What Are The Main Principles Of Healthcare Ethics?


If you’re starting out on a new journey into the healthcare world, you may have lots of questions about what you’re learning or about to learn. For example, you might want to know about the practical side of whatever part of the discipline you’re specializing in, or maybe you want to know more about the theories behind why different parts of the body work in the way they do.

Yet there’s another important area that shouldn’t be overlooked. While medical ethics may not be the first thing on your mind when it comes to planning your learning as a healthcare professional, you should be on top of it as a newly qualified healthcare professional. Here is a look at three of the main principles of healthcare ethics you need to understand as a new nurse.

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One of the first key ethical principles that a person entering healthcare as a profession needs to know about is autonomy. This is the right of a person to make choices about the healthcare they receive.

In practice, this is likely to involve asking the patient what they want in terms of their healthcare. A patient who is facing a serious terminal illness, for example, may be offered a variety of treatment types. One type of treatment may be riskier than another but could potentially have a more transformative impact if it works. Another treatment may be less risky but also potentially less useful. In this sense, the healthcare professional is there to ensure that the patient has the information they need to make an informed judgment about how and where to proceed.

On some occasions, though, there are exceptions. A person may not be able to experience autonomy because they’re deemed to not be “competent” in medical terms. Competence, in this sense, refers to the capacity of a person to make informed decisions; if the patient is in a coma or is severely mentally unwell, they may not be deemed competent.


Principles like autonomy are relatively widely known about, even among the general public. Many individuals who are starting out in nursing for the first time are perhaps less likely to have heard about beneficence. This refers to the practice of ensuring that the patient’s rights and interests are put at the heart of healthcare decision-making and that the patient benefits from what happens to them in the name of their health.

Beneficence, like all the healthcare principles, appears here, there and everywhere across the world of healthcare. It has an obvious manifestation in environments where people may be in physical pain. However, those who are training to become psychotherapists, for example, are told that it’s an essential part of ethical practice to be beneficent, and therapeutic theories such as unconditional positive regard place person-centered kindness at the heart of client care.


On the face of it, nonmaleficence sounds like it might be the opposite of beneficence, and in many ways, it is. It means that, as a healthcare professional, you should ensure that you don’t do any harm when you interact with clients. It is even reflected in the Hippocratic Oath, which many medical professionals take. It says: “First, do no harm.”

If you’re looking for an institution where you can learn how to become a nurse, it is important to choose one that puts these principles first and places nonmaleficence very high on the list. Harm reduction should be at the center of the course and the ethos at the institution, and TWU, who offer the best online nurse practitioner program in Texas, may fit the bill.

In practice, the notion of nonmaleficence is complex. Very few people go into any healthcare with the intention of causing harm, but it’s possible that they could, without monitoring, cause harm to occur inadvertently. Take the example of not doing something you should have done. Say you’re supervising a trainee nurse and you don’t double-check the amount of medication they’re measuring out to give to a patient. In this case, you haven’t intended to cause maleficence, but you’ve done it anyway through what you’ve failed to do. A good institution will train its staff to avoid “maleficence by omission”, as this is known.

In short, these key ethics should not be overlooked if you’re learning about healthcare ethics. Whether it’s autonomy and its capacity to empower the patient to make their own decisions or beneficence and the importance it places on acting in the best interests of the person receiving the treatment, understanding healthcare ethics principles is vital.

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