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The Line Between Caring – and Caring too Much

Nurses are innately inclined to support, nourish, and heal. But that sympathetic instinct can blur the line between caring — and caring too much. And becoming too emotionally involved with a patient can have damaging consequences for caregiver and patient alike.

In an article by Megan Murdock Krischke on nursezone.com, nurses are advised to tread carefully when their natural impulse to connect emotionally might complicate their professional obligation to administer care.

“Nurses are so privileged to enter into a relationship with patients during the most critical and fragile times of a patient’s life–those are intimate moments and the line of professional and personal boundaries can be blurred.” said Dana Nelson-Peterson, DNP, MN, RN, administrative director for ambulatory care nursing services at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.

“When you engage in both personal and patient relationships, many of the same characteristics mark those relationships–like being emotionally present, listening, conveying empathy and availability,” she continued. The difference with patients, she says, is that the relationship is temporary. When that fact is obscured by over-involvement, separation can be complicated, with lingering effects.

Indications that a nurse has become too emotionally involved include obsessively thinking about the patient outside of work, and imagining scenarios or creating opportunities to come into contact with the patient outside of work hours.

To avoid crossing the line, Nelson-Peterson and other experts offer the following tips:

  • Don’t divulge your personal cell phone number
  • Don’t make or accept friend requests with patients on Facebook
  • Don’t look through a patient’s chart for personal information that isn’t relevant to the care you are providing
  • Provide closure for the patient

If a boundary is crossed, it is important to discuss the issue with a nurse manager.