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A Guide to Understanding Nursing Ethics

Every profession is guided by a set of principles known as ‘professional ethics’. It refers to the standards of integrity, professionalism, and confidentiality that have to be adhered to by people pursuing that particular profession. By adopting such a code, the group of professionals is conveying the message that it is aware of its obligations to society. All professions have a code of ethics defined by a governing body or an authoritative agency in the field. There are no clear black and white areas in ethics and individual cultural and social morals along with circumstances will play a significant role in their implementation. Violation of the code of ethics can lead to severe penalties. Nursing ethics does share some similarities with medical ethics, but there are quite a few differences between the two.

What Are Nursing Ethics?

The International Council of Nurses (ICN)(PDF) adopted its code of ethics in 1953. Since then, the code has been revised many times including once in 2005. In the United States, the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) sketches out the moral and practical guidelines that all nurses are expected to abide by. Various nursing bodies have come up with their versions of the code but the essence remains the same in all of these. The code of ethics figures prominently in all nursing programs. It defines what the relationship of a nurse with the patient should be, as well as with the patient’s family, other nurses, and the society.

The code of ethics(PDF) is just a guideline and the interpretation will depend upon the nurse’s situation at the time. In nursing education, the focus of ethics is on the rights of the patient and the nurse’s duty to provide adequate care to the patients. The code of ethics for nurses divides their responsibilities into four primary categories–promoting health, preventing illness, restoring health, and easing suffering. Respect for human rights, right to life, right to choice, right to dignity, and the right to be treated with respect, forms the crux of nursing. Nurse jobs are challenging and can be very stressful. The code can help a nursing career be a fruitful and satisfying one.

Importance of Ethics in Nursing

Nurses may find themselves torn between their responsibility to the patient, the patient’s family, the hospital or their unit. The importance of a code of ethics in nursing is understood in such complicated situations where the nurse has a set of guidelines to consult before acting. This offers those in nursing occupations a safety net of sorts and a reference point. Protection of patients is the foremost goal of ethics and failure to adhere to it can lead to unwanted consequences. Nurse jobs and nursing occupations go beyond the mere fulfilling of a duty and involve close association with the patient. Good, recognized online nursing programs, online LPN programs, and online RN programs, must include the code of ethics in their curriculum. The nurses have to assume responsibility and accountability for their individual judgments and actions as a professional.

Applying the Code of Ethics

One area where the code of ethics comes into play is patient confidentiality (PDF). It prevents nurses from making public an individual’s health information without the person’s consent. Protected health information or PHI is used only for treatment, payment, and operations with prior consent of the patient. Yet another area where nursing ethics have often been applied is in cases where a dying person’s family was allowed to be with them at the end though it was not hospital policy to do so. No amount of training from nursing schools can prepare someone for such situations.

Another instance is like when the mother of a newborn baby chose to be indifferent to her child that was born prematurely. After the baby developed complications, the mother refused to accept the child and decided to give it up for adoption. The nurses found themselves torn between concern for the child and respecting the mother’s decision. Since the code of ethics emphasizes the right to choice and dignity, the nurses could handle a difficult situation.

Ethical Challenges in Nursing

Nurse jobs have been consistently voted among the top 10 professions in America for the 11th consecutive year, embodying honesty and high ethical standards. Specialization in nursing ethics may come in handy when serving on ethics committees of hospitals or in education and public health initiatives. Irrespective of whether a nurse qualifies through online nursing programs, only on-the-job training and experience can help hone skills in handling dilemmas (PDF).

Initial job dissatisfaction is common in the profession due to the difficult ethical challenges thrown by an environment where death and chronic illness are an everyday experience. Safeguarding patient’s rights and giving them the required support in end-of-life decisions can be a very draining aspect of a nursing career. Nursing programs and a nursing education can only teach the theoretical aspects of the ethics code.

Need For Ethical Training

Studies have found that an LPN program or RN program that provides intensive ethical training to its students has been beneficial in helping them deal with moral dilemmas in a controlled manner. If the nursing education imparted has been lax in stressing the importance of a strong ethical foundation (PDF), the individual may not be able to make a success of their nursing career.

When signing up for online LPN programs or online RN programs, it is essential to verify whether they offer a comprehensive curriculum which includes ethical training. The training in ethics should start with the inception of the course in nursing schools, be it an LPN program or a RN program. An example would be getting students to write their own academic papers instead of sourcing it from elsewhere. This will help them evolve as professionals (PDF) who are aware of their responsibilities towards the well-being of others. An individual who is not committed to their own education cannot be trusted with the life of another.