Sometimes sharing personal details about yourself helps forge a deeper connection with your patient.
A visit with a patient I was seeing for chest pain was plodding along slowly. I was trying to hone in on how the chest pain felt to her, but was having difficulty extracting information. That was until I leaned in and she noticed my rainbow badge holder.
“I like your badge holder,” she said.
“Oh thanks. I’m gay,” I replied.
“I’m bi,” she responded.
For my patient, knowing I was queer too helped her open up. It went from a visit with little exchange and short answers to one in which she really engaged and shared what her chest pain felt like. As it turned out, I was able to reassure her that her heart was normal.
In the beginning of my training and career, I felt professionalism demanded a featureless identity. I intentionally dressed professionally, but in a forgettable way, and I certainly didn’t share my sexuality or any other potentially controversial part of myself. More so, I felt vulnerable sharing my identity.
The patient-clinician relationship hinges on human connection. Recent research and publications show that Black neonates in intensive care have better outcomes if they have Black doctors, a finding that may be due to increased connection between patient and their physician. Of course, not every patient will benefit from or want to know your personal identity, but sometimes this can be a strong tool in building trust and connection.
As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve felt more comfortable in sharing of myself. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Embrace your vulnerability. Sometimes sharing your identity helps forge a connection with your patient.
Not every patient needs or wants to know about you, but sharing your identity can be a connecting tool.
2. Work to make your patient feel safe.
Patients are in vulnerable positions when they seek our help. Be empathetic, listen closely, and consider highlighting shared interests (from “Star Wars” to sports) to make sure patient feel safe and connected. Patients in historically marginalized groups may need specific recognition, like asking for and sharing your pronouns to affirm gender minorities.
3. Recognize that each patient is more than their demographic.
Even if you share an identity with your patient, be aware that everyone has their own story. Listen and learn.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.