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Accepting gifts from patients: Could you lose your license?

When nurses do their job well, patients are often appreciative. Many express their gratitude through tokens of thanks such as homemade cookies or a heartfelt letter. These gifts are probably fine to accept and can be a big part of what keeps nurses showing up day after day in a stressful job.

But what about lavish gifts? Could accepting them get you in trouble to the point that you lose your nursing license? It is possible, and here is why.

Preferential treatment

One reason accepting lavish gifts is an issue is that it might signal to your colleagues that you practice preferential treatment, which is unprofessional conduct and could hurt patient safety. That is, they might think you would prefer to spend more time and care on these patients with means and on patients who have previously showered you with extravagant gifts.

One workaround

Unfortunately, some patients get offended when you turn down a gift, whether it is $5 cash or an offer to stay at their vacation home in the Bahamas for a month. One workaround that can leave you and the patient both feeling happy is to ask the patient to make the gift in the form of a donation to a charity in your honor. However, do check with your workplace policies as to how much leeway you have with choosing the charity. If this method of gift redirection fails, patients are often receptive to chatting with a nursing supervisor or manager about how they can recognize you adequately for the care that you provided.

As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to turn down any gifts that are unethical, and this should help protect your nursing license. That said, if you are called to account for yourself before the licensing board, a lawyer may be able to get your case dismissed or negotiate it down to a lesser penalty such as taking a class instead of you losing your license outright.