March 28, 2017

Doctors and Oversharing

Jaime Friedman MD FAAP
San Diego CA
@drjaimefriedman  Facebook and Twitter

In medical school budding doctors are typically taught not to share personal information with their patients.  Doctors should be neutral professionals, so their patients feel comfortable without feeling judged.    Furthermore, the visit is 100% about the patient, not the physician.

However, we aren’t robots.  We want so much for doctors to be seen and treated as humans with human emotions and flaws.  When we aren’t available one day, it’s OK that we need to stay home with a sick child, attend a continuing education course or just take a much needed vacation.  If we are a bit irritated by the late patient at 5:00, it’s because we may be missing Back To School night or an important soccer game. It’s OK for us to be sad when we give bad news or to have happy tears when we give reassuring news.  Doctors are people too.  We have families and personal needs that are often overlooked, as the demands of medicine pull us in many directions.  Our needs get sacrificed.

So where is the balance?  How do we relate to our patients on a human level without ever sharing any information about ourselves that make us more human?  In my opinion, it can’t be done.  Now before everyone freaks out, remember I am a pediatrician.  The majority of my discussions take place with parents, not patients.  Furthermore, my own experiences as a parent have made me a better pediatrician, and I want to be able to share the wealth.  Imagine how empowering it is for parents (who feel like they always need to be perfect) to know that their own pediatrician isn’t a perfect parent. 

Imagine getting advice from a million different sources on a variety of topics; it might carry more weight hearing what actually worked for their child’s doctor.  I think being able to share my own sleep, feeding, and behavior successes and failures not only makes me more human but also helps my patients and their parents.  And sometimes it’s just plain fun to talk to my young patients about my favorite ice cream flavor, or a good movie they may like, or what my Halloween costume will be this year.

Many times parents ask me, “What would you do if it were your child?”. They want to know, when they are hesitant,  if my child had their shots.  They ask how old my kids are and when I let them stay home alone.  They want advice on everything from book ideas for the kids who aren’t excited about reading, to ideas about potty training, to ideas for behavior modification.

As a human being, I learn and grow from my patients as well.  We bond and build our relationship by sharing with each other.  I get, as well as give, book ideas from my teens.  I get vacation ideas from parents.  I even learn about therapists or other health professionals that parents have liked or haven’t liked.  One of my favorite parts of a visit is “schmoozing” with a family about their summer, or school, or a new pet, or an upcoming holiday…the list goes on.

I do think it’s important to know when it is appropriate to share and when it isn’t.  There are way more times that I’ve held back from sharing personal information than I have actually chimed in.  But when I think it’s helpful or might make a mom feel better that I have been in her shoes, I choose to share.