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Ethics are an intrinsic part of health care. Anyone working with patients – directly or indirectly – is expected to abide by certain ethical standards and practices. Nurses work in life or death situations every day, and every choice they make can impact the health and well-being of their patients. No matter your experience level as a nurse, the Nursing Code of Ethics can help guide you to ensure that your work is both honest and honorable and that you are providing patients with the best care possible.

What is the Nursing Code of Ethics?

The Nursing Code of Ethics is a modification of the Hippocratic Oath for doctors. It is also known as the “Nightingale Pledge”, since it was first used by nurses trained by Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Created by the American Nurses Association (ANA), the Code was developed as a guide for nurses both new and old to help them comply with a consistent set of ethical obligations as patient care providers and to ensure that all patients are treated equally regardless of their background or circumstances.

The Nursing Code of Ethics covers three primary aspects of care. These are autonomy, compassion, and justice.


It is ultimately the patient’s right to accept or deny any given form of treatment. A nurse’s job is to explain the treatment options available, outline the pros and cons of each one, answer any questions the patient has, and then ensure the patient’s wishes are followed. If the patient cannot understand the nurse clearly, it is the nurse’s responsibility to find a medical translator to ensure the patient understands all treatment options before giving or denying consent.

This can be difficult at times, especially if the patient’s wishes aren’t in the patient’s best interest and/or the doctors and other medical professionals are pushing for a different treatment option. Even so, the nurse’s job is not to choose the treatment option he or she feels is best but rather to ensure the patient has given (or withheld) informed consent. If the patient is medically unable to give informed consent, the nurse would work with close family members instead of directly with the patient.

Nurses also protect patient autonomy by protecting a patient’s right to privacy. For instance, a nurse cannot tell a patient’s family members/friends all the details about a patient’s health condition without that patient’s express permission. A nurse must also be aware of cybersecurity best practices when logging or checking a patient’s electronic health records to avoid inadvertently exposing this information to malicious third parties.


A nurse must be compassionate at all times. Put simply, this means acting for the good and welfare of others at all times. It covers important aspects of care such as treating patients with respect and dignity, administering medication with care to ensure the patient is given the correct medication and the correct dosage, and treating family members/friends of the patient with respect and professionalism.

Furthermore, a compassionate attitude extends not just to patients and their families but also to colleagues. Nurses should interact professionally with doctors, fellow nurses, and other professionals. They should avoid backbiting, loud arguments, and other behaviors that would disrupt the medical care center.

Compassion also extends to oneself. Because many of the people nurses interact with daily have communicable diseases, a nurse needs to maintain a high standard of hygiene, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep at night, and exercise regularly to maintain a strong immune system to combat diseases. Vaccines are also needed in order to protect vulnerable patients from infection. To this end, top-tier hospitals such as Eisenhower Health not only require nurses to be fully vaccinated but also provide multiple health benefits to ensure nurses can remain physically and mentally fit to maintain job quality long-term.


The third aspect of the Nursing Code of Ethics is justice. A nurse should provide an individual with the best possible care regardless of the patient’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, location, background, beliefs, medical condition, or other criteria.

This does not mean that each patient should be treated the same. A person’s health, gender, and ethnicity may require specialized forms of care that others would not need. If a patient poses a danger to themselves and/or others, the way in which a nurse would work with this patient would be different from the way a nurse would work with a non-threatening patient. However, in all instances, a nurse should never allow biases to form that would affect the care they give to those in need. Each patient should receive the best, most ethical care in any given situation.

Working as a nurse is challenging, as a nurse is continually giving to the community and colleagues. Even so, it’s an incredibly fulfilling career. A nurse who follows the Nursing Code of Ethics makes an indelible impact on the community every single day. Nursing saves lives, prevents the spread of sickness and/or the development of chronic conditions improves the lives of individuals to enable them to enjoy optimal health, and so much more.

Becoming an Ethical Nurse

Whether you are just entering the nursing profession or have been a nurse for years, you likely already have a strong moral compass and compassion for others. But wanting to do what is best for those you are helping is just the start of your journey toward becoming an ethical nurse.

The fact is, the field is always changing. New practices, technologies, and medical treatments are being introduced. Even ethical standards and requirements are being evaluated each year, so it is important to keep learning through research and professional development. Keeping up-to-date with these changes is vital to remaining an effective and trustworthy nursing professional.

At Eisenhower Health, we are committed to putting ethics at the forefront of everything we do, both for our team and our patients. If you want to know more about working with us, view our nurse opportunities on our job posting boards.

Originally posted on 3/8/2022

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