Personal questions from patients and visitors

Nurses General Nursing


I dislike being asked questions about my personal life by family members, patients, visitors, and certain coworkers. Am I the only one who feels this way?

In this day and age of customer service, I cannot even fathom responding to patients and families by saying, "None of your business." However, that's what I really want to say much of the time. Textbooks mention that the nurse/patient relationship is focused entirely on the patient, but I am also very cognizant that real-life nursing never plays out in a textbook manner.


267 Posts

I don't like this either. I though it was the European in me. Work is work and all that. In fact I still get surprised by the questions I get asked by patients family/friends (and even sometimes co-workers).

Funny thing though -- my mum was in hospital a few weeks back and I heard her asking incredibly personal questions of her nurse. I could not believe it.


212 Posts

I don't care for it either. If I wanted someone to know something I would tell them. It's amazing how bold some people can be.

Elvish, BSN, DNP, RN, NP

4 Articles; 5,259 Posts

Specializes in Community, OB, Nursery.

I work on mother-baby/antepartum/gyn, and personal questions don't really bother me.

Let me qualify that, though. It depends on how personal the question is, who is doing the asking.

Example of what doesn't bother me:

' you have any kids?' (This gets asked a lot - being the type of floor that this is, it seems to be patients' way of asking, 'Have you been through this yourself?' And, in plenty of cultures, it's the other party's way of being polite.)

'You don't have a Southern accent; where did you grow up?'

'How do you handle being awake all night long? Who takes care of your kids while you're at work?'

Personal questions about my husband, our relationship, what I do outside work, and where exactly I live are not usually ok with me. Usually I just respond, "Nothing personal, but I like to keep those things to myself." It helps that I live a good distance away from where I work, so I'm not likely to bump into these same people anywhere.


38,333 Posts

I feel the exact same way. I tend to be a private person and feel if I'm not nosey about your business, then you shouldn't be nosey about mine. Unfortunately, I've found myself making the excuse that it helps the relationship if I allow it to go some distance. Then when it has gone too far, I get upset with myself for allowing them to intrude upon my privacy.

I had a frightening experience one time when somebody entered my hospital room in the middle of the night with their own agenda. I had told the hospital personnel that I was being bothered by someone and I specifically didn't want anyone to come into my room unless they were supposed to be there. This person was dressed in scrubs and just came in and started asking questions, big as you please. When I asked my nurse about it, she had no idea and I asked her, "Then why did you let this person enter my room?" They had no business being there, much less asking me questions, and I don't even think they were a hospital employee.

Specializes in Geriatrics, Transplant, Education.

I work in geriatric rehab...a lot of my patients can tend to ask personal questions, but if it's something I'm uncomfortable answering, I just let them know that I prefer not to give out that information. It's really never been a huge issue.

Mostly, since I'm one of the youngest nurses in my facility, they tend to ask where I went to school, when I graduated, etc. Those questions I really don't mind answering...because I feel they have the right to know, and they could just look me up on the BON website and find out the same information anyhow.


517 Posts

I really dislike it as well. I understand it's generally accepted small talk to ask about a person's family life but I wish it wasn't! It's not easy to skirt the issue and you are so right that most people consider it rude to simply say it's none of their business.

I've taken to being as vague as possible and changing the subject but if they continue to push I just tell them I'm really not comfortable discussing it. Sometimes it's difficult though as not everyone is willing to leave it alone. I hate that it comes off cold to say something like that but I don't like to share details of my personal life and I'm certainly not willing to expand on anything inquiring minds may want to know.

Specializes in ED, Flight.

Like Elvish, it depends on how personal and who is asking.

The gangbangers are allowed to know that I started my career in combat medicine, where killing people and healing people were shared roles. And I think most of them are wimps when faced with an IV or IM. :rolleyes: Seriously, with those guys I want to keep it impersonal and professional only.

The little old lady looking for some reassurance and friendship to mitigate the effect of her scary ER stay is welcome to ask 'Do you have children?' I've had some very friendly and rewarding contacts with patients, and it helps make their experience more tolerable. I try to consciously limit what information I share, but that can also be a bit flexible.

By definition, I have intruded into someone's life in the most invasive and personal ways possible. Allowing a small amount of reciprocity (where judged safe and appropriate) helps relieve some of their stress.


191 Posts

It really doesn't bother me at all. I worked ped onc/bmt and was frequently asked personal questions as we had the same patients over and over. I also do a geriatric health screening program, and am asked many personal questions. For the geriatric patients I often get the sense that they feel I am "THEIR" nurse, and they want to feel they have a special relationship with me. I don't start offering info without being specifically asked, though, and I answer then quickly move back to info about them.

Silverdragon102, BSN

1 Article; 39,477 Posts

Specializes in Medical and general practice now LTC.

For me it will depend on the type of question to how I respond but generally prefer to keep work away from home

pagandeva2000, LPN

7,984 Posts

Specializes in Community Health, Med-Surg, Home Health.

I resent personal questions/comments from patients and even employees. Some of the customary ones mentioned earlier are okay, such as having children, a personal experience speaking of something in relation to the patient (maybe), but otherwise, no.

What I think happens, however, is that the patients may think that because we are asking such questions while collecting the H&P, they deem it to be appropriate to ask us the same. I had this experience once, and when I told the patient that I would rather keep my business to myself, her retort was "Well, you know all of MY business...". I had to then state to her that I don't ask these things to be nosey or intrusive, it is collecting data related to their condition or that can give hint to their condition, not for my personal entertainment. Some comprehend, some don't and I still keep a distance, because some of them are trying to be funny or facetious, not necessarily concerned about you.


174 Posts

Listen, everybody- you don't need to feel bad about not answering personal or private questions. You need to be in charge, and let the patient know this. You can do it without being a hard-ass, but you need to be in control. You are not there to entertain the patient; you are there to help them get better, period. Rememer- you need to control the situation.

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