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Top 5 Ethical Principles in Nursing

Ethical standards provide for ethical behaviors that guide the nurses in conducting themselves properly and responsibly, thus protecting and fostering the integrity of people and their dignity and embracing justice. These principles evolved as a set of guidelines for ethical decision-making that assist a nurse in dealing with different moral issues that a nurse meets in practice. Ethical guidelines are the cornerstones of professional education, and therefore, through ethical practice, nurses protect the well-being of their clients and adhere to the standards of nursing practice.

It is a comprehensive study of the historical background of ethical norms of the profession of nursing and the inception of the profession’s standards with reference to the nursing profession’s founder, Florence Nightingale, and her call for high ethical and moral levels in the profession while nursing the patients.  In her career, various ethical theories and codes of ethics have been adopted by the nursing profession due to the belief in ethical accomplishment as well as consistent ethical benchmarking. 

The Importance of Ethical Principles in Nursing

Understanding the ethical principles of the practice is important since it acts as a foundation on which the nurses practice while engaging with patients, families, colleagues, and society. These are not just theoretical truths but living principles that define the practice of nursing care as they involve providing physical and emotional needs for patients as well as dealing with ethical issues. By implementing professional communication behaviors such as respect, empathy, and trustworthiness, the nurses help promote a significant element of trust with their patients that may be important for shared communication, patient-centered care, and collaborative decision-making. 

Nurses work in several highly ethically sensitive areas, such as managing relationships with patients’ family members and handling the socio-economic differences that define their needs. This includes promoting the concept of diversity, accompanying patients with assorted needs and backgrounds, and campaigning for fair treatment within the medical field. Interprofessional collaboration is also marked by the importance of ethical principles, which help teamwork, professionalism, harmony, and responsibility among interprofessional healthcare personnel. 

5 Ethical Principles in Nursing

In nursing, these five ethical principles autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice and fidelity guide practice. Basically, these ethical principles act as the foundation of the nursing profession mainly because they act as the guiding principles that should be followed by any nurse as he or she is practicing in order to deliver the best quality ethical care to the patients and other members of the community.


Patient self-determination is the right of patients to use relevant information to make healthcare decisions independently. Personal autonomy in nursing can be defined as upholding a patient’s preferences, beliefs, and values and empowering a patient to make an informed decision. Nurses protect the principle of autonomy by ensuring that patients understand the treatment decisions made, supporting the decisions made by the patients regardless of their own decision, and fighting for patients’ right to make their own decisions about their treatment plans at the various stages of their illness.


In the same way, beneficence is a principle that focuses on doing good to the patient and ensuring that they are not subjected to unnecessary suffering. Finally, the principle of beneficence in the clinical context relates to promoting patients’ welfare and well-being by providing safe, effective, and compassionate care. Beneficence is present in the efforts made to safeguard the health of the patient, the constant monitoring of the condition of the patient, and finally in determining that the patient is not made to suffer a great deal. Thus, fulfilling the beneficence principle, nurses can be considered to deliver the ethical significance of pursuing improvements in patients’ health and quality of life.


Nonmaleficence means it is wrong to harm a patient, meaning that nonmaleficence is a crucial principle of medical practice. This principle in nursing means doing everything possible not to harm the patient and to reduce risks as much as possible in order to protect the patient’s safety. Patients can identify nonmaleficence as nurses practice careful evaluation of risks and benefits of timely interventions, follow recommended safety measures and promote innovations that minimize harm to the patient. One possible message is that by respecting the principle of nonmaleficence, nurses do everything they can to guard patients against harm and assist them in achieving the best possible health status and prognosis.


Justice includes distributive justice, which aims at rationing the healthcare resources and treatment equally and reconciled justice, which aims at compromising between the giver and receiver. In nursing, this principle involves being courteous to all patients we deal with or attend to, irrespective of their color, Money, fame, family, or wherever they come from. Promotion of justice: Nurses also access justice by ensuring that all individuals receive appropriate health care services, fight against unfair treatment that some patients receive, and fight for policies that support fairness. Through advocating for justice, nurses aim to ensure health for all by giving fair treatment to all deserving clients, hence restoring public faith in the healthcare system.


Business ethics for professionals include maintaining fidelity, a concept that denotes loyalty and duty to commitments and trust. Some of the ways through which fidelity is manifested in nursing include ethical practice, whereby adherence to ethic [ethics is upheld; professionalism, where professionalism is practiced by fulfilling the legal requirements of the nursing profession as well; and confidentiality, whereby the patient’s information is kept secret. In this aspect, nurses must promote patients’ rights and ensure that they do not disclose any information regarding the patients unless it is in the patient’s best interest. That way, nurses are able to cultivate trust and confidence in the belief that they hold with the patients, their fellow nurses, and the more significant profession of nursing, hence promoting ethical nursing practice.

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Ethical Guidelines and Dilemmas in Nursing

The nursing profession is a moral profession; ethical principles and issues apply in day-to-day practice through Nurses and Midwives. This section discusses various standards of nursing ethical codes and the most frequently seen ethical problems in the nursing practice, as well as potential options for ethical solutions to these issues.

Ethical guidelines for practice are important for the nursing profession since they offer direction on how the profession should be run while upholding integrity in a broader sense.

Ethical Guidelines for Nursing Research

Ethical principles comprise ethical procedures that provide direction as to how ethical decisions ought to be made and assist the nurses in the discharge of their professional conduct. These are usually summarized in the basic nursing ethics guidelines and professional practice guides. Nurses should respect the patient’s right to self-decision-making, the principle that doing good is better than harming, and perform duties within the rights and rules of fairness and loyalty. In reference to this, ethical standards include the principles of confidentiality, integrity as well as accountability, which are all critical considerations of trust when performing nursing practice.

Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing Practice

Ethical issues present themselves when a nurse performs tasks and exercises a profession in a manner that conflicts with moral principles. The following are some of the areas that the concept of ethical difficulty tends to focus on: End-of-life care decisions and actions, Informed consent, Resource management, and Conflict of interest, among others. For example, nurses may experience a moral conflict while making decisions on patients’ rights, a self-directing capable patient, and the patient’s welfare, or they may make decisions for one patient in a way that would be beneficial to another patient.

Managing ethical dilemmas can often be difficult for a professional, and they pose questions of ethical principles, professional guidelines, and legislation. They are ethical dilemmas in professional practice and research.

  1. Conflicting Ethical Principles: Ethical issues are still faced when the ethical principles are in contradiction with each other in the nursing practice. For instance, the principle of autonomy may conflict with the principle of beneficence; for example, a nurse may be in a dilemma if she has to decide between respecting the privacy of the patient and diagnosing an illness that is deemed deadly by the patient and so on. Sometimes, aspects of both deontological and teleological approaches may clash; in particular, the former may call for the nurse to respect the patient’s right of self-determination and allow them to die, while the latter may demand that the nurse intercedes to prevent harm and to ensure the patient’s safety.
  2. Violation of Ethical Principles: Another form of ethical issue is practice, where a nurse puts oneself in a set of circumstances in which ethical principles are most likely to be compromised. For instance, a nurse may experience an ethical conflict in confrontation with an officer or a fellow worker if they seem to misbehave, for example, prescribing a dosage of a medication without a prescription or disclosing a patient’s information to a third party. In such situations, the nurses face an ethical dilemma of professionalism and obeying corporate rules that provide a request to report the misconduct and, at the same time, being aware of the implications it will have on their colleague’s career.

Strategies for  Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing

Some strategies can lead to better outcomes for ethical dilemmas in nursing. Promote integrated care and shared decision-making with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals, focusing on legally and ethically appropriate interactions and recognizing the patients’ choices and preferences while attending to organizational protocols and guidelines.

  • Discuss the ethical principles in relation to AMA and or any other governing nursing professional bodies, as well as refer to the four-step ethical decision-making model.
  • Encourage trust to enhance the exposure and interaction with the patients, their families, and even members from other healthcare disciplines.
  • Promote discussion of the key ethical issues and discuss what matters most ethically and what people want in their communities.
  • Collaborate with a variety of specialists within the healthcare context to apply and benefit from a broader outlook.
  • Understand that your colleagues have a great deal to offer and that it is essential that your group arrives at the most effective decision.
  • Consult your senior friends or some other professional who have come across such issues in their practice.
  • One of the ways to ensure that critical decisions are made appropriately is by seeking to use the available sources like Institutional policies and professed guidelines in the process.
  • It is also important not to neglect the patient’s values and preferences and to respect the patient’s autonomy.
  • Promote the patient as the primary decision-maker in health care.
  • Human research should be able to guarantee that every activity taken to improve the situation supports the espoused ethical standards and can be widely embraced to help individuals and societies manage the outcomes of research findings.
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Impact of Ethical Principles in Nursing

The degree of compliance with ethical principles in the nursing profession is incredible as it defines the extensity of patient care and measures professionalism. It sets the ethical tone of nursing professionals in various health facilities. Ethical standards are measures that guide nursing professionals within different contexts and scopes while interacting with patients and their families, other caregivers, institutions, and society, in general, to balance humane, noble, and compassionate care.

Patient Care

Paternalism and the principles of autonomy, beneficence, and nonmolestation are some of the cardinal aspects of patient-centered care because they assist in meeting the client to do so with concern for their particular wish and necessity. Nurses stand with and safeguard the patients’ rights of self-determination and self-administration over their treatment; they enhance patients’ well-being, search for ways in which patients may be harmed, and then try to minimize those risks.

Professional Integrity

Policies and standards of ethics in nursing help dictate ethical practice and nursing practices among nurses. Being ethical is one key aspect when handling patients, fellows, or any member of the health profession. One needs to uphold ethical principles, ethical responsibility, and conduct, not disclose any information, professionalism, integrity, and good judgment throughout the process.

Ethical Decision-Making

It is useful for nurses to know ethical principles, as they can help show them which way to turn when they find themselves in an ethically puzzling situation in the practice area. Ethical analysis entails assessing other potential solutions and identifying the right solution that addresses an ethical question in a handsome manner that is acceptable in ethical theories and benefits patients.

Patient Trust and Confidence

It is imperative to follow the instilled ethical standards, which greatly enhance the patient’s trust in the nursing profession and health systems generally. This is because patients are assured that there is nothing unlawful that they are subjected to, but just legal acts that are right and would never infringe any principle such as respect, courtesy, and non-deception to the patients, hence developing a positive attitude towards their physicians and thus leading to the adoption of healthy lifestyles.

Advancement of Nursing Practice

Ethical principles can assist in further developing nursing practice as the professionals involved seek to learn, grow, research, and enhance the science of their daily practice. One has to know that nurses also use a code of ethics and, therefore, engage in ethical discussion and struggle for ethical practice that leads to the development and enhancement of the quality of nursing practice.

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Ethical Principles in Nursing Education

Teaching professional values in nursing courses is imperative to producing professional nurses who can face difficulties in the healthcare profession. Incorporating ethical principles into the program curriculum enables educators to equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with ethical issues that may arise in practice and to act professionally within the nursing standards.

Teaching Ethical Decision-Making Skills to Nursing Students

It is crucial to equip students with the skills of ethical decision-making so that any ethical issue is addressed with an assurance of professionalism. It was found that the teaching strategies used by nursing educators include case presentations, simulation, and group discussions where students can ponder case scenarios, debate, and reflect on ethical dilemmas (Source). It is a testament to the dedication of educators to guide learners through the ethical dilemmas in healthcare and to foster advocacy for ethical practice throughout the practice years.

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Importance of Ethical Education for Future Nurses

Ethical education is invaluable for future nurses since it equips them with ethical standards and positive behavioral patterns relevant to the nursing field. To foster ethical training, ethos is directed, and ethical standards of professional conduct and responsibility are set among learners to enhance their behavior and decision-making processes within various healthcare facilities. The topic elaborates on the ways the nursing programs encourage an ethical classroom and leadership in nursing practices through the prioritization of ethical learning endeavors. Ethical education also instills the values of professionalism and learning throughout the nursing career and within a workplace environment, which will allow a nurse to develop ways to approach new and existing ethical issues and enhance the field of nursing.

What role does ethical leadership play in nursing?

Ethical leadership in nursing is a crucial concept because it creates awareness of ethical standards, brings ethical values into the nursing culture, and provides direction to ethical decision-making. When ethical processes of leadership exist within the nursing profession, people have hope in their leaders as well as colleagues and uphold high professional standards. 

They are committed and concerned about the patient’s care and ethics, and they ensure that nursing practice is ethical and legal. This may suggest that ethical leaders foster an organizational culture of transparency and accountability, where nurses can freely raise ethical issues and even offer solutions to ethical problems.

How can nurses ensure compliance with both legal and ethical standards in practice?

Nurses can take several steps to ensure that their legal obligations in practice meet legal and ethical standards: legal knowledge, ethical reasoning, and professional judgment. First, they must acquaint themselves with the laws and regulations relating to nurses. These may include state nurse practice acts, federal regulations, institutional policies, and professional standards. 

Secondly, nurses should respect autonomy, be beneficent and nonmaleficence, and be loyal to the principles of ethics regarding the patient, colleagues, and the health sector as a whole. They are expected to ensure the welfare of patients, uphold patients’ rights, and champion the proper standards in providing care. Also, nurses should continue education and training to increase their knowledge of the legal and ethical aspects of nursing practice and consult ethics committees, lawyers, and literature whenever they encounter ethical questions.


Ethical standards remain the foundation of the code of nursing, which the nurses practicing nursing uphold to treat patients in a dignified, patient-centered, and professional manner. In the process of writing this article, we focused on the importance of ethical principles in many spheres of nursing, which include the care of patients, nursing education, as well as critical care, and other types of practice. Nurses should ensure that they understand the value of ethical principles and consequently embrace ethical values on nursing practice, patient dignity, improved health care, and the progression of the nursing profession.

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