Ethical question-being friends with a patient


Hello I am a new RN and new to this forum (my first post!). I have a question. My friend has me really freaked out about this so I have to get it off of my chest.

Last year, when I was a nursing student I had a clinical rotation on a substance abuse unit. Since I am a recovering alcoholic myself (3 yrs sober!) I really liked the rotation because I could really relate to what they were going through. One of the pts was a young man, three years younger than me. Over a matter of weeks we became friends. I shared my sobriety story with him, thinking that it might help him. We decided to attend an AA meeting together after he was discharged. We attended meetings a few times and are still great friends (no dating went on).

My school did not review ethical standards very well, because it never even crossed my mind that this was wrong. I was not a licensed nurse yet, and just felt like a student who met someone that I had a common bond with. I wanted to share my hope with this new friend, that he could be sober too. My intentions were good, although now I realize it must have been remarkably unprofessional.

I told my friend this the other day and she completely freaked me out! She said that I could lose my license for being friends with this person and that I could have been kicked out of nursing school!

Now that I am an actual RN, I have learned much more about crossing boundaries. I am so excited about my new career and I don't want this incident to come back and bite me in the butt. I was just trying to help, I promise!

Any comments..? Please be easy on me


1,975 Posts

Well, it's too late to kick you out of nursing school so that's one prob out of the way. wink Why would you now lose your license?! I don't think they can control who you are friends with outside of work. You know better for the future so consider it a lesson learned. If you are still friendly with this man I don't see a need to end the friendship. Keep your personal life to yourself. It's no one's business. I think we often share too much when there is no need to do so.


89 Posts

Specializes in CICU.

Your license is safe. Your friend overreacted. You have treated the whole incident as a lesson learned and you will be a better nurse for having learned it. Good luck.


3 Posts

Thank you for the responses. I consider myself a good nurse and this situation made me doubt my professionalism. I guess since my intention was to take the pt to AA meetings, not go out on a date, I really did not consider it unethical at the time.

I was just concerned about my license since I worked so hard for it. But I guess since it happened in nursing school there should be no consequence for me as an RN.

Oh well, you live and you learn

Specializes in Psych, Med/Surg, Home Health, Oncology.

Please don't be so hard on yourself!!;)

Now you know & you'll have learned from this.

I know many a Nurse who has done this & believe me, some NEVER learn & don't understand when you try to point out that this is inappropriate.


951 Posts

Has 9 years experience.

I live in a town of less than 100,000. How the heck am I never supposed to interact with these people outside of work? What about people who work in small towns and know everyone? I work with two nurses who ended up marrying a pt. As in, the first interaction they ever had with their spouse was when they were their nurses in the hospital, and they started dating immediately after the pt was discharged.

I used to work in a birthing center, and frankly, two of my best friends I met there when they were patients. After their births, we kept in touch and eventually our families became close friends. Should I lose my license over this? I think not.

Specializes in ICU, CCU, Trauma, neuro, Geriatrics. Has 16 years experience.

I am working in a small town pop around 5,000. Everyone knows everyone else here. Keep it professional and you will be fine. I have run into prior patients and had a cup of coffee with them just as friends.

I am sure what you did as a student, your intentions were good. You know more now as an RN and will be more careful.


1,361 Posts

Specializes in ICU, ER, EP,. Has 17 years experience.

People here may strongly disagree with me but heres my take. We have intimate bonds with patients and families, many of them VERY strong. some of them change us and make us better people and nurses. If I felt sharing a past experience that was appropriate, even if it showed "too much of me"... I would.

without getting sappy, ok a bit, these people trust us with their deepest secrets, and personal details at times, sometimes a bond forms and a non intimate relationship forms. I see this as a beautiful thing, that after discharge, while no longer a nurse patient... can carry out a friendship however close or loose or supportive with things like an AA meeting.

While I've never attended AA, and congrats on the soberness... it seems to take a community to support you to keep on track. So be it, a member of yours was once a patient.

NOW that you have a relationship you couldn't care for that person in a nurse role... but I just don't see anything wrong here.

Psyc. and addictions is very tenuous with discovery from a care givers past... be extremely careful here. I would be hesitant to do this again. But a dysfunctional relationship did not develop and no harm came.

There are ways to bridge this relationship with a patient without the self exposure, you will learn this in time.... but I still state there are many times in which it helps.. as long as the focus is on the patient. Not the nurse.

best wishes for years 4, 5 and so on.:pumpiron:

Specializes in LTC, Med/Surg, Peds, ICU, Tele. Has 15 years experience.

I think, in the future, that you need to maintain a professional distance and refrain from sharing your own sobriety story with patients and then going to AA meetings together. Yes, that's crossing a boundry that shouldn't be crossed. Like others said, learn from it and move on. Be more careful in the future. Your friend is overblowing what is now water under the bridge.

You do have to be extremely careful about revealing personal information about yourself to patients.

TazziRN, RN

6,487 Posts

you may have crossed the boundaries in making arrangements while he was a pt to get together afterwards, but this is certainly not something to lose your license over. if your friend tried to turn you in the bon would look at the complaint like she was crazy.

i have shared my story with er pts who were struggling with sobriety, but i have never made arrangements to meet someone at a meeting outside of the er. that, however, is just my own preference. in my opinion the only thing you may have done wrong was make arrangements while this person was still an inpt to meet after discharge, and even that is stretching it since there is no unethical behavior planned.

in the future, though, be warned: many facilities have policies against staff and former pts having any kind of a relationship until a certain length of time after the pt is discharged.

allnurses Guide

NurseCard, ADN

2 Articles; 2,847 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surge, Psych, LTC, Home Health. Has 13 years experience.

Yeah, BIIIIIIG no-no there, though I'm not *actually* sure that the repercussions are as severe as what that person you were talking to described. I think that having a romantic or business relationship with a patient or former patient is usually considered much more severe and in many hospitals could be grounds for termination (ie, against policy!).

You did cross the boundary though, and it sounds like you realize that and have learned your lesson. Keep relationships between yourself and patients purely professional. Unless of course someone you are ALREADY friends with becomes a patient, but in that case you don't want to care for that person while they are there, and if you are working an inpatient psych unit, you want to work on a different unit until that person is discharged.

pagandeva2000, LPN

7,984 Posts

Specializes in Community Health, Med-Surg, Home Health.

I don't think you would lose your license. I would just be a bit careful of building too many associations with patients, because it can be compromising if they return to the hospital and you are in the position to have to treat them. Some people are manipulative (not saying this friend actually is), and can place you in a bad position. Other times, embarassing things about yourself may come out in your place of employment that would have been better off being secret. Otherwise, you just learned a lesson and that is it. Don't go crazy. We all learn from our mistakes.

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