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When a Patient Doesn’t Want You as Their Nurse

When a Patient Doesn’t Want You as Their Nurse

Terri Polick | NursingLink

Look at this lucky man: He has a whole flock of young student nurses standing by to meet his every need. I bet this gentleman loved every single nurse in that picture. Enjoy his adoration, ladies; sometime during your nursing career, someone isn’t going to want you as their nurse.

It happens to everyone and it feels like a slap in the face. You walk into a patient care area and the patient says, “Hands off!” The reasons vary: Some female patients feel uncomfortable with male staff members, while other reasons are based in deep-seeded prejudices held by the patient. Any nurse who has been in that situation will tell you that it’s a learning experience. I recently interviewed some nurses and asked them to tell me how they deal with patients who reject them.

Rachael N. told me a story about an eye-opening incident that happened to her many years ago during her first day in the hospital as a student nurse. She walked into her patient’s room to introduce herself, and everything went well until she approached her patient’s bed. The patient recoiled and called her a “Christ Killer” and ordered the nurse out of her room.

“I was stunned. I’m Jewish and I was wearing a small gold Star of David. I grew up in a liberal community so I had never been confronted with an anti-Semitic remark like that in my entire in my entire life,” Rachael said.

After calming down, she came to the realization that the problem wasn’t hers, it belonged to the patient. She reported the incident to her nursing instructor and was assigned to another patient. Rachael said that the experience impacted her professional life. Although she is allowed to wear modest jewelry (including religious symbols) at the hospital, Rachael has never worn a Star of David to work again to avoid future conflict.


Male nurses have their own unique problems, such as gender bias. Alan B. told me that although most patients don’t mind having a man as their caregiver, some patients get very uncomfortable. Because women dominate the nursing field, the expectation among patients is that a female nurse will care for them. When he walks into the room, Alan has often noticed that patients are surprised to find him, instead of a female nurse.

“Sometimes men don’t want me as their nurse because of negative stereotypes. They think I’m gay, so they don’t want me to touch them,” he said. “I’ve also have had women with a history of sexual or physical abuse ask me to leave the room.” Alan advises male nurses to be careful in these situations because an allegation of inappropriate physical or sexual behavior with a patient can ruin a nurse’s career.

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