Nurses are sometimes charged with making split-second decisions that can mean the difference between patients living or dying. Because of this important responsibility, nurses must be ethical, well-trained and dedicated to improving the quality of life for their patients. They also must be compassionate, empathetic and committed to providing effective, quality care. A philosophy of nursing governs much of the work a nurse does in the course of delivering patient care.
A professional nursing philosophy dictates that a nurse’s primary commitment is to her patients. This includes taking into account a patient's values, lifestyle and religious beliefs. For example, a nurse would need to adjust a plan of care for a patient whose religious beliefs bars blood transfusions or organ transplants, if such life-saving measures are required. When a patient’s wishes or beliefs are in opposition to best standards of care, or even with a nurse's opinion, a nurse’s commitment must remain with the patient, according to the American Nurses Association, or ANA. This commitment includes discussing options with the patient or her surrogate and making clear the potential repercussions of declining prescribed medical care. When patients are unable to make their wishes known, nurses must consult with a surrogate decision-maker who can make decisions as the patient would. Nurses must also keep information about patients confidential, including the type of care they need and receive.
Conflicts of Interest
Receiving financial incentives for delivering specific kinds of care, or for suggesting the use of specific drugs or types of medical equipment, can create potential conflicts of interest when delivering care. Nurses can reduce or eliminate such conflicts by disclosing them to their patients, or by recommending more than one or two treatment options when more are available. The ANA urges nurses to be aware of such potential conflicts and reminds them that they must prioritize the interests of their patients above all else.
Nurses are primarily responsible for the care that their patients receive. Because of this, they must adhere to a strict code of ethics that extends beyond a general nursing philosophy. For example, the code of ethics requires nurses to support initiatives that address barriers to good health, such as poverty, homelessness, unsafe living conditions or abuse. Nurses must also hold their colleagues accountable. When necessary, a nurse must report a colleague when she believes the colleague’s practice could harm a patient. A nurse must also be accountable to herself when delegating the care her patients receive and be willing to admit and correct mistakes when they are made.
Patient and Colleague Collaboration
To ensure the availability of quality health care, nurses must promote collaboration with patients and their families as well as with colleagues. Nurses must involve their patients in their respective care plans, take into account patients' wishes and make sure they agree to the plan of care. Failing to do so violates a nurse's obligations to always act in the best interest of, and advocate for, her patients. Nurses must also work closely with each other and with other health care providers by sharing resources or knowledge, or offering to consult on a case, to ensure patients receive optimal care.
Nurses must remain current with advancements in the delivery and technology of medical care. To do so, nurses must continue their education and training beyond what they learned to earn their nursing degrees and licenses. Some employers require nurses that take a certain number of continuing-education credits each year. This commitment to professional development can also include sharing information with colleagues, such as by leading in-house training sessions.
- Holy Spirit Health System: Nursing Philosophy
- University Health System: Philosophy of Nursing
- Eastern Illinois University: Nursing Philosophy Statement
- American Nurses Association: Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Standards
- Finger Lakes Health: Nursing Philosophy
- Scripps Health: Nursing Philosophy
- Nursing Center: Conflict of Interest -- Nurses at Risk
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.