"He just wanted to know..."

  1. So here is the situation.

    I work as a private practice NP Internal Medicine provider in the same medical center where I started as RN years ago.

    A some time ago, I stopped sharing ANY private information about myself and my family, period. Partially it was due to xenophobia I experienced in the same place, partially due to current political situation and partially because I am, well, sick and tired of sharing information that has nothing to do with business. I am nice, polite and adamant about it, whether one feels like "just curious" or not. But, since I was there before, some pieces leaked out and stayed in collective memory.

    Over the last year, I encountered more than once that patients/families somehow got to know where I came from and some other details I did not share with them. It is Trump country overall, so more than once it led to situations when I was asked humiliating (to say it mildly) questions directly in my face, refusal of care under premise that I must be "a spy or something", etc. Needless to say, it doesn't make my life any better.

    The single source of leak in all cases with no exclusion were staff RNs. I spoke with them; some outright denied telling patients anything, but when presented with facts, everyone started the same spiel: "the patient/family just wanted to know where are you from, what are you doing here in America and if you have any kids - they are customers, you know, and why they cannot know if they are just curious?" No one of them had an impression that what they did was wrong.

    In my opinion, doing so is, at least, unprofessional.

    Speaking with NURSING management led to nowhere. They have no policies about it, and "what if he just wanted to know, and the nurse happens to know, and not comfortable to say "no"?"

    I would appreciate some collective wisdom.
  2. Visit KatieMI profile page

    About KatieMI, MSN, RN

    Joined: Jan '10; Posts: 2,336; Likes: 9,804

    120 Comments

  3. by   psu_213
    I don't really have any words of wisdom, hopefully someone else does.

    Sorry you have to go through this. Hang in there.
  4. by   JKL33
    This is a good question. I have a practice of only ever entertaining any tiny bit of discussion about colleagues in a positive manner (the old adage, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything..."). "Oh, yes - s/he's very dedicated and spends a good deal of personal time helping others in the community" - is something I have conversationally said in response to a patient about a colleague, for example. If put on the spot (such as a patient making a "cheap shot" comment about a coworker), I do not entertain this and will say the nicest true thing I can say in response, or else pick a neutral reply like, "would you like to speak with someone about your concern?" If I get any inkling that the patient means harm or is being discriminatory in raising a conversation, I refuse to entertain that and I have plenty of ways to nip it in the bud, refuse to participate, and/or challenge them (and I do, as appropriate). As far as patient inquiries about a colleague's personal life, my reply is always the same - "I'm not sure, and generally-speaking I try not to talk about other people's personal lives, anyway." <sweet smile>

    So, now that I have hopefully described my MO, I have to be honest: I can hardly bear for one more stinking thing in our environment to become toxically de-personalized and bound by restrictive policies that might as well make criminals out of us regular human beings as well as the ones with nefarious purposes. So I would hate it if it were some "healthcare crime" to mention a coworker. You know what I mean?

    Racist and discriminatory people are the problem. People who entertain them are also the problem. People who gossip about others are the problem, too. But not everyone who would ever mention a coworker is part of the problem.

    Perhaps it is wrong for me to mention co-workers in the complimentary responses that have been my habit in the past - - I will have to think about this. Never really thought about it before.

    As to your problem - without labeling your concern as valid or invalid, it might still be worth considering how much trouble it's worth and what the chances of fixing the problem are. The alternative is that you could simply take these things as they come, win patients over by providing excellent care, let those go who prove they don't want to have faith in you by their actions, attitudes, and words, and maintain your own privacy as you see fit going forward. If there is a significant difficulty with the hospital's employees damaging your reputation or compromising your patient relationships through what amounts to slander, you could have a discussion with the CNO to that effect.

    Take care ~
  5. by   Susie2310
    Have you thought that your patients probably would just like to get to know you a little and also find out if you plan on being their provider in the long term? Patients are not machines; they are human beings, with feeling and emotions and values and preferences. If the RNs' were giving out your home address and other private information, I could understand your concern.

    I know that I personally wouldn't want a PCP who is "only business." Being a patient is different from being a customer at a bank. I am a human being and I expect to have a human relationship with my PCP and with all of my physicians, albeit a professional one. In fact, just a few weeks ago my family member asked the staff at our medical practice if a new specialty physician was planning on remaining with the practice, and everyone they asked was happy to answer (including the physician), and my family member has learned from either the physician or their staff that the physician is apparently unmarried.

    Learning basic information about one's PCP is just part of getting to know them well enough to decide if one wants to be their patient or not, and a certain amount of knowledge about another person is necessary in order to build a foundation of trust in a relationship, and for the relationship to develop. Patients, like most people, respond well to friendliness and a reasonable amount of openness. We are not robots after all. I don't think the RNs' were being unprofessional in answering the way they did.
    Last edit by Susie2310 on Nov 16
  6. by   elkpark
    I disagree with the other posters; I consider the behavior of the RNs highly inappropriate and I, also, would have a serious problem if this were happening with me. If the management is not willing to address it and set some appropriate boundaries for the staff (since they apparently have none of their own), I would be looking for another job. And, no, I don't need to know anything personal about my PCP in order to have a good working relationship with my PCP. Whatever happened to the concept of professional boundaries?
  7. by   Susie2310
    Quote from elkpark
    And, no, I don't need to know anything personal about my PCP in order to have a good working relationship with my PCP. Whatever happened to the concept of professional boundaries?
    Providing basic information about oneself when one is a PCP is hardly a professional boundary violation; more a facilitator to communication. "I come from . . . ." "I plan on practicing here for (x length of time)." "I have two children." "My husband/wife is a (insert profession)." "I'm going to Spain in October." Almost all of the physicians I and my family members see are comfortable sharing basic information about themselves. I'm sure they share simple, basic information about themselves in order to put patients at ease, so patients feel more comfortable with them, not to satisfy any personal needs/desires on their own part at the patient's expense.
  8. by   KatieMI
    Susie2310,

    Everything you wrote might be right and correct - regarding YOURSELF. And this is the problem.

    Yours (or somebody else's) curiosity or need to know how many children someone has is only about you. It has nothing to do with someone else's wish to share this information, and you do not get any right to know just because you "just curious". If you are uncomfortable with someone without knowing these details, it is, again, up to you to choose not to pursue personal relationship with this person. It is a free country. I also can choose to transfer too nosy, too talkative and too curious patient to another provider or even another service - without the patient's consent, BTW.

    I bet you never walked in those shoes and so do not understand how it really feels, so I just let you know: most immigrants hate that ubiquitous question of "where are you from?" It is perceived as rude and nosy, to begin with. And I speak not about this question. I speak about "are you here with papers?" and (yes, they asked me THAT. It is Trump country)

    One time, a RN thus shared the fact that my kid is attending a school X, just because she happened to know and patient "just wondered what kind of school that lady kids might go to if she got them". A few weeks before, she actually inquired with me how to transfer her own child in there. The school has strong STEM based curriculum with "sports" existing for decorative purposes only. The next morning, a family member greeted me with "oh, and your kid goes into that school for sissies and pissies and (obscenity meaning foreign-born person)!"

    They later wanted to let me know that they just only wished good for my kid and wanted to give an advice. Too late
    Last edit by KatieMI on Nov 17
  9. by   KatieMI
    Elkpark, thank you!
    My problem is, what to do with it?
    I was kind of adviced to find some sort of potentially "unsafe" imperfection(s) and then just throw the person in question under the bus, but for me with my history of workplace bullying in that very place it is just not morally acceptable.
    Max administration level I spoke so far is unit management. Gotta go up? Or try "preventive" (private, of course, nice, of course) talk with staff?
  10. by   elkpark
    Quote from KatieMI
    Elkpark, thank you!
    My problem is, what to do with it?
    I was kind of adviced to find some sort of potentially "unsafe" imperfection(s) and then just throw the person in question under the bus, but for me with my history of workplace bullying in that very place it is just not morally acceptable.
    Max administration level I spoke so far is unit management. Gotta go up? Or try "preventive" (private, of course, nice, of course) talk with staff?
    I don't have any advice about what to do; I've spent most of my career in psych, and sharing any personal info about a coworker with clients would be a firing offense anywhere I've worked over the years. I have no idea what to do in a situation where this isn't taken seriously as a serious violation of professional boundaries and ethics, other than to, as I said, look for another job and get the !@#$ out of there.

    I hesitate to say this, because I'm not usually a "report to the BON" kind of person, but I wonder if the BON would consider this kind of gossiping and disclosing personal info about colleagues a violation of nursing ethics (it certainly seems like it to me) in which they might be interested.
  11. by   Wuzzie
    Quote from elkpark
    I hesitate to say this, because I'm not usually a "report to the BON" kind of person, but I wonder if the BON would consider this kind of gossiping and disclosing personal info about colleagues a violation of nursing ethics (it certainly seems like it to me) in which they might be interested.
    So let me get this straight. A patient states to me "NP Susie has an accent where is she from" and I say "France" I should go before the board for discipline? That's a bit draconian. If a person does not want something to be known then best not share it in the first place. How were the nurses to know it was a big secret? Granted their excuses were lame. I would have apologized and said I didn't know it wasn't meant to be repeated and moved on.
  12. by   Accolay
    I think your coworkers are hot garbage. If patients ask me about other coworkers I tell them to ask the person next time they see them. It's not my business to talk about my collegues with patients or to divulge things about them they have told me. You never can know a person's motive. Sure, most times they are innocent questions, but sometimes they aren't.
    Quote from Wuzzie
    If a person does not want something to be known then best not share it in the first place. How were the nurses to know it was a big secret?
    Conversations with coworkers are different than conversations with patients. The coworker told you something in a conversation with you. They might not have meant everyone else and their mother to be included. All you have to say to a patient is: "I don't know. You should talk to her next time you see her."
    Last edit by Accolay on Nov 17
  13. by   mtmkjr
    Quote from KatieMI
    The single source of leak in all cases with no exclusion were staff RNs. I spoke with them...No one of them had an impression that what they did was wrong....Speaking with NURSING management led to nowhere.
    So you have communicated to these RNs and to management so that it must be very clear that you don't want anyone to give out info about you and yet they keep doing it... I think that is very strange.

    Although I have completely different ideas about sharing personal information about my life with people I work with and even sometimes in a limited way with patients, you have a right to limit what people know about you if that's your preference. I'm sorry that people have done/said things that have led to your feeling this way, because I think the human element and relationships you can develop in your workplace can make a huge difference in the enjoyment of a career. Not only that, but nursing revolves so much around people's lives and I'm finding it hard to imagine how one can successfully avoid a certain level of personal interaction.

    That said, what I choose to share about myself is one thing. When someone asks about another person, I am very careful in what I share. I might tell them where someone is from. I would not tell them if someone else has kids, or where their kids go to school! So I don't disagree that the RN was inappropriate to give that info. On the other hand, I don't think it's inappropriate for someone to ask you those questions directly, if it's in a chit chat sort of way...I think it's natural curiosity. You are free to not answer of course.

    Quote from KatieMI
    I bet you never walked in those shoes and so do not understand how it really feels, so I just let you know: most immigrants hate that ubiquitous question of "where are you from?" It is perceived as rude and nosy, to begin with. And I speak not about this question. I speak about "are you here with papers?" and (yes, they asked me THAT. It is Trump country)
    Really?? I've ask people that on a regular basis. And then I want to know their story...how did you end up here? Do you have family in your home country? How was it adjusting to a new country... etc... Because I am truly interested and love getting to know people - (yes, at work) I've never encountered a person who took offense at my interest in their life.
    Of course, it's rude if they then ask "Are you here with papers?" (Who though, would think that an NP would be undocumented?)

    Quote from KatieMI
    I was kind of adviced to find some sort of potentially "unsafe" imperfection(s) and then just throw the person in question under the bus, but for me with my history of workplace bullying in that very place it is just not morally acceptable.
    So someone thought that a person guilty of lacking boundaries/professionalism should be unfairly fired? I'm glad you found that morally unacceptable.

    Quote from KatieMI
    Max administration level I spoke so far is unit management. Gotta go up? Or try "preventive" (private, of course, nice, of course) talk with staff?
    You said you already talked to staff... maybe you weren't clear enough? I would have a private, and as you say, nice, talk with the likely offenders, making sure everyone fully understands your preferences on the matter. And if they continue to talk to patients about you, consider moving on from what might just be a hostile environment.
  14. by   Wuzzie
    Quote from Accolay
    Conversations with coworkers are different than conversations with patients. The coworker told you something in a conversation with you. They might not have meant everyone else and their mother to be included. All you have to say to a patient is: "I don't know. You should talk to her next time you see her."
    Sorry, I'm a terrible liar and for goodness sakes we aren't talking about someone's sexual orientation. I'm just not seeing the crime in answering a simple question about country of birth. I work in a large university hospital. Our doctors are from everywhere. We get this question all of the time and it has never caused any problems. And the providers are fine with it.

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