Nursing & midwifery code of ethics

Updated February 21, 2017

Professional ethics represent a code of behaviour by which practitioners are guided. For some professions, especially health and law, violations of the code of ethics results in censure, possible loss of license and debarment from practice. For nurses and midwives, the codes of ethics set the standards for patient care. These codes address the needs of a changing society and a changing landscape of health care.

ANA Code of Ethics

In the U.S., nurses adhere to the Code of Ethics for Nurses established by the American Nurses Association. The Code of Ethics for Nurses stresses that a nurse's primary obligation is to the patient, and that nurses "practice with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual." Nursing focuses upon the health needs of the patient, his family and his community.

Midwives Codes of Ethics

Essentially, the code of ethics for midwives does not vary from the codes for nursing. In fact, many midwives carry the title of nurse-midwife, and undergo the same level of professional education and certification as all registered nurses. The midwife specialises in the birthing of babies and maternal health care. As with nursing, the midwifery code of ethics focuses on the health care needs of the individual patient and treating each patient with dignity and respect.

International Codes of Ethics

The International Council of Nurses, created in 1899, represents nurses worldwide, and encompasses nursing agencies from more than 130 nations. The council adopted an international code of ethics in 1953, revised most recently in 2006. As with the other codes of ethics, "The ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses makes it clear that inherent in nursing is respect for human rights, including the right to life, to dignity and to be treated with respect. It also "guides nurses in everyday choices and supports their refusal to participate in activities that conflict with caring and healing." A similar agency for midwives, The International Confederation of Midwives, established an international code of ethics whose directive focuses on improving standards of care worldwide for women, infants and children through the professional education and development of midwives. International codes of ethics for nurses and for midwives emphasise social justice and international human rights.

Essential Points

Regardless of the professional role---nurse, midwife or nurse-midwife---each practitioner recognises and understands her role as being critical to the health care of the individual patient. Nurses and midwives advocate for "the delivery of dignified and humane care." They respect the patient's right of self-determination, helping the patient and his family to make informed decisions about appropriate health care options. Nurses and midwives accept an ethical obligation to be accountable and responsible for their own actions in the nurse-patient relationship. As professionals, they hold themselves to ethical and moral standards of personal behaviour.

Ethics Education

Ethics education begins in nursing school and continues throughout the nurse's or midwife's professional life. As students, nurses and midwives receive education about their ethical obligations, and the role that professional ethics plays in the delivery of high quality health care. The codes of ethics not only lay out the standards of professional practice, but they also stress the importance of ongoing professional development and education to maintain current knowledge. Nursing and midwifery agencies and associations offer ongoing continuing education and professional education for ethics and in understanding the codes of ethics during conference and conventions. This encompasses education for new techniques and procedures for practice and ethics education to better understand the function and role of ethical standards.

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About the Author

Stephanie Maatta has been a writer for more than 10 years, with articles published in professional journals including "Library Journal" and "Reference Librarian." Many of her publications focus on professional development and career advising. Maatta holds a Ph.D. and Master of Science in library and information science from Florida State University.