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Nurses Top Ethics Survey for 4th Time in 5 Years

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Doing the right thing, speaking truthfully to patients and upholding professional standards and principles represents a hallmark of nursing, something the public continues to recognize, according to a recent survey.

Nurses ranked at the top of the 2005 Gallup Poll assessing people’s perceptions of various professionals’ honesty and ethics. Eighty-two percent of respondents gave nurses very high or high ratings, significantly more than the runners-up—pharmacists at 67 percent and physicians at 65 percent.

“The PA State Nurses Association is not surprised that nurses are rated the most trusted and ethical profession,” said Michele P. Campbell, MSN, RNC, executive administrator PA State Nurses Association. “The mission of nurses is always to provide safe, quality care to patients. They try not to get caught up in outside issues that can be a barrier to this mission.”

Nurses base their practice on the Florence Nightingale Pledge and the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses.

“Our patients are in such vulnerable positions, and they depend on us to assist them with their care, with decision making and to be honest with them at all times,” Campbell said. “Our code of ethics is a promise that we make to our patients to provide the best care.”

Deborah Burger, RN, president of the California Nurses Association, said nurses regard the confidence the public places in them as an honor and a sacred trust.

“We know that patients and their families regard us as the last line of defense when they are at their most ill and vulnerable,” Burger said in a written statement.

On the national level, Barbara Blakeney, MS, RN, president of the American Nurses Association said, “The rating of nurses by the public again as number one in honesty and ethics reveals just how much trust the public places in the nursing profession. It is my hope that this continuing affirmation of the public's respect and trust will prompt Congress and the health care industry to support nursing education and improve the work environment for nurses.”

Gallup conducts the poll annually, interviewing more than 1,000 randomly selected adults. The surveyors asked respondents to rate the honesty and ethical standards of practitioners of 21 professions on a five-point scale, from very high to very low.

In the first Gallop honesty survey, conducted in 1976, medical doctors ranked at the top, with 56 percent of respondents rating them very high or high. Clergy ranked highest in polls conducted in 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1985. Clergy ratings fell from a 64 percent positive rating, in 2001, to 52 percent, in 2002, after priest sex-abuse cases came to light. Their ratings still have not recovered and were at 54 percent in the latest poll.

Pharmacists came in first from 1988 through 1998, with high ratings ranging from 60 percent to 69 percent. 

Nurses ranked at the top for the past four years and have averaged 80 percent high honesty ratings since Gallup first included them in the survey, in 1999. The only year they fell from the top place was in 2001, when firefighters earned a 90 percent positive rating following the September 11 terrorist attacks. That was the only year Gallup included firefighters in the survey.

The next highest averages belong to military officers (69 percent), veterinarians (66 percent), pharmacists (65 percent) and high school teachers (64 percent). Car salesmen and telemarketers have the lowest historical average ratings, 7 percent.

Gallup interviewed 1,002 adults, between November 17 and 20, 2005. The poll has a 3 percent margin of error. 

© 2005. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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