The fundamental role of nursing practice in the community which includes promoting health, preventing illness, alleviating suffering as well as restoring health necessitates a comprehensive set of principles to guide nurses in their practice. The practice of all nurses in Australia is governed by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia which also draws its guidelines on the professional code of conduct and ethics from the International Council of Nurses. The nursing professional code of conduct and ethics provide the guidelines and rules which define the nursing profession and the expected behaviour of nurses in practice in Australia.
The purpose of the professional code of conduct for nurses practising in Australia is to establish national standards of conduct for the profession to guide provision of nursing services to the community and decision making for nurses during their practice in relation to the set national standards. On the other hand, the Code of Ethics for nurses practising in Australia and the International Council of Nurses Code of Ethics for nurses provide fundamental ethical standards as well as values from which nurses should draw their reference while reflecting on their conduct and those of others. They also aim to guide ethical decision-making as well as practice.
The code of professional conduct and professional code of ethics for nurses in Australia as well as the international code of ethics have several common aspects which guide the nursing profession.
The ICN code of ethics requires that nurses engage in nursing practice where values, spiritual beliefs, customs as well as human rights of those they serve are upheld and respected. The ANMC code ethics and professional conduct also require nurses to respect and protect the human rights, interests, values and customs of those they serve (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008a). This means that their professional judgements must take into account the individual’s interests as well as values.
The ANMC code of conduct and ethics as well as ICN code of ethics require nurses to practice informed decision making. ICN code of ethics insists on providing sufficient information to those seeking nursing care or treatment and requires that nurses obtain consent for care before initiating any care plans or treatment (International Council of Nurses, 2006). The ANMC code of ethics and professional code of conduct also require that a nurse informs the individual seeking nursing services about the nature as well as the purpose of the preferred care (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008a). The nurse has the responsibility to assist the individual make informed decision. The ANMC code of ethics state that the nurse has to allow the individual to analyse the meaning as well as the implication of the available nursing or health care service to get their consent before making decisions. The ANMC code of ethics also requires nurses to engage other nurses in making collaborative and informed decision making. However, the ANMC code of ethics recognizes that there are some cases where individual seeking treatment or nursing care is not in the position to make decisions; therefore, the nurse has to engage those close to the person as well as the nurse’s colleagues in the decision-making process. In such instances, the professional code of conduct stipulates that the nurse has to seek the consent of an appropriate advocate or significant other person.
The ICN code of ethics and the ANMC code of ethics, and professional conduct oblige nurses to ensure that they provide safe as well as competent nursing care. The ANMC professional code of conduct and the ICN code of ethics state that each nurse is accountable for his or her actions; this means that nurses must not engage in practices which are above their scope of practice and should always acquire the competence necessary for their practice. They must therefore maintain their competence in nursing practice through continual learning. The ANMC code of ethics also states that nurses should be accountable for their personal decisions as regards a person’s care (Australian Nursing Council, 2002). As such, they are supposed to practise within their professional boundaries and not engage in practices above their scope. They have the moral as well as legal responsibility to ensure that they acquire and improve their knowledge, skills as well as experience needed to achieve competent and safe nursing care. They have to question whether a nursing practice to be adopted is ethical or legal. ICN code of ethics state that nurses have the responsibility of ensuring that technology used in providing nursing care matches the safety, dignity as well as rights of the people they serve (International Council of Nurses, 2006).
Both the ICN and ANMC require nurses to uphold professional standards in their nursing practice. They all maintain that nurses have to ensure that their practices conform to professional standards to enhance the safety of those they serve, colleagues and the community. The ANMC professional code of conduct requires nurses to practice within the law and to report any unethical or questionable practice to the relevant authority and intervene whenever the concern raised is not addressed so as to safeguard those they serve (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2003). The ANMC code of ethics states that nurses’ professional standards should be measured by their value to acceptability, availability, safety, quality as well as accessibility of health care and nursing services (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008a). Again, they have the responsibility to report adverse events as well as errors while providing nursing care. ICN code of ethics stresses that nurses have a responsibility to determine and implement acceptable clinical nursing as well as management standards (International Council of Nurses, 2006). Again, all the codes of professionalism require that nurses judge individual competence before delegating or accepting responsibility to ensure safe care as well as practice.
The codes of ethics and the professional code of conduct set by both bodies emphasize the role of the nurse in improving nursing practices through research. ICN code of ethics states that nurses have to actively participate in developing research-based professional knowledge. It encourages nurses to participate in professional organisations to collaboratively develop knowledge for improving practices and the nursing environment. The ANMC code of ethics also encourages nurses to participate in the development of shared knowledge to enhance their understanding of the changing healthcare environment (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008c). They have to improve their knowledge, skills as well as attitudes so as to enhance their professional practice. The ANMC professional code of conduct also requires nurses to participate in upgrading their knowledge and skills necessary in clinical and management practice through education or research (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2003).
The international and national code of ethics as well as professional code of conduct promote confidentiality of personal information. ICN code of ethics requires nurses to ensure confidentiality of personal information and to make proper decisions as regards sharing personal information (International Council of Nurses, 2006). The ANMC code of ethics also provides that personal information should be treated with professionalism and integrity. Information has to be recorded accurately, without any subjectivity and should be relevant to the nursing/health care or treatment of the individual (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008c). Privacy and confidentiality helps avoid compromising safety as well as health of individuals. The ANMC professional code of conduct also obliges nurses to restrict access to information acquired from the individual and only allow access to the right personnel and at the right setting, and only when it is to be used in clinical decision making (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2003).
The differences between the ICN code of ethics, ANMC code of ethics and ANMC professional code of conduct is majorly in the scope of their definition of each code. Again, they also have particular unique guidelines for the nursing profession. The professional code of conduct requires nurses to maintain professional boundary between them and the individuals they serve and not to engage in practices which could make an individual vulnerable to exploitation. It prohibits sexual relationship between the nurse and the individual receiving care Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2008b). Besides, a nurse must always ensure that his or her personal life draws public trust as well as confidence in his or her profession. Again, the professional code of conduct obliges nurses to provide accurate information about the nature of the intended care, drug or product to be given as well as alternate services or products including their advantages and disadvantages.
The ICN and ANMC code of ethics require nurses to collaboratively work with the community in initiating and supporting actions which improve the health as well as social needs of the community especially the vulnerable populations. They also require nurses to participate in conservation and protection of the natural environment.
The international and national code of ethics as well as professional code of conduct have significantly influenced nursing practice in Australia. They have promoted dissemination of ethical and professional conduct expected of nurses through print publications and websites. They have enhanced establishment of standards of care that promote quality and safety care (Australian Nursing & Midwifery Council, n.d); standards for nursing education, practice, management as well as research. They have facilitated the establishment of professional appraisal as well as renewal of nursing license. The code of ethics in particular, have promoted nurses’ participation in countrywide nurses’ association with the aim of improving their socio-economic conditions (Australian Nursing Federation, 2011). The NMBA, AHPRA, Hospitals and other health care institutions have established mechanisms for safeguarding individual, family as well as community whenever they have a reason to believe that their care is threatened by a health care practitioner. The public is allowed to report any misconduct by nurses as well as poor performance and health of nurses, which could threaten nursing outcome (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, 2011; Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, 2011).
The code of ethics and professional code of conduct will definitely influence my nursing practice. I will provide nursing care that respects and protects human rights and interests of individuals. I will also be sensitive to customs, beliefs as well as values of all people. Again, I will also provide adequate information regarding the nature as well as the purpose of the intended care before initiating any care, as I assist individuals make care and treatment decisions. I will also uphold privacy and confidentiality of patients’ personal information. Finally, I will work collaboratively with my colleagues in making care decisions as well as in conducting research, and participating in knowledge sharing to improve my competence, and nursing practice in the health care organization.
This study has demonstrated that the international and Australian code of ethics and professional code of conduct largely contain similar obligations for nurses. They all require nurses to uphold nursing standards; values, customs, beliefs, interests as well as human rights of individuals. Again, they stress on maintenance of competence and safety, and continuous improvement of nursing practice through research. They also require that nurses uphold confidentiality and privacy of individuals’ personal information. The major differences exist in the scope of the definition of these codes of conduct and ethics. The professional code of conduct extend to cover nurses personal life, their relationship with those they serve and accuracy of information they give to their clients, while the codes of ethics also extend to cover the nurses role in conserving and protecting the environment as well as in improving the health and socio-economic status of the society.
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