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How to Use the Nursing Code of Ethics

It can be tough to make ethical decisions on your own. Applying the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses can help you make the right decisions – for you and your patients.

Nursing brings daily ethical dilemmas. Learning how to use the ethics code as your guide can make your daily work less stressful, improve your team's morale, and lead to better patient outcomes.

What the Nursing Code of Ethics Can Do for You

Nursing brings its stresses, as well as its rewards. One common source of stress for registered nurses is the ethical dilemmas they face on every shift.

These ethical dilemmas can come in many forms, such as:  

  • How should you navigate the hierarchies of power in the health care system?
  • Is health care every person’s right, or a privilege?
  • Is your first loyalty to your patient or your employer?
  • How should you manage suffering at the end of life?
  • What's the best way to balance a patient’s right to autonomy and informed consent with other pressures?

Using the Nurses’ Code of Ethics as a resource can help you make the right decisions more comfortably, and to better serve your patients.

Referring to the Code also makes your decisions more transparent and easier to justify when discussing them with others.

Displaying a strong understanding of moral and ethical issues and how to resolve them quickly and competently helps position you as a leader within your field. In turn, this can open up more job opportunities and career growth.

It’s not just individual nurses who benefit from applying the Code – an ethical workplace can provide significant benefits for employee productivity and cohesiveness. An article in the “Online Journal of Issues in Nursing” refers to multiple studies which found that: “Poor ethical climates were correlated with higher levels of moral distress, poorer job satisfaction, and increased likelihood of intent to leave a position.”

The Essential Elements of the Nursing Code of Ethics

The Code includes 35 prescriptive statements and nine provisions.

In summary, the nine provisions state that nurses are expected to:

  1. Show compassion and respect for the dignity and worth of each unique person.
  2. Be committed first and foremost to the patient.
  3. Promote and protect the rights, health, and safety of the patient.
  4. Use your authority and make decisions to promote health and optimal care.
  5. Take care of your own health and safety, integrity, and continued learning.
  6. Improve the ethical environment.
  7. Undertake research and policy development.
  8. Foster the integrity and social justice displayed by the nursing profession.
  9. Discuss, debate, and determine the values that underpin the nursing profession.

Where You Can Learn About the Code of Ethics

The full “Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretative Statements” is freely available online. However, don’t expect reading it in isolation to instantly solve your more difficult dilemmas.

The “Online Journal of Issues in Nursing” article reassures us that: “Nurses and other health care professionals are not expected to be able to resolve complex ethical problems alone, using only a Code of Ethics. Often, other resources are needed to grasp the full complexity of an ethical dilemma.”

Some nursing degrees include courses that educate nurses on the code of ethics and how to implement it. As part of the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at the University of Saint Mary, you will study Health Care Policy and Ethics. You’ll discover how health policies are made and how to influence them. You’ll also cover issues such as budgeting, funding, access barriers, technology, legal issues, and vulnerable populations.

At USM, you will also study Foundations of Advanced Nursing Practice in the MSN. You and your classmates will explore current ethical, economic, legal, and political issues in advanced nursing, including the Code of Ethics. You’ll discuss relationships between theory, research, and practice for the advanced practice nurse. Plus, the course covers the 5 C's of Caring developed by ethics pioneer Sister Simone Roach, which are:

  • Commitment.

  • Conscience.

  • Competence.

  • Compassion.

  • Confidence.

Experienced nurses understand that quality patient care relies on more than just technical nursing knowledge.

The provisions of the Nursing Code of Ethics and courses that help you apply them are invaluable for reducing nurses’ stress, increasing ethical decision-making, and improving patient outcomes.

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Nursing at the University of Saint Mary. Call 877-307-4915 or request more information.