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How To Successfully Carry Code of Ethics for Nurses

Written by Julia Tortorice
Photo by: Aubrey (Flickr)

Photo by: Aubrey (Flickr)

We are bound by our nursing code to work in tandem with other medical professionals effectively and ethically.

How to Successfully Carry Code of Ethics for Nurses

We nurses are all bound by a code of ethics. This code holds us to a specific set of standards by which we should disseminate our patient care. Our patients and their families rely upon us to provide the tender loving care necessary to facilitate proper healing. It can sometimes be hard, however, to maintain a positive attitude and loving nature when you've been duty for extended hours; nurses get tired too. Here are some ways you can maintain the nursing code of ethics even when you've had a bad shift.

The nursing code of ethics is all about respect: respect for the dignity of a human being and his or her patient care. As nurses, we are faced with situations where we might find a reason to feel prejudice. It is hard to have compassion toward a patient who, perhaps, causes his or her own health problems, inflicts pain and suffering on others, or who has little regard for human life. In more serious cases, the nurse might feel an unwarranted prejudice against the patient due to the patient's ethnicity or religious belief. Perhaps the patient is refusing care that would enable the healing the patient needs based upon a specific faith.

When you are faced with situations like these, frustration is likely to set in because you can help, but the patient won't allow you to. I always keep the golden rule in mind when it comes to helping me work successfully under the nursing code of ethics: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Think about it. If the tables were turned and you were the patient, you would want to be aided by a nurse who saw zero prejudice and respected your wishes, regardless of his or her personal opinions. You also expect that from your colleagues.

We must also tailor our patient care to each individual's needs, while still offering the same level of care for every patient. Our code of ethics holds us accountable to ensuring that each patient under our care receives the same level of attention, regardless of who they are. In other words, you cannot treat a patient who is a relative with superior care over another patient in whom you have a zero vested interest. As a nurse, it is important to have the same vested interest in every patient.

This carries over into other ethics by which we are bound. Nurses face conflicts of interest on a regular basis; perhaps you aren't the best nurse to take care of your dying relative, because the situation is too close to your heart. If you are unable to assist a patient effectively, it is critical that you step aside and allow another nurse to handle that patient's care. Again, think about how you would feel if the tables were turned. You'd want the best nurse for the job to take care of you, and we are bound to step aside if we are not that nurse.

Nurses work in tandem with their medical professional colleagues and must understand and exercise boundaries. Do not attempt to perform a medical procedure best suited to be performed by a doctor. Understand your limitations and be a beneficial member of your medical team instead of a hindrance. Patient care requires positive collaboration between medical professionals who respect each other's boundaries. Keep this in mind as you perform your daily nursing duties.

Confidentiality is a critical component in our job, especially since Congress enacted HIPAA. We are privy to classified information that could be damaging to our patients should that information fall into the wrong hands. As nurses, our patients expect us to keep their private lives private, and we are bound by our code of ethics to do so. It is important to think twice about discussing any patient under your care; doing so to the wrong person or in the wrong environment would violate the nursing code of ethics.

We must also be accountable during the unfortunate times when we make mistakes in patient care or act against our code of ethics. We are human, and overworked and tired, but we should never use that to hide behind a lack of accountability. As nurses, we knowingly take human life into our own hands, and we have a responsibility to be accountable for that at all times; which segues nicely into an issue that all nurses face in healthcare today: Whistleblowers.

Many nurses wrestle with whether to be a whistleblower in today's healthcare industry. Unfortunately, people in our profession sit on both sides of this fence and a common ground has not been established at this time about the acceptability of whistle blowing in healthcare. Because you are bound by a code of ethics that is very clear on how nurses should conduct patient care, you also have an obligation to prevent inadequate or abusive patient care. If you report malpractice publicly, are you doing the right thing or are you being a troublemaker?

I'm not here to push my personal opinions on you. In some cases, I think it can be argued that a whistleblower is a good thing; in other cases, a bad thing. If a medical professional is acting out of his or her area of expertise to the detriment of patients, or perhaps a medical group is cutting corners in patient care to save costs, the public should be aware of it. After all, to a certain degree patients go into patient care blindly, only having licensing information to rely upon to determine credibility of the healthcare practitioner.

This being said, the flip side of this debate are whistleblowers who toot their whistles too soon, when it's inappropriate, or to get ahead in their own careers. Certainly, one can argue that this type of whistle blowing can only bring about a negative impact to the healthcare industry, as patients will quickly trust no one when it comes to their patient care. There are times when bringing about a public healthcare scare is unnecessary, and it only causes harm rather than good.

The nursing code of ethics is very clear on how we should treat our patients and how we should interact with our colleagues. It also discusses when we should take that important step forward to prevent malpractice and abuse. Perhaps this is the best guide upon which nurses can rely to determine whether they feel whistle blowing is a help or hindrance to our industry. After all, it is these ethics by which we are bound.

Either way, successfully carrying out the nursing code of ethics is critical to our success as nurses and, more importantly, to our patient care. We should always keep in mind that our patients are reliant upon us and our medical knowledge to help them get well and stay well. If you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, I believe you'll find it easier to carry out the ethics we promise to uphold upon nursing school graduation. Think about how you want to be treated, and then treat others that way, adding an extra layer of compassion, understanding, and respect just to make sure you're the best nurse that you can be!