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Patient Boundaries in Nursing

Patient Boundaries in Nursing

Terri Polick with patient, circa 1977.

Terri Polick | NursingLink

The boss called my friend into her office to have a talk about her behavior. Of course my friend was mortified. She stopped taking to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome and she never went into his room while she was on duty. Then, on the day that he was discharged, she came to the hospital to pick him up. On the way out, she flashed her new engagement ring to the world and invited us to their wedding. I think that everyone at the nurses station cringed. My friend got lucky. She married the love of her life a couple months later, she didn’t lose her job, and lived happily ever after. This is a cautionary tale; overstepping boundaries creates chaos in your personal and professional life.

The other nurse I briefly worked with wasn’t so lucky – she ended up in jail. It happened when I was moonlighting at a nursing home: I met a young nurse who cared for an elderly widower who needed intensive nursing care. He was her patient. He was wealthy and vulnerable, and she was greedy. Can you guess where this is going?

The family filed charges when the patient confided that he was having a sexual relationship with the nurse and that he wanted to marry his “special lady.” The patient’s family checked into his finances and found out that he was writing his nurse a lot of personal checks. Then they dug a little deeper and found out that he was giving her expensive gifts and had written her into his will. State nursing boards define professional sexual misconduct as any behavior that is seductive, sexually demeaning, harassing, or reasonably interpreted as sexual by the patient. It was a slam-dunk. She was convicted on criminal charges and lost her nursing license.

Nurses must be cognizant of the boundaries they set with their patients, because blurring boundaries is just asking for trouble. Be aware of your own feelings, be observant of the behavior of other professionals, and always act in the best interest of your patients.

Next: 8 Things You Should Never Say to a Patient >>

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