Career & Finances | Guest Post | Leadership | Legal / Ethical

Professionalism in Nursing: Why We Need It and 6 Easy Steps to Follow

Guest Author: Alyse M. Labat

April 23, 2021
professionalism in nursing, why we need it

It may seem odd that the topic of professionalism is needed for the nursing profession. However, there are many troubling behaviors present within the nursing community. For this reason, we must address professionalism in nursing, what constitutes unprofessional behavior, and six easy ways you can improve and maintain professional standards as a nurse.  

What is Professionalism in Nursing?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has a Code of Ethics that defines professional behavior expectations of nurses. It is broken up into nine provisions containing subjects such as respect for all human dignity, accountability, responsibility, duty, morals, and compassion (2). 

We are to maintain these standards when we interact with patients, co-workers, and other departments—every second of every shift. Nurses are responsible “for attaining and maintain work environments consistent with professional values” (2), which results in “decreasing errors, improving quality of care, decreasing nursing turnover, and improving productivity (3) 

Examples of Unprofessional Behavior 

  • When only 30 minutes is allowed for lunch break, but you take 45 minutes. 
  • Breaking sterile technique but continuing anyway because no one else noticed. 
  • Viewing patient charts that are not assigned to you. 
  • Tardiness and absenteeism. 
  • Missing orders or timelines. 
  • Lack of communication with patients, co-workers, and leaders. 
  • Failing to accept personal responsibility for mistakes. 
  • Falsifying charting records. 
  • Drug diversion. 
  • Practicing out of your scope of practice. 
  • Horizontal violence: criticizing (not constructively), intimidating, refusing to lend assistance, gossiping, ignoring, etc. 

Professionalism in nursing can have a huge impact on the quality of patient care we provide, so as nurses, it is essential that we do our best to recognize these signs of unprofessional behaviors and act on them.  

6 Easy Ways You Can Increase Professionalism in Nursing

As nurses, we need to be strong advocates for personal and professional integrity. “Honest and integrity of themselves, the profession, and the patient” are of utmost importance (1). There are many stressors built into our profession that have further effects on us as human beings and can impact our professionalism in nursing. Many of those we cannot change; however, there are things we can control that can reduce unnecessary stress and inappropriate behaviors at work.  

Here are six easy ways to increase and maintain your professionalism in nursing practice: 

 1. Get adequate sleep and find outlets for stress. 

Fatigue and stress can cloud judgement. They can contribute to behaviors that you might not normally do or say if you have a full night’s sleep. Pent-up frustrations from work and home stressors like family, marital, and financial issues sometimes boil over in the heat of the moment causing you to snap at a co-worker. By attending to your physical and emotional needs, you reduce the overall stress load on your mind and body and allows you to interact in a more professional manner. 

 2. Be the positive influence. 

Be the nurse that will take the time to help others. Provide verbal recognition when you see a nurse handling a difficult situation well. Offer compliments on how they interact with their patients. When behavior is modeled, others will slowly pick up and begin to do the same. These are only a few examples on how simple and intentional acts can spread positivity throughout the work environment.


3. Provide constructive/real-time feedback. 

We are all human and make mistakes. Many nurses believe it either was not possible or not their responsibility to confront issues concerning unprofessional conduct” (3). That mentality has contributed to the proliferation of unprofessionalism within nursing. It is wrong to ignore mistakes as, in the nursing profession, mistakes can be harmful to patients. However, unprofessional criticism takes forms such as berating the nurse in front of the patient, calling them names, and refusing to work with them anymore.   

Constructive feedback is key to addressing mistakes in the professional setting. It should occur real-time or as close to the mistake or inappropriate behavior as possible. Correcting in real-time requires a little more finesse if a patient is present because you do not want to create mistrust between the nurse and the patient. If you address the error from an educational standpoint, it shows that you have trust in that nurse and the patient knows that there is strong teamwork amongst the staff to ensure safety. 

 4. Know your limits. 

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, nursing is a difficult and busy job. There seems to always be a lot to do and not a lot of time. It is a strength to know your limits emotionally and physically — you are one person and can only be in one place at a time.   

Instead of cutting corners with charting or tasks, find other means to make up time. Time management skills involve asking for help when needed and delegating tasks when appropriate.   

5. Take personal responsibility and hold others accountable for their actions. 

If no one is held accountable for their actions, then nursing becomes a dangerous free-for-all. Taking responsibility is easier in work cultures where there is a “Just Culture” or educational approach to errors instead of a punitive approach. They look at the system and policies and determine the missing elements that allowed an error to occur. This helps evolve policies to create a more thorough guide for nurses and a safer environment for patients and staff. Now, this can only occur if nurses hold themselves and their co-workers accountable.

 6. Keep up to date with knowledge! 

There are always new treatments, medications, and medical equipment in nursing. By staying up-to-date with nursing knowledge, through continuing education (CE) programs you can further your personal and professional growth.  


By following these six steps, you will quickly see improvements in your professionalism in nursing. These will trickle down and have a positive impact on your patient’s quality of care, your coworker relationships, and your daily life as well. 



  1.  Aaron, L., Simmons, P., & Graham-Webb, D. (2011). Academic dishonesty and unprofessional behavior. Radiologic Technology, (83)2, pg. 133-140. Retrieved March 23, 2021 from   
  2. ANA (2015a). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements (2nd ed.). Retrieved from  
  3. Becher, J. & Visovsky, C. (2012). Horizontal violence in nursing. MedSurg Nursing, (21)4, pg. 210-232. Retrieved March 23, 2021 from  

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