What are the most important Ethical Principles in Nursing?

What are the most important Ethical Principles in Nursing?

Nurses often care for vulnerable people who depend on them, which is one of the main reasons why ethical principles are so important to the profession. Ethical principles give nurses a framework for decision-making, as they are often responsible for taking action on behalf of patients. Understanding the ethical principles of nurses can help you uphold your professional obligations and do your job with the utmost integrity, leading to better outcomes for patients. In this article, we explore the main ethical principles that apply to nurses and why they are important.

Respect for autonomy

Respecting patient autonomy is vital in nursing, and this is one of the main ethical principles nurses embody. To respect autonomy is giving patients a degree of responsibility over their care and letting them make decisions. Nurses keep patients informed by describing what is happening to them at all stages, educating them about their condition, and discussing the potential outcomes of treatment options in terms of risk and reward. In respecting autonomy, nurses must respect the wishes of patients, even if they disagree with certain decisions. It’s also important for nurses to respect beliefs and cultures, which also influence patient decisions.


This refers to charity, kindness, and a dedication to patient welfare. Nurses embody this principle by always acting in patients’ best interests, only taking actions that improve health and wellness. This means using the best evidence available to guide decisions and actions to achieve the best outcomes for patients. Beneficence also includes looking out for patients by protecting them from potential harm. Nurses perform risk assessments to identify hazards and make environments safe for patients. They also closely monitor patients for complications and adverse medication effects so they can intervene where necessary.


This concept is closely related to beneficence but is slightly different. Non-maleficence is an obligation not to harm others, clearly an essential nursing principle. Nurses are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of patients, so a commitment to doing no harm is evident. This principle guides action when administering medications, for example, as the nurse must ensure medications will not interact with each other in dangerous ways. It also means taking steps to minimize risks wherever possible.


Justice in the healthcare sector relates to things like resource allocation, fair and equal treatment, and showing respect to patients. Nurses must be just in all their patient interactions, which can mean being aware of one’s biases and taking steps to mitigate them. For example, if a nurse knows a patient personally, they may be tempted to give them special treatment. The principle of justice would ideally prevent them from doing this, as justice demands that all patients be treated equally. Justice also means opposing discrimination based on age, sex, race, or religion.


Nurses must be honest when communicating with patients, ensuring patients clearly understand their situations and can decide what’s best for themselves. This means being honest when communicating the nature of illnesses and potential treatment options, even if the truth is difficult. Honesty and integrity are also essential for ensuring accountability in nursing. For example, if a nurse administers the wrong dose of a medication, they must inform someone immediately so the situation can be addressed.

Why do we need Ethical principles in nursing?

Ethics are very important in the healthcare industry as a whole, as medical professionals deal with a huge variety of sensitive issues and pieces of information. As such, all professionals within the industry must have strong moral compasses and a commitment to the ethical principles of nursing. Most medical professionals learn about these principles during formal education or through an online ABSN program, which is an accelerated path to nursing for bachelor’s degree holders. Here are some of the main reasons why ethics are so important in this profession:

Patient protection

These principles help to keep patients safe and enforce ethical standards throughout the healthcare industry. Nurses have a duty to prevent harm, and a code of ethics supporting this end helps protect patients. Ethical principles act as frameworks for decision-making, so if nurses are unsure about how to proceed, they can refer to these principles to make decisions. This increases the effectiveness of decision-making because decisions that align with the principles are likely morally sound.


As well as decision-making, ethical principles help to guide behavior in general. If a nurse’s conduct is unacceptable, a manager can refer to the code of ethics to demonstrate how the nurse’s behavior deviates from it. They can then correct the behavior or suggest improvements using the ethical code. Principles can act as a code of conduct, allowing managers to set expectations across organizations and drive better outcomes on a large scale. Specific principles like honesty also help keep nurses accountable when things go wrong.

Patient-centered care

Ethical principles help healthcare organizations deliver patient-centered care because a dedication to patient autonomy, respect for beliefs, and other key principles combine to produce treatment plans that put the patient first. The principles exist to protect patients regarding their physical, mental, and emotional health, and dignity. This means that all actions and decisions that healthcare providers make are optimized to produce the best outcomes for patients, both subjective and objective.


Ethical principles are important in most sectors, but especially so in nursing. This is because ethical principles act as decision-making frameworks. They protect patients, enforce professionalism and accountability, and help organizations establish codes of conduct. Nurses must embody these principles in the performance of their work to ensure the best outcomes for themselves, their employer, their patients, and their patients’ families.

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