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Importance of Ethics in Nursing

In December 2019, the Gallup organization released its annual poll of the most ethical, honest professions, and for the 17th straight year, nurses were voted number one on the list, beating out military officers, grade school teachers, judges, and even the doctors and pharmacists they work with.

As a article about the Gallup poll pointed out, “Nurses soar above all other professions in the public eye; anecdotally, nurses report that strangers and acquaintances alike will frequently wax poetic about the positive attributes of nurses when given the opportunity to tell the story of a loved one who received compassionate or life-saving care from a nurse.”

Although there’s a clear public perception about nurses being compassionate — after all, their primary function in most settings is providing patient care — what causes that perception to rise to the level of being honest and ethical?

A article exploring the idea of ethics in nursing identified six key facets of a nurse’s job where ethics come into play.

The first facet is the idea of justice, in which all patients are treated fairly and equally. A particularly resonant ideal for all nurses involves adhering to principles of totality and integrity — considering the entire person (mentally and spiritually as well as physically) when deciding what kind of treatment a patient should receive.

Fidelity has to do with keeping one’s commitments in the patient care process and not neglecting one’s duties in the midst of the process. Though the healthcare team consists of numerous individuals, the nurse — especially in a hospital or nursing home — is a core member of that healthcare team, relied upon to know how a patient is faring and when to bring in doctors or other key members of the team.

Autonomy is an intriguing element noted in the list, having to do with respecting patients’ wishes, even if the nurse does not personally agree with them. While there are obvious limits to this — as the next two facets will spell out — it’s a challenging one nonetheless, because a nurse’s concept of what’s best for the patient may contradict the patient’s own wishes.

Beneficence and non-maleficence, the final two facets listed, tie in with the Hippocratic Oath’s concept of doing no harm. Non-maleficence is the concept that nurses should remain competent in their work and report abuse or neglect. Beneficence extends the “do no harm” idea to actually doing good and being positive.

There’s an additional ethical consideration that should be mentioned: keeping confidentiality. The law demands that healthcare teams do so, thanks to the privacy provisions of the HIPAA legislation that became law in the mid-1990s.

Keeping a patient’s information and treatment confidential is a challenging but important element to ethical nursing behavior. While nurses might not be in the habit of discussing their workday via social media channels, it’s worth noting that new media has made adhering to HIPAA laws much more challenging. Given the ease with which social media posts can be shared, it’s more important now than ever to be mindful of patient privacy.

Nursing has had a remarkable run in the public perception of being an honest and ethical profession. It’s certainly something that the team of instructors at Northwest Missouri State University want to see continue, and the courses in our RN to BSN program reflect a commitment to ethical nursing. One course in particular, Nursing Law and Ethics, provides knowledge of the legalities and ethical aspects of the profession. The course helps nurses strengthen their position as upholders of honesty and ethics.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University’s online RN to BSN program.


Gallup: Nurses Continue to Rate Highest in Honesty, Ethics Nurses Ranked #1 Most Ethical Profession by 2017 Gallup Poll 6 Key Ethical Principles of Nursing

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