Nurses must follow conduct and ethics guidelines developed by the American Nurses Association (ANA). These guidelines cover a nurse's responsibilities to her patients, colleagues and to the profession of nursing itself. While providing impeccable care is fundamental to a nurse’s success, she must do so without the bounds of her license, remembering that she can neither diagnose nor treat certain health conditions.
Nurses agree to practice with compassion and respect and not discriminate against a patient because of race, color, gender, age, social or economic status, personal attributes, or type of health problem. They must promote, advocate for and protect the health, safety, and rights of their patients. They also must limit or outright eliminate potential conflicts of interest. For example, a patient and her family may disagree about treatment and ask you to weigh in. While the ANA doesn’t outright prohibit offering advice, it requires nurses to resolve such conflicts in a way that prioritizes patient safety and their best interests. Nurses must also respect and put in place professional boundaries, and keep from becoming too involved in a patient’s life.
Providing health care is a collaborative effort, not just between health care providers but also between a patient and her health care delivery team. Nurses have the unique position of bridging patient with physician, and must do so with deliberate care and attention. You may need to share a patient’s concerns with her physician, and you may need to interpret a physician’s instructions or diagnosis in a way that your patient can understand.
As a nurse, you are responsible for assessing and evaluating your patient’s health and health care needs, and the ANA prohibits you from assigning or delegating these responsibilities to an assistant. You can, however, delegate specific activities, such as taking a patient’s vitals or recording information in a patient’s chart. Nurses must also help and support the doctors they work with and keep patient- and facility-specific information confidential.
Education and Associations
The ANA Code of Conduct also governs a nurse's activities outside of providing patient care. For example, the ANA requires nurses to join professional associations and continue their education. Complying with this provision can include earning specialized certifications or joining a nurse’s association. Nurses also agree to share their knowledge, such as by teaching a class or publishing research.
Social Issues and Volunteerism
The ANA strongly urges nurses to get involved with community, national and international organizations that advocate for health-related legislation and shape relevant health care public policies. Nurses should also volunteer at health fairs, school programs, and community-based educational events and initiatives.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.