The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn

Human touch: What constitutes a professional boundary violation?

Maintaining proper boundaries is a key part of what it means to be a professional in today's society.

There are many reasons for this. One is to enable healthcare professionals to exercise impartial judgment, so that personal feelings do not compromise the performance of the professional role. Another is to protect patients or clients from potential misuse by the professional of power or influence conferred by the professional role.

But you don't give up your humanity when you take a medical oath or put on a nurse's uniform. Being human means relating to other humans as humans. It doesn't mean trying to turn yourself into a robot just because you're delivering professional services.

So when does genuine human contact become a professional boundary violation for a healthcare worker in Pennsylvania?

It's not an easy question. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania law on the subject is rather complicated. We encourage you to read our article on boundary violation issues for healthcare professionals for details beyond those we can sketch in this blog post.

Of course, you don't have to be a disciple of Sigmund Freud to know that sexual misconduct is a significant potential issue for professionals. That is why the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics specifically prohibits doctors from having sexual contact with patients while the doctor-patient relationship exists.

But what if entirely legitimate conduct by a doctor is somehow perceived by a patient as sexual contact or an overture to such contact? And what about relationships with former patients that become sexual or romantic?

Clearly there are numerous scenarios that can arise. Our point is that licensing boards concerned about professional integrity should not forgot that even the most committed professionals are humans who may cross boundaries that are often ill-defined.

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