One of the most challenging lines to draw in nursing is the one between the level of personal compassion with patients and that of being a professional. While ethical guidelines and rules imposed by healthcare environments and peers can provide a framework, every nurse must learn the intricacies of determining how close is too close when it comes to patient interactions.
As professionals, the training nurses receive only scratches the surface of the varied personal encounters that are part of patient healing and morale. While it is true that each patient/nurse relationship will have unique boundaries, it is crucial to have a balanced approach to being emotionally present and remaining professional at all times. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is not only in the best interest of the patient, but it’s also in the best interest of the nurse.
Arguably, one of the easiest situations for a nurse to cross the line – and consequently, the most difficult to manage – is with child patients under long-term care or dealing with a terminal illness. The balance of humanity, compassion, and empathy with professionalism, skill, and medical training are defining characteristics for any good nurse. That being said, staying vigilant of the line of appropriate closeness to patients can be a tricky proposition under circumstances like these.
If you can identify the signs of when you may be getting too close to a patient, you can work on being better at maintaining a balance of human emotion and professionalism.
It is helpful to reflect on how you are dealing with patients to ensure that you are serving their therapeutic needs rather than your personal needs. If you find yourself spending too much time with a patient beyond fulfilling their therapeutic needs, this is a big warning sign of impending problems. Sharing too much personal information or disclosing personal problems is yet another sign.
If you find yourself becoming too emotional about a patient or engaging their family in personal ways that do not serve their therapeutic interests, it can be a slippery slope. This makes it important for nurses to carefully monitor their objectives, objectivity, and their emotions when dealing with patients.
Getting too close can cloud judgment, so it is important to develop a form of “compassionate distance” as some have called it in order to stay true to the best interest of the patient. The best way to maintain a compassionate distance that does not compromise your humanity or your professionalism is to start each patient relationship out on the right foot. This begins with setting clear expectations with patients and their families as to the role you will play in their care.
You may find drawing on the experience and input of professional colleagues, trusted supervisors, or even mental health professionals to be beneficial in helping you handle a situation appropriately. The goal is to not only do what is in the best interest of the patient, but also what is in your best interest. The emotions that you feel are real and must be dealt with properly.
This may mean being removed from the situation by having a peer take that patient assignment or working with another colleague during patient visits for therapeutic purposes. If you feel that becoming overly involved in the life of the patients under your care is a recurring problem for you, it’s advisable to seek professional counseling to learn the root of its cause and how to manage this challenge.
Holistic care is not just the cornerstone of the role of professional nurses – it is the defining approach in healthcare moving forward. In a healthcare continuum where patient outcomes and performance measures are integral to the health of the patient as well as the healthcare institution, patient satisfaction is paramount. Patients want to be cared for by nurses who connect with them on a level that provokes trust, empathy, and healing.
Nursing is a challenging profession where excellent clinical skills must be balanced with a caring attitude. The nurses who are best at maintaining this balance understand that it is important to take care of themselves so that they can properly take care of their patients.
The goal of providing the highest level of care to every patient with equal amounts of skill and compassion is achievable with constant vigilance. By continuously assessing the balance that nurses must set for themselves, they can maintain professionalism while also providing a quality healing experience that serves the best health outcomes of the patient as well as the mental and emotional health of the nurse.
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