Skip to Content

Can nurses hug?

Nurses provide compassionate care and support to patients every day. Their job requires establishing relationships and trust with patients in order to provide the best care. Hugging is one way that nurses show empathy and comfort to patients. However, there are professional boundaries around physical touch that nurses must consider.

What Are the Rules Around Hugging for Nurses?

There are no universal rules prohibiting nurses from hugging patients. Policies differ between healthcare facilities. Some hospitals may prohibit hugging completely, while others allow it in certain circumstances. Nurses should refer to their employer’s policies regarding appropriate physical contact with patients.

In general, brief hugs initiated by the patient are acceptable provided the nurse respects the patient’s preferences and dignity. Nurses should not force physical touch on patients who don’t want it. Any touching should aim to provide therapeutic benefit for the patient rather than meet the nurse’s personal needs.

Key Considerations for Nurse Hugging

  • Obtain the patient’s consent before hugging
  • Respect the patient’s cultural norms around touch
  • Be mindful of any power imbalance between nurse and patient
  • Maintain professional boundaries after hugging patients

Benefits of Hugging in Nursing Care

When done appropriately, brief hugs can provide many benefits for patients, including:

Physical Comfort

A warm, gentle hug can bring physical comfort to patients experiencing pain, anxiety, grief, or loneliness. The sensation of human touch releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress.

Emotional Support

Hugs communicate empathy and show the patient they are cared for as a whole person, not just a medical condition. This helps build trust between nurse and patient.


Therapeutic touch, including hugging, may accelerate healing in some patients by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

Improved Outcomes

Research shows that human touch in healthcare leads to reduced pain, lower rates of re-hospitalization, and greater patient satisfaction.

Risks of Hugging Patients

While most brief hugs from nurses are appropriate, there are some risks to be aware of:

Crossing Professional Boundaries

Hugging initiated by the nurse rather than patient can cross personal and professional lines, leading to inappropriate attachments.

Physical Injury

Well-meaning hugs could accidentally hurt patients who have medical devices, surgical incisions, IVs, or other fragile conditions.


Some patients may misconstrue a friendly hug as a sign of romantic interest.


In rare cases, unwanted hugging could lead to accusations of unprofessional conduct or abuse.

Settings Where Hugging May be Inappropriate

While most experts agree that brief hugging is acceptable in nursing care, nurses should exercise caution in the following settings:

Working with Children

Hugging pediatric patients requires extra sensitivity. Follow the hospital’s protocols and get parental consent.

Mental Health Settings

Some psychiatric patients are extremely vulnerable. Use your best judgement when providing therapeutic touch.

Home Care

More casual home settings may require clearer boundaries about physical contact.

Patients with History of Trauma or Abuse

For patients who have experienced trauma, hugging could recall negative experiences. Ask before touching.

Best Practices for Hugging in Nursing

Nurses can integrate appropriate hugging into care using the following best practices:

Obtain Consent

Always ask the patient first before initiating any hugging. This respects personal boundaries.

Follow the Patient’s Lead

Let the patient determine the duration and type of touch they are comfortable with.

Consider Alternatives

If a patient declines hugging, explore other ways to show empathy through words, facial expressions, or sitting at eye level.

Use Proper Body Mechanics

Avoid crowding, squeezing, or clinging to the patient. Keep the pelvis and chest separate.

Document Actions

Chart when and how long therapeutic touch was provided to avoid misunderstandings.

Debrief with Colleagues

Discuss any concerns about boundaries with trusted nursing peers or supervisors.

Nursing Codes of Ethics on Hugging

Professional nursing organizations provide ethical guidance about appropriate touch and boundaries:

American Nurses Association (ANA)

The ANA Code of Ethics states that nurse-patient relationships have an “inherent power imbalance” and cautions against personal disclosure or “inappropriate touch.”

National Association of Catholic Nurses (NACN)

The NACN Code of Ethics recognizes therapeutic touch should promote healing while respecting human dignity. Nurses must establish trust and obtain consent.

National League for Nursing (NLN)

The NLN encourages nurturing nurse behaviors like hugging provided it follows hospital policies and the patient’s wishes.

Cultural Considerations for Hugging

Cultural norms around touch vary widely. Nurses should be sensitive to each patient’s cultural background:

Muslim Patients

Physical contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex may be prohibited. Ask before hugging.

Orthodox Jewish Patients

Orthodox traditions restrict touch between people of the opposite gender outside of marriage.

Hindu Patients

Public displays of affection are generally discouraged. Use caution when hugging.

Latino Patients

Warm, personal care with touch is often welcomed.


For some Asian patients, bowing signifies respect better than hugging.

Alternatives to Hugging Patients

Nurses can convey compassion without hugging through:

Active Listening

Sitting face-to-face, make eye contact and listen attentively to show you care.

Saying “I’m Here”

Simply saying “I’m here for you” communicates support.

Hand Holding

Gently holding a patient’s hand can be comforting without being too intimate.


Smiling with eyes and mouth can transmit warmth.

Speaking Softly

A calm, soothing voice eases stress.

Crying Together

Shedding tears shows the nurse is deeply touched.

Examples of Appropriate Nurse Hugging

Here are some examples of situations where brief hugging may provide therapeutic value:

Grieving Patient After Loss

A gentle side hug after sharing news of a loved one’s passing.

Lonely Elderly Patient

A brief but warm embrace when leaving at the end of a home care visit.

Scared Child Patient

A snuggle at the start of an exam to ease anxiety about needles.

Physical Rehab Patient

A congratulatory hug from behind after they take first steps post surgery.

Terminal Patient Near Death

A long hug providing human closeness in final days.

Nurse Hugging in the #MeToo Era

The #MeToo movement has raised valid concerns about power imbalances leading to unprofessional and nonconsensual touching in healthcare:

  • 92% of female nurses report sexual harassment at work
  • 1 in 3 nurses endure inappropriate touching by colleagues
  • 15% suffer sexual harassment by patients

In light of this climate, nurses must be even more thoughtful in physical interactions to avoid misunderstandings. Any touching should have a clear therapeutic intent, not meet the nurse’s personal needs.

Tips for Professional Hugging

  • Follow hospital protocols exactly
  • Document when and how touch is provided
  • Do not initiate; let the patient lead
  • Ask others if they observe questionable boundaries
  • Boost empathy skills through coursework and training


The question of whether nurses can hug patients does not have a universal answer. With the right approach, brief empathetic hugs initiated by patients can provide comfort and healing. However, nurses must maintain professionalism and respect patient boundaries and dignity.

By staying within hospital policies, focusing on the patient’s needs, and using consent and sound judgement, nurses can sensitively integrate appropriate hugging into holistic, humanistic care.