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Steps to Maintaining High Ethical Standards in Your Nursing Career

Nurses receive high marks for ethical standards, but maintaining those standards takes real effort.

For 15 straight years, Americans have rated nurses as having the highest honesty and ethical standards of any professional group.* In total, 84% of Americans think nurses’ standards are high or very high. That’s great for the profession, but it can be a little intimidating if you’re planning on entering the field. Can you maintain such high ethical standards during your nursing career? You can if you take the proper steps.

  1. Earn the Right Nursing Degree

    It may seem obvious that becoming a nurse begins by attending nursing school. But did you know that in the Institute of Medicine’s report on the future of nursing , nurses are being called to move beyond an RN and earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)? This is because nursing is becoming increasingly complex, including in matters of ethics. If you want help enhance nursing standards, a BSN degree or higher is the way to go.

    Thanks to online education, completing a bachelor’s-level nursing program is more convenient than ever before. Through an online nursing program, you can handle the majority of your coursework from home on a schedule that fits your busy life. If you’ve already completed an RN program, you can enroll in an online RN to BSN program, which makes it possible to complete your RN to BSN courses while you continue to work as a full-time nurse. Choosing an online nursing school can give you the flexibility you need to earn your BSN degree and learn the ethical standards you’ll need to succeed as a nurse.

  2. Familiarize Yourself With the Nursing Code of Ethics

    In addition to following the ethical standards you’ll learn about while earning your online nursing degree, you’ll want to adhere to the nursing code of ethics developed by the American Nurses Association. The code includes nine provisions designed to address all the ethical aspects of a nursing career, from patient care to professional relationships to the promotion of values. The full code along with interpretive statements is available from the American Nurses Association.

  3. Be Aware of Common Ethical Dilemmas

    Even after completing your nursing degree online and learning every detail of the nursing code of ethics, you’ll likely face some situations that pose an ethical dilemma. While your training will prepare you for these moments, it’s good to be aware they exist before you encounter them. Common nursing dilemmas include:

  4. Best Practices vs. Patient Beliefs

    As a nurse, you’ll understand the science of medicine better than most of your patients. However, that won’t stop some patients from rejecting your treatment recommendations or engaging in harmful behavior despite your warnings. Throughout your nursing career, you’ll have to ethically manage what’s best for patients vs. what patients believe and want.

    Your Beliefs vs. Patient Rights and Requests

    You’re not a robot. You have your own moral codes and religious beliefs. And, occasionally, your personal beliefs may come into conflict with what a patient requests. For instance, families might choose to withhold information about a diagnosis from their loved one who is also the patient, to help spare them emotional distress. Does the patient have the right to know? Is honesty always best? This and other ethical issues can come up at any time throughout your career.

    Minors vs. Families

    Patients have a right to know all the details of their condition and care, whether or not their family wants them to know. They also have the right to keep any and all medical information from their family. However, this issue becomes trickier when you’re treating children. Minors, unlike adults, do not have full privacy rights. That means that when treating minors, you may have to make ethical decisions about what and what not to disclose to whom.

    Resources vs. Efficacy

    Just because a medical procedure exists doesn’t mean it’s necessary. But what happens when a patient demands a procedure that’s unlikely to provide any benefit? While insurers usually refuse to pay for unnecessary procedures, some patients choose to pay out of pocket. Managing this dilemma can be quite difficult and typically requires a patient-by-patient approach.

Nurses are considered one of the most honest and ethical professionals for a reason. Not only do they provide high-quality care, but they do so in a way that treats patients with the dignity they deserve. It’s a profession you, too, can excel in if you commit yourself to being ethical and honest.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*J. Norman, Americans Rate Healthcare Providers High on Honesty, Ethics, Gallup, on the Internet at

†Nelson, Lee, Report: 80% of Nursing Workforce Should Have a BSN By 2020, on the Internet at

‡American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics for Nurses With Interpretive Statements, on the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, 1-800-621-7440,