Professional codes of conduct: A scoping review

Derek Collings-Hughes, Ruth Townsend, Brett Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Professional ethical codes are an important part of healthcare. They are part of the professionalisation of an occupation, are used for regulation of the professions and are intended to guide ethical behaviour in healthcare. However, so far, little is known about the practical use of professional codes in healthcare, particularly in paramedicine. Objective: The aim of this scoping review was to determine what is known in the existing literature about health professionals’ knowledge, awareness and use of their professional codes. Method: A scoping review was performed based on a six-stage framework as described by Levac et al. Six databases were searched: OVID Medline, EMBASE, EMCARE, CINAHL, ProQuest and Scopus, in September 2020. Google Scholar, Trove and Google websites were also searched for grey literature. Two reviewers independently assessed study eligibility. Results: The search yielded 1162 results after duplicate removal. Thirty-nine studies remained after title and abstract review. Twenty-five articles were included after full-text review. Sixteen examined nursing, eight examined medicine and one examined both nursing and medicine. No studies were identified that examined paramedicine. Twenty-one studies were of a cross-sectional design and four studies were of a qualitative design. Conclusion: Most health professionals know the codes exist, but do not think they know the content. Despite valuing professional codes highly, healthcare professionals do not use them regularly in clinical practice. Further research is needed, and professional codes should be made useful for practice and consideration given to how codes can be written, communicated and implemented to increase their actualisation in healthcare. Research should also begin in paramedicine to identify clinician’s knowledge and use of codes in this profession. Review registration: Open Science Framework – doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/NKBY4 Ethics Statement: This article does not contain any studies involving human participants performed by any of the authors. The review followed good scientific conduct.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date04 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2022


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