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Nursing Profession: Strong Ethics Required

People confront ethical issues in their personal and working life every day. The rules of society dictate that people follow laws and common moral principles. Without morality, chaos is almost a certainty, and life would be difficult at best. Patients rely on nurses to provide quality and safe care while maintaining a code of ethics. Nurses must always look out for the well-being of their patients and show them respect.

What Are the Requirements for Practicing Nurses?

Nursing is a profession with rigorous requirements. To obtain licensure and practice as a registered nurse (RN), a nurse must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). RNs must also meet other licensure and practice requirements as set forth by their state’s nurse practice act and regulations while abiding by a professional code of ethics.

What Is Expected of Nurses?

Nurses are ethically obligated to help people in need. Professional nursing involves the following:

  • Protecting patients
  • Promoting health
  • Optimizing healthcare
  • Preventing illnesses and injuries
  • Alleviating suffering
  • Advocating for patients, families and communities

Why Do Nurses Need a High Ethical Standard?

Nurses may face ethical dilemmas at the point of care, on the organizational level or with colleagues. Because of the rise in the number of older adult patients with multiple chronic conditions and the increasing complexity of healthcare, nurses need to adhere to an ethical standard now more than ever.

The ethical dilemmas nurses face may be compounded in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses, patients and colleagues may not always agree on the ethics underlying certain decisions and behaviors, making the nurse’s role more challenging. Nurses also may not always receive the support they need to be safe in all situations, raising ethical questions regarding responsibility for their own safety versus professional responsibilities.

Plus, populations of patients and nursing staff are continuing to grow more diverse. This is one of many reasons why cultural competence on part of the nursing staff is an ethical imperative for the profession.

How Do Nurses Maintain a High Standard of Ethics in Nursing?

The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (The Code) developed by the American Nurses Association (ANA) is used in nursing as a guideline for nurses who may encounter ethical challenges while performing their duties. ANA defines The Code as the “definitive framework for ethical analysis and decision-making for RNs across all practice levels, roles and settings.”

While an initial “suggested” code of ethics was published in 1926, ANA established the first formal code of ethics for nurses in 1950. Since that time, the code has undergone regular revisions to reflect changes in the profession and the healthcare system.

Besides The Code, there are other resources nurses can use for ethical guidance. Many hospitals have ethics committees, a code of conduct and informational material about ethical and legal practices. Healthcare organizations may also provide an ethics consultation service, which assists staff with ethical questions or educates them about potential cases.

Do Patients Trust the Ethics of Nurses?

According to Gallup News, nurses ranked number one as the most honest and ethical profession in 2022. In fact, this is the 20th consecutive year Americans rated nurses highest among ranked occupations in Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics survey. The five highest rated professions on the list are:

  1. Nurses
  2. Medical doctors
  3. Grade-school teachers
  4. Pharmacists
  5. Military officers

Nurses have outpaced other professions every year except 2001 when firefighters claimed the top spot. Gallup has conducted the survey since 1999.

How Can Nurses Learn About Ethics?

Learning about ethics is part of a nurse’s preparation in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. For nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) who want to advance in their career, an online RN to BSN bridge program fits into a working schedule and often costs less than on-campus programs.

The University of South Carolina Aiken (USC Aiken) offers a 100% online RN to BSN program that students can complete in as few as 12 months. The USC Aiken program includes the course Ethical-Legal Issues in Nursing, which covers the principles and concepts of ethical theory and the legal basis for the nursing practice. Students are taught how to reach intelligent and unbiased ethical decisions. They also examine the legal aspects of ethical predicaments that nurses may encounter in their profession.

Many situations can cause moral distress for nurses, such as concerns about patients not being properly informed about treatments or clinical prognosis, families asking nurses not to disclose a diagnosis or an incompetent peer. They need to follow protocol and directions while staying conscious of the ethical and legal implications. Primarily, nurses need to treat all patients with dignity and without prejudice. Nurses must retain competency and integrity in order to fulfill their professional commitments and uphold ethics in nursing.

Learn more about the USC Aiken online RN to BSN program.

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