7 Ethical Principles in Nursing

Ethical Principles of Nursing

All nurses, regardless of practice area, make decisions in the course of their daily duties that require ethical consideration. But as any nurse will tell you, these decisions can weigh heavily on a person’s shoulders. A core set of ethical principles in nursing offers a solid foundation that nurses can rely on to help them make sound decisions. Such ethical principles likely contribute to the fact that, historically, Americans trust nurses more than any other profession, according to Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics poll.

Ethics refers to how people think and conduct themselves in terms of right and wrong. The concept of nursing ethics began to develop in the late 19th century. At the time, ethics in nursing referred to certain character traits like obedience, physician loyalty, and high moral character.

As the world and the healthcare industry evolves, so too must nursing ethics themselves. Nurses face increasingly complex ethical and human rights issues. In response, the American Nurses Association developed its Code of Ethics for Nurses, which serves as the standard by which all nurses should practice. It acts as a social contract between nurses and the general public, helping people understand the commitment all nurses make to providing safe, evidence-based, high-quality care.

Each member of the profession adheres to a set of core ethical principles in nursing. The nursing code of ethics helps nurses make good judgment calls, provide high-quality care, and support patients and their loved ones emotionally, physically, and mentally. Let’s take a deeper look at each of the ethics in nursing.

What Are the 7 Ethical Principles in Nursing?

  1. Accountability
  2. Justice
  3. Nonmaleficence
  4. Autonomy
  5. Beneficence
  6. Fidelity
  7. Veracity

1. Accountability

Accountability is chief among the ethical principles in nursing. Each nurse must be responsible for his or her own choices and actions in the course of patient care. Nurses who hold themselves accountable often provide higher-quality patient care. They are more likely to build stronger relationships with patients, thanks to increased trust. Accountable nurses adhere to their scope of practice and, in many cases, are greatly appreciated by their colleagues and patients.

2. Justice

Justice plays a significant part in the nursing code of ethics. Every nurse has a responsibility to make care decisions that are based only on the facts, not on other factors like the patient’s

  • age
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • socioeconomic status
  • sexual orientation

To uphold the justice ethical principle, nurses should act as fair and impartial care givers, which can help patients feel more valued. Treating each patient fairly, regardless of their circumstances, is essential for helping patients accept and participate in their own care; this, in turn, often leads to better patient outcomes.

3. Nonmaleficence

You’ve likely already heard of this ethical principle, which is to do no harm. Nursing nonmaleficence echoes exactly that. Nurses have a critical responsibility to prevent further harm from coming to all their patients. Each nurse must take action to prevent harm. Nonmaleficence in nursing is essential to safe, effective patient care that is delivered to the best of a nurse’s ability.

4. Autonomy

The autonomy ethical principle requires each nurse be able to perform their duties using their own knowledge and professional judgement appropriate for each unique patient interaction. To uphold a code of ethics in nursing, nurses must act only within their scope of practice, yet continue to provide full, high-quality care. Autonomy is an essential part of all aspects of nursing practice, helping nurses make appropriate decisions based on critical thinking. The autonomy ethical principle goes hand in hand with accountability.

5. Beneficence

Beneficence in nursing can be defined as the charity and kindness nurses offer to other people, which is demonstrated by their actions in the medical setting. Beneficence means that nurses perform actions intended to benefit others; they act with the patient’s best interests in mind. In order to act with beneficence in nursing, each nurse must approach each patient as a unique individual with their own life circumstances, opinions, and experiences. Beneficence also means that nurses must put aside their own personal feelings to provide care to the best of their abilities.

6. Fidelity

People want to know they can count on nurses, no matter what. The fidelity ethical principle can best be described by keeping your word to patients. Nurses should be honest and loyal to each patient, as this helps the nurse gain trust and fulfill their professional commitment. Without fidelity, more trusting relationships cannot be formed, which leads to less positive patient outcomes and less trust in professional relationships.

7. Veracity

Working in healthcare is challenging for many reasons, and in some cases, nurses must communicate unpleasant information to a patient. Veracity in nursing is the ethical principle of being completely open and honest with patients, even if the truth causes distress. While being completely truthful can be daunting, especially in certain patient care circumstances, veracity in nursing is important for establishing trust and strengthening the nurse-patient relationship. Veracity also helps patients become more autonomous, making decisions for their care based on all relevant, factual information.

Nursing Ethical Principles in Practice

In order to learn how to put each of these nursing ethical principles to good use, most nursing programs include ethics as part of their curriculum. Ethical principles in nursing may be presented as an individual class, or the topic may be rolled into another course, such as professionalism in nursing practice. To reinforce the importance of the subject matter, questions about nursing ethics often appear on the NCLEX exam.

Ethical principles in nursing help guide nurses’ daily practice, even if a nurse isn’t directly aware of it. For instance, a nurse may advocate for a patient stopping treatment for cancer if the patient wants to enter hospice care. Or, a nurse may act ethically by providing post-operative pain medications to patients after surgery. These are both examples of adhering to a code of ethics in nursing, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface. By using the principles of ethics, each nurse can provide safe, compassionate care to their patients.

Use Your Ethical Principles in Nursing at a Job That Works for You

Whether you are looking for your first job in nursing or are a seasoned professional, ethical principles can help you better serve your patients. Working for a company that puts nurses first could be the right move for you. Learn more about our easy-to-use scheduling app and all the benefits we offer.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, her unique insights into the healthcare industry help her craft compelling content that targets both healthcare consumers and clinicians.


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