April 12, 2017

Q&A With Nurse B: How Do I Set Boundaries With Students?

Q&A With Nurse B: How Do I Set Boundaries With Students?

Welcome to Q&A with Nurse B featuring Beth Boynton, RN, MS. In this 10-part weekly series, we'll be navigating common conflicts in nursing and healthcare with an eye towards shared accountability and co-creative solutions. 

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The Situation

Dear Beth,

I’m a part-time clinical instructor for BSN students. I love my instructor role, but I do have one issue that’s been frustrating for me.

Students receive their clinical assignment the afternoon before rotation. I arrive in the morning and need time to prepare. 

Some students will interrupt my preparation even though I’ve asked them not to. How do I get my students to understand the importance of my uninterrupted prep time?


I Love Teaching, but Not Limit-Setting

The Solution

Dear I Love Teaching,

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for teaching. 

Setting limits isn’t simple. A lot goes into protecting your personal and professional boundaries. Let’s explore self-esteem, leadership, respect for others, and assertive language.

Setting Boundaries

You know how much prep time you need. Students are testing this boundary, and you need to protect it. However, ask yourself if you’re bending your limits to avoid rejection or to be more popular with students. 

You may even be devaluing your own needs. Self-awareness is a component of emotional intelligence which will lead to stronger limit-setting. While it’s good to recognize your insecurities, it isn’t good to have them drive your behavior.  

Establish clear boundaries and stick to them. That will prevent mixed messages. New limits are often tested. Once the boundary is clear, make exceptions selectively.

Make no mistake: this will be hard at the beginning. But the payoff is worth it. Even complex issues like nurse staffing can be positively influenced with emotional intelligence


Leaders set limits.

Clear boundaries build trust between instructor and student. It also serves as an example for everyone. Make it part of your instruction. A student who learns about boundaries now will carry that throughout their nursing career.

Teach Self-Reliance

Self-reliance can mean the difference between success and failure as a nurse. 

When you remove yourself from the equation, students are forced to find and develop their own means of support. 

Not saying that you shut out your students. Rather, be available to them at appropriate times. But in their careers, they will have times when no help is available. 

Your pre-rotation prep time is good rehearsal for those future situations.

Assertive language

Be direct and clear in your language. 

Don’t leave room for interpretation. Communicate that uninterrupted prep time is not a preference, it’s a necessity -- and a big deal. 

This will set you up for a great rotation experience and teach students a valuable skill they will use throughout their career. 

The Next Step

Think about bringing this issue up during your next pre-clinical meeting. 

You could say, "I haven’t really explained to you the importance of my prep time. Going forward, I’ll be unavailable from 7:30-8:00 AM. I encourage you to help each other and seek out additional resources, including nurses on the floor. Do you have any questions or concerns?

This will be new for everyone and it might not “stick” the first time. Avoid making exceptions at the beginning. Give feedback when necessary. It will get easier!

This is hard work, but there are many benefits. Good luck, and please let us know how this turns out.



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