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Dear Broca,
I am a recent grad who joined a small group near my home town. I am 32 and single and have been spending a lot of time before and after my shifts talking with one of my charge nurses. She is my age and we seem to have a lot of chemistry but I know that work relationships are difficult. Any thoughts?

Dear Reader,
As we spend so much of our adult life at work, it seems like a natural place to meet someone special, and we certainly all know other physicians who seem happily married to another medical provider. Meeting a potential mate in the ED would have the added bonus of giving you a sneak peek at how they react under stress. If they can deal with that belligerent consultant in a calm and collected manner, Thanksgiving with crazy Uncle Theodore should be no problem.

That said, you are a new grad in a new job. Your first year out is a huge year because you are continuing to develop your own practice style, learning a new system with new faces and different politics, and prepping for boards. To top it off, your group is forming their permanent impression of you. With so much on the line, I would suggest you proceed with caution. If this relationship is “meant to be,” you have plenty of time. Put a circle on your calendar for 6-8 weeks away and keep your ears and eyes open.  If by that date you both still feel strongly about each other, take a chance and enjoy the ride.

If you feel you’ve given yourself time to settle, it might be helpful to consider what pop psychologists call the 10-10-10 rule. When contemplating a big life decision, you need to consider how the decision will affect your life in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.  In your case, the 10 minutes is an easy win. You’re both single, find each other attractive and enjoy spending time together. Not to mention your neural pathways are conspiring against you – new brain studies show that your infatuation actually stimulates your dopamine reward system so you literally crave the other person. This explains those marathon late night phone conversations and insane credit card bills on dinner. The 10-year outcome is pretty much a wash as well. You will either be together or not and even the most horrendous break up should have smoothed over by then. That leaves you with the 10-month question. Can you see yourself planning next Fall’s Labor Day barbeque with this person? What about bringing them home for the holidays? This will take some honest self-examination as well as some candid conversations with your partner.

In parting, a few words of warning. From a risk management perspective, it is less risky to become involved with someone at work who holds a position on par to your own. If you are a physician and she is a nurse and things go wrong, there may be kindling for a sexual harassment claim if she can argue that you held a position of authority over her and she felt her job was in jeopardy if she did not submit to your advances.

Finally, on a personal level, you have to consider the possibility and potential fall out of unrequited love. If you are left holding the bag, you might get the reputation of being that creepy new guy. If you break up with her, well then you will have to go to work and face a SCORNED CHARGE NURSE, enough said.

This month’s Broca’s Area was written by Jeannette Wolfe, MD, an active member and lecturer in the ACEP Wellness Section
 

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