Andrew Wettengel / Wednesday, April 24, 2019 / Categories: Work World


A key part of nursing school is learning how to maintain professional distance from your patients.

Of course, you're also supposed to show compassion and caring to those you treat. And because you're a human being dealing with highly emotional situations, your workplace role as a nurse can quickly become less than black and white.

“I have found that while most of my professional boundaries are well defined, sometimes the line between a professional and personal relationship with a patient can become blurred,” notes R.N. Sarah Horstmann in the New York Times. “Nurses and patients move in and out of each other’s lives so quickly, but we are nonetheless changed by every encounter.”

Some personal involvement with patients may be inevitable, but you also need to be aware that overly close staff-patient relationships are frowned upon in the medical community — and for good reason. Here are some factors to consider if such a relationship is becoming too personal.

  • Empathy is always welcome, but you also need to be clear on your employer’s policies as to staff-patient relationships. Interactions that violate HIPAA laws or are viewed as a misuse of your power could cost you your job and reputation. Examples of sketchy situations may include nurses and patients socializing or engaging in business together after hours (unless pre-existing relationships were involved). Providing a patient your home number or access to your social media may also be deemed inappropriate
  • Keep in mind that your failure to think objectively could compromise the quality of your work. If your emotions overtake your logic, your patients’ health and well-being could be adversely affected. 
  • Remember giving patients equal time and attention is a key part of your job. Monitor your behavior to ensure you’re not ignoring some patients to spend time with your favorites.
  • For your own mental health, it’s best to compartmentalize by leaving professional issues and relationships at work each day. “The minute you walk into your home … give yourself permission to stop thinking about work and begin being present and mindful that you are home,” advises social worker Maria Baratta in Psychology Today.
  • To protect yourself and your job, discuss unsolicited attention from patients with your supervisor and follow his or her directions for dealing with the situation.


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