Residency romances: Sound policies can ward off problems

Residency Program Insider, February 25, 2008

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With Valentine's Day earlier this month, it is no secret that love is in the air this time of year, and that includes the workplace. Residency training can present unique challenges when it comes to workplace romances, so it's important to consider what policies and procedures your program has in place to address such issues.

Workplace romance is both common and likely. Certainly, this is an age old phenomenon that probably will not go away, particularly as people--especially those in the field of medicine--spend so much time at work. However, residency program romances present special challenges, such as how they impact patient care, or supervision. Residents can be especially vulnerable to workplace romance given new environments and, often, undeveloped personal support systems. Unfortunately, these relationships have the potential to be disruptive to the workplace environment for many involved.

To help prevent workplace romances from disrupting your program, it is important for leadership to make new trainees aware of professional behavior expectations concerning not only co-workers, peers, and supervisors, but also patients. The AMA and the state medical boards have clear guidelines regarding these issues, and it is important to review them with residents at the beginning of their training. In addition, program policies and procedures are equally critical, and communicating these policies early on is key to preventing future problems like sexual harassment claims (i.e., workplace romance gone bad) and conflict of interest issues (i.e., favoritism). One simple approach to handling workplace relationships is to create a policy stipulating that those who are romantically involved cannot be in the same reporting structure, and one party can not have undue influence over the other's career and/or advancement.   

Clear guidelines are available regarding patient care, and sensible local policies and procedures are crucial to avoiding potential problems.


Sandra M. Carr, MD
Chief, CEAS Division/Residency Program Director
Duke/Southern Regional Area Health Education Center
Family Medicine Residency Program
Fayetteville, North Carolina

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