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A British nurse caring for a baby

Nursing is a profession within the health care sector focused on the care of individuals, families, and communities so they may attain, maintain, or recover optimal health and quality of life. Nurses may be differentiated from other health care providers by their approach to patient care, training, and scope of practice. Nurses practice in many specialties with differing levels of prescription authority. Many nurses provide care within the ordering scope of physicians, and this traditional role has shaped the public image of nurses as care providers. However, nurse practitioners are permitted by most jurisdictions to practice independently in a variety of settings. In the postwar period, nurse education has undergone a process of diversification towards advanced and specialized credentials, and many of the traditional regulations and provider roles are changing.

Nurses develop a plan of care, working collaboratively with physicians, therapists, the patient, the patient's family and other team members, that focuses on treating illness to improve quality of life. In the United States and the United Kingdom, advanced practice nurses, such as clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners, diagnose health problems and prescribe medications and other therapies, depending on individual state regulations. Nurses may help coordinate the patient care performed by other members of a multidisciplinary health care team such as therapists, medical practitioners and dietitians. Nurses provide care both interdependently, for example, with physicians, and independently as nursing professionals.

Collaboration of the Month

Nursing symbol.svg The current Nursing collaboration of the month is Nurse.

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Selected article

Nursing ethics is a branch of applied ethics that concerns itself with activities in the field of nursing. Nursing ethics shares many principles with medical ethics, such as beneficence, non-maleficence and respect for autonomy. It can be distinguished by its emphasis on relationships, human dignity and collaborative care.

Development of subject

The nature of nursing means that nursing ethics tends to examine the ethics of caring rather than 'curing' by exploring the everyday relationship between the nurse and the person in care. Early work to define ethics in nursing focused more on the virtues that would make a good nurse, which historically included loyalty to the physician, rather than the focus being on nurse's conduct in relation to the person in the nurse's care . However, recently, the ethics of nursing has also shifted more towards the nurse's obligation to respect the human rights of the patient and this is reflected in a number of professional codes for nurses. For example, this is made explicit in the latest code from the International Council of Nurses.

Distinctive nature

Although much of nursing ethics can appear similar to medical ethics, there are some factors that differentiate it. Brier-Mackie suggests that nurses' focus on care and nurture rather than cure of illness results in a distinctive ethics. Furthermore, nursing ethics emphasizes the ethics of everyday practice rather than focussing on rarer moral dilemmas. Generally, the focus of nursing ethics is more on developing a caring relationship than concerns about broader principles, such as beneficence and justice. For example, a concern to promote beneficence may be expressed in traditional medical ethics by the exercise of paternalism, where the health professional makes a decision based upon a perspective of acting in the patient's best interests. However, it is argued by some that this approach acts against important values found in nursing ethics. Nursing theories tend to seek a collaborative relationship with the person in care. Also, themes that emphasize respect for the dignity of the patient by promoting choice and control over their environment are commonly seen.

The distinction can be examined from different theoretical angles. Despite the move toward more deontological themes by some, there continues to be an interest in virtue ethics in nursing ethics and some support for an ethic of care. This is considered by its advocates to emphasise relationships over abstract principles and therefore to reflect the caring relationship in nursing more accurately than other ethical views.

What's new

Did you know...

... that the Environmental Theory by Florence Nightingale emphasized how a patient's environment affects his recovery?

... Lillian Wald is considered to be the founder of home nursing in the U.S. and Canada?

... the Nurses Memorial in Section 21 of Arlington National Cemetery was erected in 1938?

Nursing history



"Out of ignorance of the past, nurses themselves have strengthened the chains binding them with no thought of analyzing the nature of these."

-Jo Ann Ashley [1]

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