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Nursing accountability and responsibility are both essential to their work and should be observed at all times. However, it may be challenging to distinguish the two terms, as at first glance they appear similar. Both govern the actions a nurse should take and both imply negative consequences for failing to adhere to the guidelines and achieving an undesirable outcome as a result. However, responsibility and accountability are fundamentally different due to their scope and origins. This essay aims to define the two terms clearly and to describe the essential differences as well as the importance of keeping both in mind.
Responsibility involves correctly carrying out the duties expected of a nurse’s position and role. According to Koutoukidis, Stainton, and Hughson (2016), a nurse’s responsibilities include supervision and participation in care as well as the provision of feedback and advice to medical officers and other personnel. Nurses who work in different positions have correspondingly varied duties and are expected to carry them out thoroughly and professionally. Failure to do so will likely lead to penalties that will depend on the severity of the breach and its consequences. As such, it should be noted that responsibility is a local term that is defined by the circumstances of one’s workplace.
Accountability means that nurses must be prepared to answer for every action that they take to a variety of entities, including themselves, their patients, their employers, and the profession as a whole. According to Black (2016), the concept is rooted in ethical principles such as loyalty, respect, and faithfulness. The notion of accountability means that a nurse should look beyond his or her professional duties and report any potential threats that he or she observes. Furthermore, accountability is a global concept that is codified in most professional standards, including that of the American Nursing Association, and remains the same regardless of the nurse’s position.
A nurse should consider both responsibility and accountability in every action that he or she takes because the two are ultimately not the same. Responsibility is limited to the duties given to a person directly while accountability allows and requires one to look beyond the constraints of his or her immediate tasks. Responsibility is mutable and changes depending on the nurse’s work, while accountability is unchanging and defined in a variety of documents.
Lastly, responsibility is a primarily professional concept that can be applied to most lines of work, but accountability is grounded in ethics and personal qualities and is mostly limited to medical workers. A nurse should plan his or her actions based on the constraints of his or her responsibility and adjust them as he or she carries out the duties based on what accountability dictates.
Responsibility and accountability are similar terms, but they differ in their origins, scope, and application. The former describes the tasks and boundaries of a nurse’s role, which the nurse is expected to perform professionally and thoroughly. The latter is an ethical framework that is unique to medical professions and expects the nurse to go beyond his or her duty to ensure the safety and well-being of patients. Responsibility is local and mutable, while accountability is a profession-wide term that is explicitly defined in a variety of documents. Ultimately, a nurse is supposed to do the work prescribed by the former and change his or her actions based on the latter.
Black, B. P. (2016). Professional nursing: Concepts and challenges (8th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
Koutoukidis, G., Stainton, K., & Hughson, J. (2016). Tabbner’s nursing care: Theory and practice. Chatswood, Australia: Elsevier.