Professional Boundaries: The Destruction of the Humanity of Nursing?

NurseTogether recently published an article discussing professional boundaries in nursing.  Boundaries have been defined as “the mutually understood, unspoken physical and emotional limits of the relationship between the patient and the nurse.” (Farber, N, Novak, D, O’Brien, M. Love, Boundaries and the Physician-Patient Relationship, Arch Int Med 1997;157: 2291-2294.)

The key to maintaining professional boundaries in nursing is to avoid switching the caregiver role. This can occur when the nurse shares intimate details about the nurse’s personal life, financial woes, or complaints about co-workers or work conditions with a patient.  These seemingly harmless personal details may evoke sympathy from the patient, making the patient want to care for the nurse. The article, linked above, lists 12 warning signs of unhealthy boundaries and discusses situations posing particular problems for nurses.

Legally, the nurse is responsible for maintaining appropriate professional boundaries. Although the Colorado Nurse Practice Act does not by its plain language prohibit professional boundary violations, such boundary violations may represent a failure to meet the generally accepted standards of nursing practice.  A failure to meet the generally accepted standards of nursing practice constitutes unprofessional conduct in Colorado and is grounds for disciplinary action.

What struck me as I read this article were the comments made by nurses who believe that professional boundaries force them to abandon the caring and humanity of nursing.   They discuss being distant and not wanting to share of themselves.  One nurse suggested that patients should be instructed regarding the topics that are “off-limits” with their nurse.

Professional boundaries are intended to protect the patient and to ensure a clear understanding of the nurse/patient relationship.  Professional boundaries are not intended to prohibit a nurse’s caring, compassion, or empathy. But  is that how boundaries are being interpreted in practice?  If so, the professional boundaries intended to protect the patient may just end up destroying the humanity of nursing.

This post is intended as informational only and does not constitute legal advice. If you, or someone you know is engaging in, or is accused of, professional boundary violations, consult with an experienced Colorado Nurse Defender before making any statements.

The Law Office of Karen M McGovern, LLC, is an experienced law firm specializing in criminal and professional license defense. Call 303.260.6444 for a free consultation or contact us through our website –