How Much Do You Know about Nursing Ethics?

by Tera Tuten on October 16, 2012

How Much Do You Know about Nursing Ethics?

Though many people may not realize it, nursing ethics and medical ethics are not synonymous. As Dr. Sarah Breier-Mackie wrote in the April 2006 issue of Gastroenterology Nursing, medicine is focused on cure, while nursing is focused on health. Care and healing are complementary, but not synonymous, and the distinction between caring for the person and caring for the disease dates back to Florence Nightingale in the late 19th Century.

Doctors, of course, are charged with fixing the problems a patient presents with. Nurses are another line of defense in healthcare, caring for the whole patient through compassionate means to promote, preserve, and restore health.  So what does this mean when it comes to ethics?

Basic Tenets of Nursing Ethics

The American Nurses Association created a Code of Ethics that can be summed up in a few points:

  • Compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every patient.
  • Primary commitment is to the patient.
  • Advocacy to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.
  • Responsibility and accountability for individual nursing practice to provide optimum patient care.
  • Maintenance of personal integrity, safety, competence, and professional growth.
  • Establishment, maintenance, and improvement of healthcare environments and conditions of employment in order to provide quality care.
  • Advancement of the profession through various contributions.
  • Collaboration with other healthcare professionals.
  • Responsibility for articulating nursing values and maintaining the integrity of the profession and its practice.

What Does This Mean?

Looking at the Code of Ethics provides a glimpse at the complexities involved in the nursing profession. More than just “First, do no harm,” nurses are responsible for a lot more than just a patient’s care. Nurses need to ensure that medical interventions offered for the treatment of a disease or other condition are compatible with the patient’s needs and wishes. Nurses also need to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and professionally; a nurse can’t provide quality care if he or she becomes grievously ill after failing to prevent exposure to a patient’s communicable disease or a needle stick. It is also built into the ethical code that nurses should try to affect social and public policy in an effort to maintain and further the profession.

As a nurse, what is your personal code of ethics? Do you feel that your colleagues and your healthcare facility are living up to the ethical standards set forth for nurses?


Though many people may not realize it, nursing ethics and medical ethics are not synonymous. As Dr. Sarah Breier-Mackie wrote in the April 2006 issue of Gastroenterology Nursing, medicine is focused on cure, while nursing is focused on health. Care and healing are complementary, but not synonymous, and the distinction between caring for the person and caring for the disease dates back to Florence Nightingale in the late 19th Century.

Doctors, of course, are charged with fixing the problems a patient presents with. Nurses are another line of defense in healthcare, caring for the whole patient through compassionate means to promote, preserve, and restore health.  So what does this mean when it comes to ethics?

Basic Tenets of Nursing Ethics

The American Nurses Association created a Code of Ethics that can be summed up in a few points:

  • Compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every patient.
  • Primary commitment is to the patient.
  • Advocacy to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.
  • Responsibility and accountability for individual nursing practice to provide optimum patient care.
  • Maintenance of personal integrity, safety, competence, and professional growth.
  • Establishment, maintenance, and improvement of healthcare environments and conditions of employment in order to provide quality care.
  • Advancement of the profession through various contributions.
  • Collaboration with other healthcare professionals.
  • Responsibility for articulating nursing values and maintaining the integrity of the profession and its practice.

What Does This Mean?

Looking at the Code of Ethics provides a glimpse at the complexities involved in the nursing profession. More than just “First, do no harm,” nurses are responsible for a lot more than just a patient’s care. Nurses need to ensure that medical interventions offered for the treatment of a disease or other condition are compatible with the patient’s needs and wishes. Nurses also need to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and professionally; a nurse can’t provide quality care if he or she becomes grievously ill after failing to prevent exposure to a patient’s communicable disease or a needle stick. It is also built into the ethical code that nurses should try to affect social and public policy in an effort to maintain and further the profession.

As a nurse, what is your personal code of ethics? Do you feel that your colleagues and your healthcare facility are living up to the ethical standards set forth for nurses?

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