For the past 17 years, nurses have earned the top spot in a Gallup poll of the most honest and ethical professions. In the latest poll, nurses came out well ahead of medical doctors, pharmacists, teachers, police officers and more than a dozen other professions.

Clearly, ethics is important to the nursing profession. The Code of Ethics for Nurses establishes a “non-negotiable” ethical standard for the profession. Yet, not all RNs receive ethics education in their nursing programs.

Earning a BSN can help fill this gap in education. For example, the online RN to BSN program from the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK) includes coursework that emphasizes ethical and legal issues in the context of nursing and healthcare practice.

What Is Ethics in Nursing?

Ethics might sound simple on the surface: Either something is good or bad, right or wrong. An honorable person acts accordingly, based on what is moral or just.

But in nursing, ethics is anything but simple. The 48-page “Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements” is evidence of the complexity of ethical decision-making in nursing — and just how important ethics education is.

Nurses make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, and they spend more time with patients than most other healthcare professionals. It is no wonder, then, that ethical concerns make their way into everyday nursing practice.

End-of-life issues are a common source of ethical concern in nursing. Other examples include allocation of scarce resources, such as donor organs, prenatal testing and medication administration (such as when a patient refuses treatment).

An aging population is adding to ethical dilemmas in clinical practice. Orthopaedic Nursing shares the example of a patient with preexisting comorbid conditions. A surgeon has ordered a test that the patient has refused. Does the nurse follow the orders without the patient’s consent? Obviously, it’s not such an easy call to make.

Why Is Ethics Education Important?

As much as ethics is an integral part of nursing care, ethics education is not a given in nursing school. For example, associate-level nursing programs place an emphasis on clinical skills. While BSN programs develop the critical-thinking skills required for ethical decision-making, the core nursing curriculum may not always include specific coursework in healthcare ethics.

The authors of “Ethics Education in Nursing: Instruction for Future Generations of Nurses” point out that ethics education in nursing provides a “critical foundation addressing ethical questions that arise in the patient-provider relationship.” Yet, research on ethics education in nursing shows that there are inconsistencies in standards for ethics education:

  • Approximately 22.7% of nurses reported no ethics education.
  • Just over half of nurses had ethics coursework in their nursing program.

Not surprisingly, nurses with ethics education had higher levels of confidence than those without and were more likely to take moral action.

In the latest Gallup poll, nearly 85% of Americans rated the honesty and ethical standards of nurses as “very high” or “high.” Medical doctors came in right behind, at 67%. No doubt, nurses play an important role in ensuring patient care meets ethical standards.

But with healthcare becoming increasingly complex, RNs have a lot to keep up with. Ethics courses, such as UMFK’s Health Care Ethics and the Law, can give RNs the higher level skills and ethics knowledge they need to recognize ethical dilemmas and address them with confidence.

Learn more about the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s online RN to BSN program.


Gallup: Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics

American Nurses Association: Code of Ethics for Nurses With Interpretive Statements

Orthopaedic Nursing: “Everyday Ethics” in the Care of Hospitalized Older Adults

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Ethics Education in Nursing: Instruction for Future Generations of Nurses