Patient Modesty: Yes, It is Very Important

Let’s chat about something that lots of nurses think, but few say out loud: patient modesty. Is it really important? Is medical nudity something nurses should be comfortable with, in every circumstance?

Honestly, it’s complicated. But it needs to be discussed.

The Importance of Medical Patient Modesty

First, what is modesty? According to the dictionary, it is “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.” Ok, so what is propriety? It is socially acceptable behavior.

When someone is in the hospital, do social norms disappear? What about the feelings and values of the nurse – do they matter? I think how nurses feel about modesty should matter more than it does.

Perhaps it is because nurses are consistently voted as the most trusted profession, but some patients and their families really do let it all hang out. Not that I don’t want my patients to be completely comfortable with all the procedures that we encounter together, but there is something to be said for an effort to maintain modesty. We owe it to our patients to give them privacy and maintain their modesty, and we do it compassionately and with great care.

Female Patient Modesty

As a female nurse, I want to respect the modesty of all patients, whether they are male or female. When someone checks into the hospital, they are still a person. They shouldn’t be treated like a scientific subject. This is why I try to respect the modesty of all my patients. They are still a person whom I treat with dignity and respect.

Unfortunately, the respect isn’t given back sometimes.

I have had a few occasions where people get a little too comfortable, or at least maybe I just get a little too uncomfortable.

Once I was taking care of a patient and their family member walked into the room. I had never met this person before. The family member was asking me questions and having idle chit chat with me as I was assessing the patient and scanning medications. As I looked up and attempted to make eye contact I realized the family member was in the bathroom, door wide open looking right at me continuing the conversation. There she was, pants around her ankles, mid-stream.

I must admit, I was incredibly embarrassed by this. I attempted not to let her notice, as I did not want to embarrass her. I finished with the patient, spoke enough to end the conversation politely, and walked out of the room feeling dirty.

I know she meant no harm by this, but really, I just don’t get how some people are just ok with sharing certain things. To me, the bathroom is a personal and private venture. If you are my patient, it is one thing, but geez lady, I just don’t need to see all that. Just like in procedures, we reveal only the parts of the body needed to maintain privacy and preserve modesty, and I would think people would want to do the same for themselves.

And maybe this is just me being weird, but I get so uncomfortable when my 20 something female patients who are walkie talkies just walk around the room butt-naked. No particular reason, just walking around butt-naked having a conversation about the weather.

Just because I am a nurse does not mean I need to see every inch of your body.

Male Patient Modesty

So, what is socially acceptable when it comes to male modesty around women? Normally, nudity is a private thing. So in the hospital, it should also be respected. There are gowns and bathroom doors to provide privacy and modesty. Please, use them. If there are exams that need to be given, those will be accomplished in a respectful way.

What About Medical Nudity?

If it is necessary, it can be accomplished in a way that respects the values and norms of both the patient and the doctor and nurses.

When nurses treat a patient, we are trying to treat the entire person, not just the disease on the chart. As a nurse, I see you as a person. I hope you can see me as more than just someone that takes your vitals. When there is mutual respect, communication is better and trust can be earned easier.

Also, while we are on the topic of things I don’t need to see as a nurse – your poop. Unless I ask to see it, or the bowl is full of blood: flush it– please.

Patient modesty. It’s a touchy subject. But it needs to be discussed. Male or female modesty – everyone is a person and everyone should have dignity and respect, even in the hospital.

Nurses – what do you think? Is modesty a thing of perfectionism, or is it something we should hope for?

6 thoughts on “Patient Modesty: Yes, It is Very Important”

  1. I had a kidney stone removed and while I was prepared to have that area exposed, I wasn’t prepared to be completely stripped naked by 5 nurses so my whole body could be made germ free.

  2. I’m a 60-something male in above-average physical condition. Occasionally I make trips to a hospital for whatever reasons.
    Regarding my nudity around female medical professionals, I have absolutely NO issues whatsoever. I’m utterly 100% okay with that.

  3. The entire medical community is still in the 20th century as far as Male Patient Modesty goes. A male should be able to get another male for any intimate related medical issue. If a male nurse is not available, then a male hospitalist should step up and take care of the issue. No questions asked.

    Until men are treated as equals and their Dignity & privacy are protected by the medical community they will still be in the 20th century as far as the human side to medicine goes.

  4. I am not in the medical friend but I do have several family members who are- and this is a common thing for some reason. I don’t get it at all! (It’s not just you I used to hate when girls did that in the locker room at school-I don’t need to see all of anyone’s business unless I ask to, thank you very much.)

  5. Ahhh…………as a medic, I can soooo relate!! I can’t believe a family member did that! I feel bad enough just using the patient’s toilet as we are supposed to go down the hall to use the public restrooms. I can’t believe she didn’t even close the damn door!

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