Despite what ER, All Saints, House, Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs would have you believe, did you know that flirting at work could get you sacked? (pun not intended)
The Daily Telegraph reported on these guidelines (which carry disciplinary measures) drawn up by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, reporting:
Nurses have been warned that discussing personal problems, feelings of sexual attraction or aspects of their personal life with patients could be interpreted as sexual violations.
The rules state sexual misconduct is an “extremely serious violation of the nurse’s professional responsibility to the person in their care”, and could result in dismissal.
Even if a patient consents or initiates sexual conduct, it is the nurse’s responsibility to maintain a professional boundary.
Failing to recognise the development of an attraction of a sexual nature is considered sexual misconduct or assault.
The article goes on to discuss how nurses also should certainly not accept anything from patients such as bus fares, meal tickets, money etc, and a response from the NSW Nurses’ Association shows some concern that nurses could actually be punished for being friendly to patients.
The question then relates to professional boundaries – is having a joke or light-hearted conversation being therapeutic to your patient and establishing a rapport, or should nurses constantly have in the back of their mind that “maintaining a professional boundary” is paramount?
Nurses have also been warned that “seductive” body language could be considered sexual assault, and “super nurse” behaviour where a nurse believes that he or she is the only one who can understand a patient’s needs is inappropriate.
What about inappropriate patients?
What’s also interesting to me here is that in all my years of hospital work, it’s very very rare to come across anything that even comes close to a breach in personal conduct by nursing staff towards patients.
Sure, nurses often joke and laugh with patients, but isn’t this what we were taught to do to make the patient feel safe, comfortable? Making a painful situation as pleasant as possible?
If anything, the largest perpetrators of sexual inappropriateness, both verbally and physically, come from the patients themselves. Working in emergency I frequently hear innuendoes, sly deviate comments and have witnessed drunken groping of staff from the patients themselves.
If the patient is actually the one being ‘flirty’, or asking questions of a personal nature, where does the nurse stand with this legislation….. Thoughts?