Did you know that nurses must respect a professional code of ethics? According to the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ), there is a guide for daily practice in the health care setting, which serves to protect patients (or the general public), but also to guide the role of nurses in their workspaces. Let’s discover the nursing code of ethics, its importance, its history, its principles, its fields of application and its implications. A brief summary that will help you understand the ramifications of the high professional and ethical standards these health care workers cultivate!

History of the Nursing Code of Ethics

Lystra Gretter photo

Historically, the nursing code of ethics has often been aligned with the evolution of the status of women in the world, as it is a predominantly female profession. In 1893, Lystra E. Gretter wrote the Nightingale oath, in honor of the one she considered to be the symbol of the profession.

Several attempts by our neighbors in the south failed when it came to putting in place an official code of ethics, until 1950 with the American Nursing Association.

In Canada, the first nursing code of ethics was created in 1980. It was revised in 1985 to include the fundamental values of the profession, then in 1991 to specify the social responsibility of a nurse.

In 1997, the 7 fundamental values were formalized as follow:
• Health and well-being
• Choice
• Dignity
• Privacy
• Equity
• Responsibility
• Workplaces conducive to safe, competent and ethical care.

OIIQ Nurses Code of Ethics

In the province of Quebec, there was no official code until 1976, but several religious associations, often involved in nursing, offered documents governing its implementation.

The OIIQ nurses code of ethics that we know today was created in 1976. Renewed in October 2015, it represents a new version of the traditional code of professional ethics.

The latter has been updated to represent the prevailing social context, new realities, new tools, needs and scientific knowledge in the field, but also, for example, the right to prescribe given to nurses.

Fundamentals of the Nursing Code of Ethics

The code of ethics for nurses includes certain principles, which are in fact values essential to their practice.

First, we find respect, then benevolence, which a professional must offer her patients in all spheres of her profession. This is followed by integrity in the performance of her duties, then the confidentiality that she must ensure on a daily basis. Finally, we find autonomy, because a nurse must be able to carry out her tasks independently although she is called upon to work in a team.

As “umbrella” principles, these notions guide the ethical behavior of nurses in the way they interact with people and carry out their tasks and responsibilities.

Areas of Application of the Nursing Code of Ethics

The nursing code of ethics guides all actions and applies to several spheres where it makes the process more clear and transparent, including:

• Relationship between the patient and the nurse
• Ethical decision-making during care
• Confidentiality of patient medical information
• Professional responsibilities and tasks to be performed
• Interprofessional collaboration with peers and other health care workers

In doing so, it influences the quality of care provided and guarantees a certain standard for the entire population, whether in urban areas or in the Far North.

Application and Implications of the Nursing Code of Ethics

Of course, during any nursing career, certain ethical dilemmas and concrete cases inevitably arise that make them think and consult their code of ethics.

Examples of Ethical Questioning

Everything is a question of perception and sometimes the medical professionals can judge differently the need for certain interventions or certain treatments. Consider, for example, respecting patients’ rights to discontinue or refuse treatment when it would save their life, as is the case for eating disorders. Or even the end of life, therapeutic relentlessness and assisted suicide which could be contrary to the nurses’ personal beliefs.

Other ethical dilemmas are seen in the case of religious or moral issues. We must also consider the shortage of manpower, which sometimes leads to a difficulty in maintaining the standard of care, a reason that is beyond the control of a nurse.

Caring for others comes with its share of challenges, but the code of ethics helps standardize the behavior to adopt and acts as a guide in resolving these issues, which is why awareness and ongoing training are essential for ethical practice.

Disciplinary Consequences

In addition, disciplinary consequences in the event of non-compliance with the code are provided for, engaging the civil and professional liability of the nurse at work.
Regulatory bodies are provided to rule on the diligence, prudence and compliance with standards in the case in question, which may even lead to the withdrawal of the nurse’s right to practice in the event of misconduct, depending on its seriousness.

In short, the nursing code of ethics is of capital importance, particularly for the quality of care that its application impacts, but also for the professional values that it conveys. If you feel that these elements resonate with you and you would like to be part of our team that puts ethics at the heart of its actions, do not hesitate to send us your CV!