Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

How much do you share about your own family with patients?


Physicians share how telling patients about their own families can deepen the doctor-patient connection.

Connecting with Patients | June 27, 2018 | <1 min read


Laura Hanyok, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

It really depends on the patients. I have some patients I’ve known for almost 15 years, and I may share a lot with them. Some request seeing a photo of my daughter at every visit, or ask how my parents are. They’ve either asked about my family, or, rarely, I’ve brought it up as it pertains to connecting with them. For instance, helping to care for aging parents, or caring for a toddler, are things that I might have in common with patients and so I may share details about my experiences.

Michael Crocetti, MD, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians

In pediatrics, I often have opportunities to discuss my experiences as a parent.


I try to avoid answering the specific question, “What would you do if it were your child?” because that can introduce bias into the clinical decision that needs to be made on behalf of the child.


It’s tricky but I try and stay neutral and relay experiences that I’ve had with my children to help inform the parent’s decision. Discussing these experiences lets the parent know that they aren’t alone and we all deal with the same issues as we navigate parenthood.

What do you think?

Do you want to add to the conversation? Please share!

Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I tend to share my experiences as a ‘son of a patient.’

Insight into the experiences I’ve had with my mother and father often help me help my ICU patients’ families.

“Go home and get some rest, so your mind is fresh later – you’re making the decisions for your loved one.”

That’s message I use all the time, as it was said to me when I was supporting my parents in the hospital.

Tina Zhang, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I enjoy sharing about my own family with my patients. I like to tell my patients about where I’m from, where my family went on vacation recently, etc. I find that sharing more about my family and life outside of work allows me to find shared interests with my patients and therefore connect on a deeper level.

Josh Wadlin, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

When sharing details about personal and family life, I always try to strike a balance.

When seeing patients, I mainly focus on their personal lives, experiences, and  family/social situations.

I’m reluctant to spend too much talking about my own personal life for fear of using time I should instead be listening.

However, I jump at the opportunity to share a common experience or relatable anecdote which can strengthen our relationship, build trust, and introduce another level of connectedness between us.

William Greenough, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

The first thing I do with a new patient is to find out something about who they are and what interests they have, as this does not come through in the discharge summaries I receive.

I usually find something the patient is interested in that I am also interested in and that gets a conversation going beyond the standard medical data.

At that point I will often let the patient know, for instance, that I like to fish or share some other interest they have, which may then lead to more personal family information, but usually just supplies a common interest outside to the medical situation that we both enjoy talking about and that with a longer standing patient invariably leads to talking about family and friends.

This is why the first sentence in all transfer and discharge should have as the first phrase or sentence something unique about the patient as a person, citing a personal interest for the receiving physician to key off of, totally apart from the disease for which the patient is being treated.

Mike Fingerhood, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I share lots of details about my family – what my wife does, how old my two daughters are. I often share milestones such as graduations, and as my younger daughter is an athlete, how she’s doing in whatever sport she’s playing at the time. I share pictures as well. It adds to rapport building with patients.

Souvik Chatterjee, MD, National Institutes of Health

The patient history really needs to be a conversation; it seems unfair and I think doesn’t work well to only ask for information without giving any.

A relationship is give and take, and a doctor can’t be simply an extractor of information, a doctor has to have a relationship with their patients.

I don’t end up sharing a lot of information about my own family, but I do share my beliefs, experiences, and try and let them know who I am, just as I’m trying to understand who they are.

Javier de la Maza, Johns Hopkins University

I believe that sharing personal stories with my patients increases my ability to convey relevant information. Working in primary care, sometimes I would tell stories about my own children to highlight the recommendations and highlight the challenges that we all have to face as parents.

Reza Manesh, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Health is the most important aspect of people’s lives and when a personal story might mitigate their worries or inspire hope I share it. I modify elements of the story to maintain the privacy of my loved ones.​