If you find yourself having feelings about your physician, there are a few things you should know before surrendering to your doctor crush
Typically, when we go to the hospital, it’s on one of our worst days. We’re scared, hurt, sick, or concerned for a loved one. Into the midst of all the fear and uncertainty strides a clean-suited, professional, knowledgeable doctor, and with a few tests and a confident explanation, everything seems fine again.
Of course, a doctor is a compelling individual!
But what happens when the doctor-patient relationship becomes, well, a little too compelling? That’s the situation in one of the most visited pages during the month of April in the relationship category on JustAnswer. The customer is developing a doctor crush, and is looking for help figuring out if the feelings are returned.
JustAnswer’s relationship category has a slight bias towards female visitors. During April, women made up 53 percent of the visitors to the entire category.
This question, though, was only visited by women. It seems that men aren’t as interested in their doctors - maybe if the question was about nurses, we would see a different ratio!
So, what is the relationship Expert’s advice on dealing with a doctor crush?
Exploring the possibilities of a doctor patient relationship
In this instance, the Expert is Ms. Chase, a life coach with more than 20 years of experience offering relationship advice. She tosses the following cold water on the fire:
“It is against their rules for him to become sexually or otherwise involved with you while you are a patient, and for at least up to 6 months after you are no longer a patient (time frames can vary by state).”
But she doesn’t just leave the poor customer to languish in the resulting cold:
“You could easily ask him out for coffee if you're trying to see if he's interested, but keep in mind you would need to drop him as your doctor and wait the required amount of time before getting involved with him. If you decide to pursue anything, keep in mind he could lose his license if it's ever found out, and anyone from his secretary, one of your friends or a patient could report him.”
This isn’t necessarily the advice the customer was looking for, but it’s the right answer.
Does your doctor’s bedside manner have you making bedroom eyes?
Considering the legal consequences
The legal ramifications of a doctor-patient romance can be extreme, and for good reasons. In the same way that the stress of an emergency can make your doctor seem like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, the pressure of the medical profession has an impact on the other side of the professional divide. From a National Institute of Health reference article on doctor and patient relationships:
“…doctors have been expected to deal with all stress that occurs in the context of their work and not show they need help. That can increase vulnerability, compromise judgment and lead doctors to engage in behavior that, in retrospect, they recognize as inappropriate.”
And the patient’s judgement is already compromised in the situation:
“From the patient’s perspective, the empathy of a caring physician can sometimes be confusing. A patient who is vulnerable may mistake a doctor’s kind words or gestures for romantic interest. This could lead to a patient seeking more from a doctor than health care.”
While every couple has their own unique story of how they met, this is almost exactly the opposite of the basis for the beginning of a solid relationship. And the penalties are intended to prevent a doctor crush from blossoming into a relationship, and are suitably harsh, running to thousands of dollars and the suspension or even revocation of the doctor’s license. That should be enough to dampen even the most lovestruck physician’s ardor!
As Ms. Chase points out, even after you switch doctors, there is a waiting period before your doctor could even consider a relationship. In some fields, such as psychology, there isn’t a waiting period at all – the therapist would face an ethics violation for dating a patient, no matter how much time has passed.
Navigating power imbalance in relationships
And it’s not just the stressful garden in which the seeds are planted that causes trouble. What the legal concerns are trying to address is the inherent power imbalance between doctors and patients.
A doctor has access to personal information about patients, and could theoretically exploit this knowledge to take control of the patient. In psychology, this personal information makes the patient particularly vulnerable – imagine going on a mystery date, but with full access to your date’s personal and emotional history, and how easy it would be to appear to be their ideal match!
The doctor-patient relationship is one of vulnerability and trust, and can easily be exploited. And even in the most ethical of hands, a relationship where one partner sees the other as dependent and needy can quickly turn cruel and destructive. The powerful partner begins to dismiss the dependent partner, and devoid of that power, the dependent partner can drift into depression and helplessness, and can turn to passive aggressive tactics to try to maintain control of the relationship.
The end result of a doctor crush is a tightrope walk on the razor-edge of power in a relationship, and it’s far too easy to lose balance. Navigating an unequal relationship requires restraint and consideration from the powerful partner, a great deal of self-confidence on the part of the less powerful partner, and the open communication to maintain mutual respect.
Proceed with caution!
Relationships are tricky, even when they don’t start with a doctor crush. When you run aground on the rocky shoals of love, the relationship Experts on JustAnswer can offer solutions to your relationship questions, and help get your boat righted so you can sail off into that glorious sunset.
Have you ever crossed an ethical boundary in a relationship? Share your story in the comments!