Why ethics are important in nursing?

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Nursing is a profession in which ethics matter. The care nurses provide to their patients can, and usually does, have ethical implications. After all, sometimes patients’ lives may be at stake, so it is important for nurses to conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Ethical awareness in nursing can ensure nurses conduct themselves responsibly while providing patients with the highest quality of care.

The nursing code of ethics

For nurses, ‘ethics’ is more than an abstract noun. Since the 1950s, the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements has been a useful guide and point of reference for registered nurses (RNs). For those beginning a career in nursing, the Code of Ethics is an invaluable guide that functions as the ethical standard and moral compass by which nurses practice. 

The Code is continually updated to incorporate advances in technology, changes in society, and the evolution of nursing as a practice. Nurses make decisions relating to patient care that draw directly from the ethical principles set out in the Code. 

What are the four ethical principles in nursing?

While the Code is constantly evolving to include principles best suited to modern society, ethical principles in nursing can be categorized into four main areas:

  • Autonomy 
  • Beneficence
  • Justice
  • Nonmaleficence


Autonomy is the right to self-determination. In practice, autonomy means nurses give sufficient information to enable patients to make informed decisions that reflect their beliefs and values. The decisions a patient makes might not be the ones their nurse chooses. Autonomy in nursing also relates to caregiving within the scope of practice defined by a state’s or organization’s rules, which means it would be unethical for a nurse to go beyond that scope of practice. 


This means the promotion of good. Beneficence ensures the best interests of the patient are considered. The patient’s best interests might not align with the nurse’s personal opinion but should be considered regardless. Examples of beneficence include comforting a dying patient or assisting with tasks that cannot be performed independently. 


As this principle suggests, it focuses on the fair and equal distribution of benefits. This relates to giving impartial care regardless of a patient’s age, ethnicity, economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Examples in practice include maintaining impartiality when assigning clinical care or prioritizing patient care. It is something one should think about before filling up a travel nursing application.


The principle is the avoidance or minimization of harm. For nonmaleficence to be a successful ethical principle in nursing, the delivery of safe, effective, and high-quality care is a must. Examples of this principle in practice include suspending a patient’s medication due to adverse reactions or ensuring a safe work environment for nurses.

The nursing code of ethics ensures all nurses are trained fairly and in a uniform manner so that all nurses across the country can provide health care for every member of the community. This also helps with relocating, so each nurse can be confident in their medical abilities. Ethics in any context are fundamental, but when looking after another person’s health, they are crucial. Good ethics make for great nurses. Let’s take a look at awareness of ethical practice in nursing.

Ethical awareness in nursing

While ethical awareness is paramount in any healthcare profession, it is amplified in nursing due to the front-line nature of the work. Nurses must be attuned to the nuances of nursing ethics to provide high-quality care and promote the health and well-being of their patients. To develop ethical awareness, nurses must understand and recognize the ethical implications of all nursing actions. When educating nurses on ethics, there is often a focus on the dilemmas and challenging situations nurses face. This is understandable, but nurses and educators must recognize the potential of every nursing action to impact patients, including even the most routine of daily actions. Taking vital signs, administering medications, or starting an intravenous line all have ethical implications. Dismissing the ethical implications of those daily activities could result in patients being put at risk of harm. For nurses to gain better ethical awareness, nurses and nurse educators must emphasize the importance of high-quality nursing education. 

Pursue a nursing career with a hybrid ABSN degree

If you’re interested in a nursing career and hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field of study, then a Hybrid Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) could be the perfect option for you. Saint Joseph’s College of Maine’s (SJC) online ABSN program is uniquely designed for graduates with no prior nursing experience. If you want to change careers, you can become a BSN-prepared nurse in as little as 15 months on this reputable course. All coursework is completed online, giving you a higher degree of flexibility. You can also benefit from direct patient care clinical hours and two on-campus immersions, including hands-on skills training and high- and low-fidelity simulations, in SJC’s brand-new Center for Nursing Innovation. Furthermore, the college’s graduates have proven their credentials with exemplary first-time NCLEX-RN passing rates of over 90%. 

The importance of ethics in nursing

Ethics are fundamental to the integrity of nursing. Decisions about life and death are part and parcel of the nursing profession. In an ever-changing world, there are increased challenges for nurses wishing to fulfill their ethical obligations, yet nurses continue to support each other in realizing their duties. To increase ethical awareness and the overall quality of care, nurses should ensure they are properly educated on the importance of ethics in nursing. Nurse educators should also ensure they are delivering the kind of education that makes a difference.

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