individual and collective action.
  7. The nurse participates in the advancement of the profession through contributions to practice, education, administration, and knowledge development.
  8. The nurse collaborates with other health professionals and the public in promoting community, national, and international efforts to meet health needs.
  9. The profession of nursing, as represented by associations and their members, is responsible for articulating nursing values, for maintaining the integrity of the profession and its practice, and for shaping social policy.

It is straightforward and it sounds easy enough to follow. However, every day nurses encounter ethical issues. In our current healthcare era the things we can do aren't always the things we should do or are really best for our patients and their families. It is our job as nurses to help our patients, to care for them. Sometimes we are the only ones available, particularly as life's beginnings and endings, when patients are unable to speak for themselves, to help make those decisions. Having a code of ethics to fall back on can help strengthen our voices and provide a framework for the decision making process.

That is why I think every nurse should be familiar with the Code of Ethics.

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