You can probably do without the paperwork and the long hours on your feet. However, if you are like many other Pennsylvania nurses, the most rewarding part of your job is the rapport you build with your patients. In some cases, they may slip in and out of your life, and you barely remember their names. Some patients, though, touch your heart and seem to draw you to them.
Of course, you know it is unprofessional to become too involved with a patient. You have undoubtedly heard cautionary tales of others in the medical profession who made the mistake of developing personal or even physical relationships with patients. Few things can jeopardize your nursing license more than stepping over that line.
Sometimes the limits are not so easy to see. A patient may be fragile or seem to need more personal attention. Certainly, your relationship with your patients is one of the crucial elements in the healing process. Their trust and dependency allow you to determine their needs and gauge their wellness.
However, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing describes a space between your power and the helplessness of your patient. A nurse can misuse his or her power by taking advantage of the vulnerability of a patient in any of these three ways:
- Boundary crossing: This may include accepting gifts from a patient, sharing personal information or allowing the patient to develop a dependence or comradery beyond what is therapeutically necessary. These behaviors may seem innocent but can easily lead to misunderstandings or more serious breaches.
- Boundary abuse: Commonly, nurses step over the line through privacy violations. NCSBN adds that if you engage in any behavior with a patient that has no therapeutic value, you may be violating the boundary.
- Misconduct: Inappropriate relations with a patient do not have to be sexual to be forbidden. While physical contact of a personal nature with a patient, including kissing, is a violation of conduct, even discussing having a relationship or using suggestive language while a patient is in your care violates the boundary. This rule extends to family members of the patient.
You may take great care to observe these boundaries, even when patients themselves are not sure of the limits. However, if someone should file a complaint against you for breaching the professional boundaries between patient and nurse, you have every right to be concerned. Facing such charges can mean the loss of your nursing license and the end of your career. Seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity after learning of the accusations will improve your chances of protecting your future and your reputation.