A news story recently made the rounds online as it was published through a number of different media channels. It is the heart-warming love story about an ALS patient who fell in love with, and married, his nurse. One version of the story, which was featured on the Huffington Post, can be found here. Response to the story has been overwhelmingly positive, but what nobody seems to be questioning is the ethical aspect of the story. Namely, is it a good idea for a nurse and a patient to begin a romantic relationship?
What Is the Florence Nightingale Effect?
The Florence Nightingale Effect (also referred to as Nightingale Syndrome) is a pop-culture reference to the real nurse, Florence Nightingale, who treated her patients with care and compassion. Some people mistakenly believe that the term refers to a nurse falling in love with her patient, or vice versa, but it is meant to connote a kindhearted and empathetic relationship, not a romantic one.
Nurses are taught to use compassion, a positive attitude and TLC when treating patients. Such care has been shown to lead to better responses by patients as well as faster healing times. But nurses must be careful to maintain boundaries, as building relationships with patient that are too close can lead to emotional and even ethical dilemmas.
Is It Common for Nurses and Patients to Fall in Love?
As a general rule, nurses are able to maintain enough distance from their patients to avoid the problem of a romantic bond forming. Sometimes, however, patients may adopt more amorous attitudes toward their nurses. This may happen if the patient is extremely dependent on the care that the nurse is providing or if the nurse is providing the only perceived positive interaction throughout the day.
So what happens if a nurse and patient mutually develop strong feelings for each other? In this case, it is the nurse who should establish boundaries and prevent the relationships from moving forward. To act otherwise may put the nurse’s job in jeopardy.
A Romantic Relationship between Nurse and Patient Usually Not Okay
Sue Stewart of NurseTogether.com tackled this issue in an article entitled Should Nurses Have Romantic Relationships With Patients? In this article, Stewart is quick to point out that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) states that “the nurse should avoid situations where he or she has a personal relationship with the patient.” Developing a romantic relationship while the patient is in your care, therefore, presents an ethical issue.
When answering the question of whether or not such relationships are acceptable once the patient is no longer in your care, things become a bit murky. A lot depends on your patient’s prognosis and whether or not he or she is capable of providing informed and reasoned consent.
Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson also addressed this topic in her article Dealing with Patient-Caregiver Feelings. She cautions that in the case of patient being treated for mental illnesses, engaging in a romantic relationship is extremely unprofessional and can result in the nurse being charged with a breach of ethics or even a crime in some states.
Sometimes, patient/caregiver relationships do result in long-lasting, true-love scenarios. It is a risky move though. By allowing yourself to become emotionally or romantically tied to any of your patients, you open the door to heart-ache, disappointment and potential loss, so proceed with caution.
What Would You Do?
Have you considered how you might handle a situation wherein you develop feelings for one of your patients? Has is happened to you, and if not, how have you prevented it? Topics like this are worthy of discussion with other nurses. You may be surprised what you can learn from each other.