If only everything in life came with a guide—especially the aspects of life that deal with interpersonal relationships.
One of the most important and nuanced social relationships is between medical professionals and their patients. Doctors and nurses often have people’s lives in their hands and must make decisions that help improve patients’ health and well-being. Thankfully, there’s an ethics guide that helps nurses make these tough decisions and foster healthy, supportive relationships with their patients.
While the nursing profession calls for compassionate souls who naturally make ethical decisions, the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements by the American Nurses Association (ANA) provides non-negotiable ethical standards all medical professionals must follow.
If you’re a nurse, you may want to keep this code close to yourself and at the top of your mind. This guide will not only help you when you’ve to make difficult decisions concerning patients’ care but also when you’re navigating a tricky interaction with a patient’s family, like discussing their complex diagnoses. You’ll also feel a sense of community, knowing that you and your colleagues are on the same page. Read on to learn the principles and provisions of the code and some ethical values to apply in your professional practice.
Principles of the ANA’s ethical code
Sources often break the ANA’s nursing code of ethics principles into lists of four or seven key traits registered nurses (RNs) must live by. Here is the complete list and a brief description of what each term signifies:
- Beneficence: Fundamentally, beneficence is the act of “doing the right thing.” Thus, nurses must always try to make decisions that benefit the patient.
- Non-maleficence: Nurses must take a “do no harm” approach to their work, protecting patients from risky situations.
- Justice: Nurses should consider all patients equal and treat each individual with the same level of fairness and respect. Factors like a person’s sexual orientation, race, or age should never influence a nurse’s decisions.
- Accountability: As professionals, nurses must be able to take responsibility for their actions, even when they’ve made a mistake.
- Autonomy: While nurses should consider all patients equal, they should also be able to see what makes each patient unique. They should understand that individuals are entitled to their own opinions and beliefs.
- Fidelity: Nurses should demonstrate loyalty to their profession.
- Veracity: Honesty is the best policy in the medical profession because a patient’s health is on the line. Nurses should communicate clearly and correctly with both patients and peers.
So what are the four codes of ethics for nurses that some sources consider the core principles? They’re autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence.
Provisions of the nursing code of ethics
The ANA code of ethics provisions makes the seven principles essential and specific to nursing. The following nine provisions sound like mantras, and in a way, they are. Carry these provisions in your wallet or make a poster for the break room. Run them back in your head if you’re ever feeling lost. They exist to guide you through ethical dilemmas and remind you of the impact of your nursing care.
- The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.
- The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, community, or population.
- The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.
- The nurse has authority, accountability, and responsibility for nursing practice; makes decisions; and takes action consistent with the obligation to promote health and to provide optimal care.
- 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.
- The nurse, through individual and collective efforts, establishes, maintains, and improves the ethical environment of the work setting and conditions of employment that are conducive to safe, quality health care.
- 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.
- The nurse collaborates with other health professionals and the public to protect human rights, promote health diplomacy, and reduce health disparities.
- The profession of nursing, collectively through its professional organizations, must articulate nursing values, maintain the integrity of the profession, and integrate principles of social justice into nursing and health policy.
5 professional nursing values
While the lists above are complete, nurses’ values go beyond these ethical principles and provisions. Every nurse brings a unique set of interpersonal skills to their interactions, which means that there’s surely something you could add to the following list of essential values.
- Altruism: It’s the art of helping others without expecting anything in return. As a nurse, this means advocating for patients and supporting your co-workers.
- Human dignity: Dignity refers to treating patients respectfully and acknowledging their emotions, boundaries, rights, and privacy.
- Integrity: This is all about working with purpose. Use the provisions and principles above to help guide you make ethical decisions.
- Social justice: When nurses provide patient care based on social justice, they treat all individuals equally but with an understanding that each person has their own needs, background and viewpoints.
- Ingenuity: Nurses carry a lot of textbook knowledge in their brains and clinical care experience in their hearts. But even the most practiced professionals come upon new situations from time to time and should be able to think on their toes and suggest innovative solutions. Nurses should also keep up with the latest advancements in the field to bolster their knowledge.
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