Am I being sexually harassed by a patient who insists I wipe her after toileting even though she is fully capable of doing this for herself? I always understood we were not to touch a patient’s genital area except in the course of an exam or to provide treatments or cleaning they are unable to provide for themselves. I feel that this is a boundary violation of some sort.
Dear Donna replies:
Dear Feels Harassed,
It is always challenging for me to respond to a question like this without knowing all the details such as the patients age, mental status, medical condition and setting (home, hospital, etc.). However, although I am not an attorney, based on the limited information you provided, it does not sound like a case of sexual harassment. Just because the patient asks you to do something, you are not obligated to do it. Part of your role as a professional nurse is to set boundaries and enable/empower the patient to do things for themselves if indeed they are able to do so in an effective and safe manner. You are responsible to create a therapeutic environment, promote patient autonomy and manage the care.
You should speak to your supervisor and/or the primary care provider (physician, nurse practitioner) about the situation as soon as possible for some advice and support. If you feel the request is being made in a sexual context, it also needs to be reported as soon as possible.