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What are Nursing Standards of Practice?

Career News August 15, 2013

Though nurses may have different specialties, levels of education or job descriptions, nursing standard practices are essentially the same across the board. Nursing standards of practice, also known as standards of care, are guidelines that nurses can use to determine what they should and should not do when caring for patients.


The nursing standards of practice are a model for nurses to follow as they work. These standards are based on the latest nursing literature, research results and scientific data. They have been developed over time in order to improve the quality of care that every patient receives, and they are typically utilized in the creation of nursing program curricula. Nursing standards of practice are defined and shaped by individual institutions, professional associations and state and federal governing bodies. Though, no master list of standards are used anywhere, most authorities define the same basic benchmarks for nurses to meet.

Typical Standards

Though various organizations and governments publish their own standards, most lists of standards are based on those prescribed by the American Nurses Association (ANA). American Nurses Association standards include:


Nurses are responsible for collecting comprehensive information about the patient’s health, including medical history and current symptoms.


Nurses must analyze the data collected on a patient during assessment and use the information gained to determine the patient’s diagnosis.

Outcome Identification

Nurses must analyze the patient’s history and diagnosis to determine possible outcomes for care.


Nurses must create a care plan for the patient that includes interventions and strategies expected to bring the patient the best possible outcome.


Nurses must accurately and efficiently implement all of the prescribed interventions included in the plan for patient care.


Nurses must evaluate the patient’s progress and make changes to interventions when necessary.

The ANA also prescribes certain professional standards that nurses should meet, including:

Environmental Health: Nurses should practice in a way that is safe for the environment.
Resource Utilization: Nurses should use resources in a financially responsible manner.
Professional Practice Evaluation: Nurses should self-evaluate based on generally accepted standards of practice.
Collaboration: Nurses should collaborate with other healthcare professionals, the patient and the patient’s loved ones.
Leadership: Nurses should exhibit skilled leadership when necessary.
Communication: Nurses should communicate effectively with peers, superiors, patients and patients’ families.
Quality of Practice: Nurses should make every effort to contribute to the field as a whole.
Evidence-based Practice: Nurses should incorporate the latest research findings into their practice.
Education: Nurses should continue to learn and improve their nursing skills.
Ethics: Nurses should practice ethically, keeping the patient’s needs at the forefront of their minds at all times.

The Importance of Meeting the Standards

Failing to meet the nursing standards of practice can have dire consequences for nursing professionals. For example, nurses who fail to meet a professional association’s standards of practice may lose their membership, while nurses who fail to meet an employer’s standards may lose their jobs.

Even more serious, nurses who fail to meet state or federal standards of care may be found negligent in a court of law. Most legal claims against nurses developed because the patient believes that the nurse didn’t meet the minimum standards for competent practice. If the evidence upholds the claim, the nurse may lose his or her license and/or pay fines and penalties.

For nurses working in the field, understanding and following the standards of practice is a must. Not only will following these standards ensure that the nurse is doing the very best he or she can for the welfare of his or her patients, but it will also help prevent potential legal problems. Furthermore, nurses who meet and exceed the accepted standards of practice are more likely to receive acknowledgement from professional associations, promotions from employers and leadership opportunities.

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