The Code of Ethics for Nurses: A 5-Minute Summary

Need a refresher on The Code? Here you go!

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Back in nursing school, you were expected to know the Nursing Code of Ethics backwards and forwards. In fact, you were probably able to recite it by heart at some point. But if you’ve been out of school for a while, some of the details might be a little fuzzy now. In any event, it never hurts to get a refresher on something like The Code. This easy-to-read breakdown will help you re-familiarize yourself with the Nursing Code of Ethics and its key concepts.

Note that this guide only deals with the national Code of Ethics that’s recognized in the United States. If you have the time, you might also want to familiarize yourself with the international code.

What Is the Nursing Code of Ethics?

In 1950, the American Nurses Association created the first “Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements,” known commonly as the Nursing Code of Ethics, in order to help nurses successfully navigate a variety of healthcare scenarios. Think of it as a document that formalizes the behaviors expected of nurses. When facing an ethical or moral dilemma, nurses can refer to The Code to guide their on-the-job decision-making processes.

Quick Summary of the Code of Ethics for Nurses

Currently, The Code has nine provisions and 35 prescriptive statements, which outline how nurses should behave both in and out of the workplace. Given how lengthy it is, we’ve consolidated all of the information you absolutely need to know about it.

PROVISION 1: “The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Respect for Human Dignity”
  • “Relationships With Patients”
  • “The Nature of Health”
  • “The Right to Self-Determination”
  • “Relationships With Colleagues and Others”

PROVISION 2: “The nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient, whether an individual, family, group, community, or population.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Primacy of the Patient’s Interests”
  • “Conflict of Interest for Nurses”
  • “Collaboration”
  • “Professional Boundaries”

PROVISION 3: “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Protection of the Rights of Privacy and Confidentiality”
  • “Protection of Human Participants in Research”
  • “Performance Standards and Review Mechanisms”
  • “Professional Responsibility in Promoting a Culture of Safety”
  • “Protection of Patient and Safety by Acting on Questionable Practice”
  • “Patient Protection and Impaired Practice”

PROVISION 4: “The nurse has authority, accountability, and responsibility for nursing practice; makes decisions; and takes action consistent with the obligation to promote health and to provide optimal care.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Authority, Accountability, and Responsibility”
  • “Accountability for Nursing Judgments, Decisions, and Actions”
  • “Responsibility for Nursing Judgments, Decisions, and Actions”
  • “Assignment and Delegation of Nursing Activities or Tasks”

PROVISION 5: “The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Duties to Self and Others”
  • “Promotion of Personal Health, Safety, and Well-Being”
  • “Preservation of Wholeness of Character”
  • “Preservation of Integrity”
  • “Maintenance of Competence and Continuation of Professional Growth”
  • “Continuation of Personal Growth”

PROVISION 6: “The nurse, through individual and collective effort, establishes, maintains, and improves the ethical environment of the work setting and conditions of employment that are conducive to safe, quality health care [sic].”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “The Environment and Moral Virtue”
  • “The Environment and Ethical Obligation”
  • “Responsibility for the Healthcare Environment”

PROVISION 7: “The nurse, in all roles and settings, advances the profession through research and scholarly inquiry, professional standards development, and the generation of both nursing and health policy.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Contributions Through Research and Scholarly Inquiry”
  • “Contributions Through Developing, Maintaining, and Implementing Professional Practice Standards”
  • “Contributions Through Nursing and Health Policy Development”

PROVISION 8: “The nurse collaborates with other health professionals and the public to protect human rights, promote health diplomacy, and reduce health disparities.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Health Is a Universal Right”
  • “Collaboration for Health, Human Rights, and Health Diplomacy”
  • “Obligation to Advance Health and Human Rights and Reduce Disparities”
  • “Collaboration for Human Rights in Complex, Extreme, or Extraordinary Practice Settings”

PROVISION 9: “The profession of nursing, collectively through its professional organizations, must articulate nursing values, maintain the integrity of the profession, and integrate principles of social justice into nursing and health policy.”

List of Interpretive Statements:

  • “Articulation and Assertion of Values”
  • “Integrity of the Profession”
  • “Integrating Social Justice”
  • “Social Justice in Nursing and Health Policy”

Best Resources to Read More on Ethical Issues in Nursing

If you’re interested in reading more about ethical issues in nursing, here’s a list of some great publications that you should check out:

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Cinch™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice. Click here to read our full disclaimer

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