The way professionals behave when they are on duty is referred to as professional conduct. When a person works at a professional level, he/she should behave or uphold exemplary standards of behavior (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005). The nursing profession outlines a mandatory professional code of conduct registered nurses should uphold (ICN, 2006). The profession obliges nurses to conduct themselves professionally to maintain public trust and confidence (Garrett et. al., 2010). Any conduct that is contrary to the expected standards of practice is called unprofessional conduct. Unprofessionalism is highly discouraged because it causes human suffering and affects the quality of care. This paper focuses on the nursing professional code of conduct and the corresponding ethical principles upon which the code is built (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005).
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Nursing Professional Code of Conduct
A professional code of behavior consists of principles that direct professional affairs. The code is divided into two sections, namely professional obligations and professional ideals. Professional obligations entail behaviors that a nurse must show at the workplace (Garrett et. al., 2010). These behaviors should be in accordance with the fundamental principles of the profession. On the other hand, professional ideals refer to professional behaviors acquired through ongoing development programs. These ideals help professionals to improve their quality of service (Garrett et. al., 2010). Some of the professional code of conduct nurses upholds includes the following:
Nurses Practice in Safe and Competent Manner
Nurses are responsible for providing safe and competent healthcare services. They are accountable for any professional or unprofessional practice that may happen when providing care services (Kerridge &Lowe, 2005). Therefore, to maintain competence and quality of service, they update themselves through participation in ongoing professional development programs. These programs are aimed at helping them to improve knowledge, skills, and attitudes relevant to nursing practice (Garrett et. al., 2010). This conduct also requires nursing practitioners to undertake activities that are within their scope to make sure that patient safety is not threatened. Competent and safe practice entails the use of the ethical principle of proportionality. Therefore, when administering drugs or medication, they must consider the safety of the patient. If the side effects associated with certain medication would cause more harm than desired value/benefit, it is better to consider an alternative medication (Garrett et. al., 2010).
Nurses make sure that patient information is kept confidential. This code is built on ethical principles of confidentiality. Confidentiality is an ethical practice that nurses embrace when serving patients. This principle restrains nurses from disclosing the patient’s private information because it is unethical and legally unacceptable. Sharing other people’s personal information violates their right to confidentiality (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005).
Nurses Respect the Dignity, Culture, Ethnicity, Values and Beliefs of Patients
Nurses provide care to various groups of people who include adults, children, people from different colors, races and different backgrounds to mention but just a few. These categories of people need to enjoy their culture, values and beliefs even when they are on a care program. Therefore, nurses have an obligation to provide quality care, to each category without discrimination. This requires the nurse to uphold culturally-informed care ethics (NBT, 2005). This includes respecting the patient’s culture, values, personal decisions and wishes, and family members. Moreover, nurses should promote the patient’s interests by providing them with sufficient information to enable them to make informed decisions about care and treatment (Garrett et. al., 2010).
This code is built on the ethical wedge principle. The wedge principle helps nurses to make the right judgments to avoid unnecessary exceptions. Moreover, this principle helps to promote human dignity besides being crucial in justifying care decisions. In trying to promote human dignity, nurses provide advocacy services for the vulnerable or the weak in society. Respect for human dignity is built on the principles of proportionality. In planning and organizing for healthcare services, a nursing practitioner sometimes finds himself/herself in a dilemma whether to administer medication that would harm the patient while providing care. The proportionality principle helps nurses to make the right judgments as they strive to alleviate the patient’s pain (Johnstone & Kanitsaki, 2001).
Nurses Support the Health, Wellbeing and Informed Decision-making of Patients
This code of professional conduct requires the nurse to inform patients about the nature of the care they intend to receive (ICN, 2006). They also give detailed information on why such a care program was recommended (Garrett et. al., 2010). This nursing standard is based on the ethical principle of autonomy. This principle involves the person’s right to self-determination or choice and independence. It provides that every person with capacity has the right to decide his/her own way of action. Therefore, it is the duty of the nurse to respect the patient’s decision even when he/she disagrees with it. This principle encompasses other ethical practices such as patient advocacy, informed consent, privacy and confidentiality (Garrett et. al., 2010).
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The ethical principle of proportionality is a sub-section of the primary principle of beneficence. Proportionality requires a nurse to choose care options that bring more value to the patient than harm. Some nursing practices may cause harm to patients. However, it is ethical if the practice has more benefit than harm (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005). For instance, if a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, it may be ethical to cut the breast before cancerous cells spread even if this action harms the patient’s physical being. However, it may be unethical for the nurse to administer a very expensive experimental drug for a disease (Garrett et. al., 2010).
Nurses Practice Ethically and Reflectively
This code of conduct requires nurses to practice while reflecting on their practice (ICN, 2006). This ensures that they work in accordance with moral ethics and provide quality healthcare services. This code is built upon the ethical principle of double effect. This principle deals with the permissibility of acts that may harm or benefit the patient (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005). The double effect principle is permissible when acts that result in harmful effects are morally neutral. In addition, the beneficial act must be intended and the harmful one unintended (Garrett et. al., 2010). However, this principle is limited to some extent because some nurses may decide to abuse it. For instance, some treatments such as chemotherapy have a foreseeable harmful effect, but the patient and the nurse may opt for the treatment because of the benefits or value that result from the treatment. In such cases, this principle is permitted (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005).
In conclusion, a professional code of conduct is pivotal in healthcare. It ensures that professionals work professionally and remain accountable for their actions. Code of ethics or ethical principles plays an important role in strengthening nursing professional code of conduct. Ethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice play a vital role in the provision of nursing services. For example, they help nurses to make clinical judgments that are morally acceptable (Forrester & Griffiths, 2005). These principles form the basics of nursing practice that are accepted universally.
Forrester, K., & Griffiths, D. (2005). Essentials of Law for Health Professionals. New South Wales, NSW: Elsevier, Marrickville.
Garrett, T. M., Ballie, H., McGeehan, J. F., & Garrett, R. M. (2010). Health Care Ethics: Principles and Problems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
International Council of Nurses (2006) Code of Ethics for Nurses, ICN, Geneva. Available at: www.icn.ch. Accessed: 19 March 2008.
Johnstone, M., & Kanitsaki, O. (2001). Professional Conduct: A report to the Nurses Board of Victoria. RMIT University: Melbourne.
Kerridge, L., & Lowe, M. (2005). Ethics and Law for the Health Professions. Annandale, NSW : The Federation Press.
Nursing Board of Tasmania. (2005). Professional Boundaries Standards for Nurses in Tasmania. NBT: Hobart.