Did you know that nursing has been seen as the most honest and ethical profession for nearly two decades? Yes, TWO DECADES! According to a Gallup Poll made just in the last year, nurses scored a very high 89%.
Nurses are held to what we call the Code of Ethics for Nurses, the guidelines set by the American Nurses Association where “carrying out nursing responsibilities in a manner consistent with quality in nursing care and the ethical obligations of the profession.” (ANA, 2015) So then, what is the Code of Ethics, exactly? Let’s talk about them.
The Code of Ethics can be seen as a modern version of the original “Nightingale Pledge”, named after the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale, which took inspiration from the Hippocratic Oath pledged by doctors, dating all the way back from 1893. In 1950s the official code of ethics was created by the ANA, with a few major and minor modifications made over the years.
There are four main principles that make up the Code: Autonomy, Beneficence, Justice, and Non-maleficence.
1. Autonomy: recognizing each individual patient’s right to self-determination and decision-making. As patient advocates, it is imperative that nurses ensure that patients receive all medical information, education, and options in order to choose the option that is best for them. It is important that nurses support the patient in their medical wishes and ensure that the medical team is remembering those wishes. Sometimes, nurses will need to continue to advocate for a patient despite the wishes being verbalized because the medical team might not agree in those wishes.
2. Beneficence: acting for the good and welfare of others and including such attributes as kindness and charity.
3. Justice: there should be an element of fairness in all medical and nursing decisions and care. Nurses must care for all patients with the same level of fairness despite the individual’s financial abilities, race, religion, gender, and/or sexual orientation.
4. Non-maleficence is to do no harm. This is the most well known of the main principles of nursing ethics. The principle of non-maleficence ensures the safety of the patient and community in all care delivery. Nurses are also responsible to report treatment options that are causing significant harm to a patient which may include suicidal or homicidal ideations.
To build upon these principles, provisions were added by the ANA in 2015 to better guide nurses in ethical decision-making throughout their practice:
1. The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.
2. The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, community, or population.
3. The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.
4. The nurse has authority, accountability, and responsibility for nursing practice; makes decisions; and takes action consistent with the obligation to provide optimal patient care.
5. The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth.
6. The nurse, through individual and collective effort, establishes, maintains, and improves the ethical environment of the work setting and conditions of employment that are conducive to safe, quality health care.
7. The nurse, in all roles and settings, advances the profession through research and scholarly inquiry, professional standards development, and the generation of both nursing and health policy.
8. The nurse collaborates with other health professionals and the public to protect human rights, promote health diplomacy, and reduce health disparities.
9. The profession of nursing, collectively through its professional organization, must articulate nursing values, maintain the integrity of the profession, and integrate principles of social justice into nursing and health policy.
Nurses make up the largest proportion of workers in the healthcare industry, and nurses continue to advocate for their patients and policy reform at local, state or national levels. Utilizing the ethical codes of justice, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and beneficence day in, day out allows nurses to provide the safest and most compassionate care for patients. So it’s no wonder why nursing remains to be seen as the most honest and ethical profession for twenty years!