An NP’s 5 Rules for Being Friends with Coworkers

The emergency department where I work has a very collegial environment. Physicians, NPs and nurses spend time socially with one another., One friend/coworker group, for example, vacationed together at the Hangout Fest music festival in Alabama earlier this year. A Kentucky Derby viewing party is an annual event held in one MD’s home and all ED staff are invited to attend. Yet another group of workplace friends organizes regular lunch meet-ups with an open invitation. While socialization between coworkers is generally positive, I often wonder if the nature of our workplace social structure has the potential to lead to professional pitfalls.

As nurse practitioners our collaboration with physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals makes for unique relationships with co-workers in varying levels of hierarchy. While we must maintain professionalism as respected healthcare providers, research has suggested that having healthy friendships with those we work with can contribute to our overall job satisfaction and productivity; which ultimately can help us provide better patient care. But before you start going and befriending everyone you work with, there are several rules for being friends with coworkers that you need to be aware of first.

Based on observations in my workplace – and, a few times friendships between coworkers have overstepped or destructed professional bounds, here are five rules to help you build and maintain appropriate friendships with coworkers as a nurse practitioner.

Set Boundaries From the Start

Whether your friendship is with a collaborating physician or an RN, if it crosses hierarchies, it’s important that you pay close attention to how it might appear to fellow coworkers. Setting appropriate boundaries so as not to appear to be leveraging your relationship unfairly or creating an environment of favoritism can help everyone you work with still feel valued and respected by you. If you are a in a superior position, you may want to consider whether or not your friendship with a specific coworker is worth risking how others view your level of professionalism. If your friendship is with another nurse practitioner, you still need to have some boundaries in place to avoid perceived biases. Make sure you truly listen and consider the opinions of other providers you work with; not just those you’re closest to, and treat everyone fairly.

Stay Productive

It’s understandable that as friends you have much to converse about, but chatting too much with one another on the clock can have an adverse effect on your productivity and as a result it could cause you to lose focus on patient care. Therefore it’s important to recognize whether your social interactions are causing you to become distracted and neglectful of your responsibilities as a NP. Save the catching up for a time when you’re not on the clock such as during lunch or other designated break times. Letting your friendship derail you from why you’re really there could start to gain the attention of your superiors and cause you to lose respect as a productive employee.

Be Cautious of What You Choose to Discuss

It’s a natural tendency to complain about work to a friend, but complaining to a friend who is also your coworker can be a slippery slope and it could really come back to haunt you, as your co worker could end up using your words against you for personal gain. Even if there is not malicious intent in your friend repeating what you’ve said, remember that word travels fast and you shouldn’t engage in any gossip; if a co-worker is willing to gossip with you, they may also be willing to gossip about you, too. By the same token, avoid divulging too much information about your personal life, especially if you want to keep your personal and professional lives separate, as well as if you want to maintain a professional image amongst your team members. Be mindful that certain topics of conversations should be saved for friends with whom you don’t work.

Avoid Exclusivity

Make an effort to get to build professional relationships with other coworkers as well and include them in your conversations. Should you have a falling out with your pal, or they change jobs, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have alienated yourself from the rest of the health care team. Remember that collaborating with others, especially as it pertains to patient treatment, can be very beneficial and essential in providing the best care possible. Having a good relationship with others outside of your immediate circle will ultimately help the whole team work better together.

Recognize When You’re Being Taken Advantage Of

Though a stereotypical characteristic of a good friend is someone who will help you in a time of need, be cautious if your work friend starts asking you to take on some of their cases, especially if it’s a common occurrence. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground by respectfully saying no and if need be, put some distance between the two of you.

Remember that the patient is always your number one priority, not your workplace friendship, so don’t be afraid to be firm with the rules and boundaries you’ve set in place for yourself. It’s up to you to decide how professional or personal you want to be with your coworkers and whether you feel comfortable being friends with those you work with.

Do you have close friendships at work? How do you set social boundaries in the workplace?


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