The Nursing Code of Ethics: Everything You Need To Know

In just 217 words, the American Nurses Association explains its guiding values for the profession, known as The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, a document that has existed for more over 70 years.

Within the Code of Ethics is a list of nine provisions, which are part of a 64-page online document in which the ANA summarizes the obligations, duties, and aspirations of millions of nurses across the country. The organization highlights the importance of ethics in nursing on its website, calling the code, “the profession’s non-negotiable ethical standard.”

“The Code of Ethics helps nurses by giving them structure as to how to own their accountability and their responsibilities within their nursing practice and help make those decisions based on what would be providing the most optimal care for the patient,” said Emily Emma, DNP, RN-BC, NEA-BC, the director for Magnet and professional practice at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Hospital.

Emma said the code is discussed in nursing school, while the NCLEX-RN national licensure exam also includes questions about ethics.

“Having ethical principles in nursing really guides the nurse to make the best, most moral decision on behalf of themselves as practitioners and for the patients,” she said.

How It All Started

The importance of ethics in nursing led the ANA to adopt its first formal Code of Ethics in 1950, according to the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN). Ten years later, the Code for Professional Nurses included 17 provisions, which was later edited to 10 in 1968. According to OJIN, the code has gone through regular updates and was revised in 2015, when ANA launched “The Year of Ethics” in an effort to raise awareness of nursing ethics in the profession.

“One thing it does is support the general professionalization of nursing,” said Eric Vogelstein, PhD, MA, an associate professor and bioethicist at the Duquesne University School of Nursing and Department of Philosophy. “It’s probably one thing that separates a profession from a job or a career. Nursing is a profession, so they need to have that standard aspect of professionalization in place.”

Having a long history of ethical guidelines sets nursing apart. “Nursing has a particular emphasis on ethics,” Vogelstein said. “As we know, nursing is consistently rated as the most trusted profession (by the annual Gallup poll of honesty and ethics). One thing that contributes to that is it has a robust relationship with ethics, and the Code of Ethics serves the public in that capacity just as much as it does the nursing profession itself.”

What’s In the Nursing Code of Ethics?

In a 2015 presentation, the ANA explained that the first three provisions of the nursing Code of Ethics address direct patient care and describe the most fundamental values and commitments of the nurse. The provisions include:

  • Provision 1: The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.
  • Provision 2: The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, community, or population.
  • Provision 3: The nurse …read more

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