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The power of imbalance

In the nurse-patient relationship, nurses hold a position of power by virtue of having:

  • professional knowledge and skills that patients rely on for their well-being
  • more authority and influence in the health care system
  • access to patients' bodies (for example when performing physical exams)
  • access to patient’s personal health information

Because of this power imbalance, any sexual relationship a nurse has with a patient is considered abuse and professional misconduct even when the patient perceived they consented. In this context, the patient is not in the position to consent due to the power imbalance.

Nurses are accountable for maintaining appropriate boundaries and meet the health care needs of their patients. It is exploitative for a nurse to use this relationship to meet their own social, emotional, or relationship needs. Crossing boundaries puts the nurse-patient relationship at risk, breaches patient trust and can cause severe harm. It also is a serious offence to engage in a sexual act with a patient.

Page last reviewed April 13, 2020