Boundary Setting

Setting boundaries

Good self-care includes making sure that boundaries are in place and that you are protecting your mental health. So make time and make space for yourself. If you do not, the consequences can be severe for all involved in the healthcare relationship. This includes not just your work environment and patients but also your family and loved ones.

It is important to set both personal and professional  boundaries as they are a key part of self-care:

Personal boundaries are setting your own personal limits. For example, deciding those things for which you are responsible and those that you are not. Boundaries are not about building emotional walls which can be harmful to both you, your colleagues and your patients. Being assertive and saying ‘no’ can be done in a caring and empathetic manner.

Professional boundaries are those set out in our code of conduct that ensure that we do not behave inappropriately with our colleagues and patients. For example, becoming romantically involved with a patient you are treating.

How can we be aware of our boundaries and crossing them with our patients and their families?

There are a number of ways to be aware of our boundaries:

  • Check yourself for over-involvement but do not be afraid to be empathetic when dealing with your patients. There is a difference between being empathetic and to literally “climbing in” with your patient. Don’t jump into the water with them, help pull them out instead. Otherwise you might both drown.
  • You can be mindful of your patient and family’s suffering, acknowledge it and discuss it with them but it is not your pain to take on.
  • If you feel like you are overstepping boundaries, you probably are.
  • Help patients and families set the boundaries, and if inappropriate, you can kindly inform them in a manner that is both kind and caring while remaining professional. Being professional is not about being cold, distant, emotionally removed and clinical.

Patients and family members are dependent on you for the care of their loves ones and therefore they are vulnerable in your care. Respect this vulnerability and do not violate it in any way. Trust on both sides of the relationship is key.