Florence Nightingale Syndrome

By Sarah Estlund

The Florence Nightingale Syndrome is also referred to as the Florence Nightingale Effect. This syndrome happens when an individual caring for another individual develops romantic feelings for them. More specifically the Florence Nightingale Syndrome is a psychological complex that might happen when a vulnerable patient is being cared for and their caretaker develops romantic and oftentimes erotic feelings for them. The Florence Nightingale Syndrome can also occur when the patient develops romantic feelings for their caretaker as they begin to see them as their protector.

History

As the nursing profession developed through the 1800s Florence Nightingale was a driving force behind it. Florence Nightingale was from an upper-class family and in those days people in her echelon would not be a nurse. Nursing was for poor people of lower class families. Nightingale however was caring and, to the dismay of her family, became a nurse against their wishes. Throughout the years Nightingale revolutionized the nursing profession. Her findings and observations in her 1860 “Notes on Nursing: What it is, what it is not” later became a foundation for nursing education. Nightingale brought cleanliness and respect to patients in hospitals and in collaboration with Elizabeth Blackwell opened the first school of nursing in England in 1869. Ironically Florence Nightingale never actually fell in love with any of her patients. The Florence Nightingale syndrome was named after her because of her deep passion for the profession and caring for her patients.

Misconceptions

The Florence Nightingale Syndrome is not a medically recognized syndrome but rather much talked about and often seen in pop culture urban legend.

Symptoms

Symptoms of the Florence Nightingale Syndrome would be very similar to that of falling in love with someone or having an intense crush. However it is important to remember the name came from a woman with care and love for patients and nothing inappropriate or erotic.

Effects

The effects of the Florence Nightingale syndrome will differ depending upon the caretaker and patient. Either individual can develop a harmless crush or fall in love with the other; the effects would be harmless unless an individual acted on those feelings.

If a caretaker acted on feelings developed for a patient in their care that would be unethical; therefore, the effect of the Florence Nightingale Syndrome could be termination from their position as a health care provider.

If a patient tried to act on feelings toward a caretaker they could be denied which would result in embarrassment.

Prevention/Solution

Medical and health care professionals are told throughout school and take an oath to give their patients the best care possible. Just like an attorney cannot breech client privilege the health care provider is not to breech that caretaker line by becoming romantically involved. Prevention of The Florence Nightingale Syndrome is to remain cognizant of the task be a professional health care provider and observe professional boundaries.

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