What is Beneficence in Nursing?

4 Min Read Published January 20, 2023
What is Beneficence in Nursing?

Beneficence is one of the seven ethical principles that form the basis of the American Nurses Association (ANA) nursing code of ethics (the Code). 

Beneficence, or doing what’s best for the patient, may potentially conflict with the principle of autonomy in nursing, which upholds the patient's right to make decisions about their own care. 

When these principles conflict with each other, nurses must use clinical judgment to determine what is in the best interests of the patient. In each case, the nurse must act in a manner that promotes respect for human dignity and upholds the patient's rights.

What Is Beneficence in Nursing?

Beneficence is one of the four main ethical principles of nursing, along with autonomy, justice, and non-maleficence.

The principle of beneficence means that nurses should act in the best interests of their patients. This includes providing care that is likely to improve the patient's health, avoiding actions that could harm the patient, and respecting the patient's choices about the care they receive.

In practice, the principle of beneficence requires nurses to balance the potential benefits and risks of any proposed treatment. 

For example, a beneficial course of action might involve some risk of harm, such as pain and scarring from a surgical wound to remove a ruptured appendix. However, the overall expected outcome should still be positive and outweigh any risks (the patient should recover from the appendectomy and hopefully be able to avoid sepsis or hemorrhage from the ruptured appendix).

What Are Examples of Beneficence for Nurses?

One way that nurses can show beneficence is by providing high-quality patient care. This includes everything from preventive care to necessary treatments and follow-up care. 

Nurses can also show beneficence by respecting the autonomy of their patients and respecting their wishes regarding their care. 

Finally, nurses can show beneficence by advocating for their patients, both within the healthcare system and in the larger community. 

Other examples of beneficence in nursing would include:

  • Providing patients with emotional support

  • Ensuring patients’ medical needs are met

  • Educating patients about healthy lifestyle choices

  • Coordinating patient care with other healthcare providers

Why is Beneficence Important in Nursing?

It’s important that a nurse demonstrate beneficence for a number of reasons. 

1. First of all, nurses are required to uphold all seven ethical principles of the nursing code of ethics. If a nurse is found to have breached this ethical principle, they may face disciplinary action by the board of nursing they’re registered with. This may include suspension or loss of their license to practice nursing.

2. Also, nurses who demonstrate beneficence in their practice show that their patient’s best interests are their top priority. As a result, a nurse is able to build a therapeutic relationship of trust with their patients. 

3. In addition, patients also have a higher level of satisfaction with the nursing care they receive when they believe the nurse is acting in their best interests.

>> Related: What is Veracity in Nursing?

Beneficence vs Nonmaleficence in Nursing?

Beneficence and nonmaleficence are two important ethical principles that guide nurses in their decision-making. They can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

  • Beneficence in nursing refers to the duty to do good, or to promote the well-being of patients. 

  • Nonmaleficence, on the other hand, is the principle of doing no harm to patients.

As noted earlier, these two principles are often in conflict with each other, as nurses must balance the need to do good with the risk of causing harm. In many cases, beneficence will take precedence over nonmaleficence, as the potential good that can be achieved is thought to outweigh the potential for harm to the patient.

However, there are also cases where, as a nurse, the principle of nonmaleficence will take precedence, such as when there is a high risk of causing serious harm to a patient without any potential for benefit. 

Ultimately, it is up to the nurse to weigh the risks and benefits in each individual case, discuss these with the patient, and then make a decision based on what they believe is best for the patient.

How Do Nurses Use Beneficence?

Nurses practice the principle of beneficence every day in their nursing practice with patients. That’s because everything a nurse does is done with the intent of doing what’s best to meet the needs of each patient they care for and providing each patient with the highest quality of nursing care possible. 

The ethical principle of beneficence requires that nurses act in ways that promote their patients’ well-being. This includes providing care that is likely to result in positive outcomes (beneficence) and avoiding actions that could cause harm (nonmaleficence).

In order to make decisions that are in the best interests of their patients, nurses need to have a thorough understanding of both the risks and benefits of different courses of action and be able to communicate this to patients. This is important to ensure that patients and families understand the potential risks and benefits of specific nursing and medical care so they’re able to make informed decisions about the healthcare they want to receive.

Beneficence in nursing is the foundational ethical principle that the other six ethical principles are built upon. It’s the duty of nurses to do good for their patients while also respecting patient dignity and autonomy. It also includes the idea of taking action to prevent or remove harm. By applying the principle of beneficence to their practice, nurses can help ensure that all people receive safe and beneficial healthcare.

Leona Werezak
BSN, MN, RN
Leona Werezak
Nurse.org Contributor

Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN is the Director of Business Development at NCLEX Education. She began her nursing career in a small rural hospital in northern Canada where she worked as a new staff nurse doing everything from helping deliver babies to medevacing critically ill patients. Learning much from her patients and colleagues at the bedside for 15 years, she also taught in baccalaureate nursing programs for almost 20 years as a nursing adjunct faculty member (yes! Some of those years she did both!). As a freelance writer online, she writes content for nursing schools and colleges, healthcare and medical businesses, as well as various nursing sites.

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