Caring for friends as patients

For health-care providers, there are many positive aspects to caring for a friend, particularly during pregnancy.

Caring for friends as patients can be tricky but rewarding
Caring for friends as patients can be tricky but rewarding

Five years ago, when I first became a midwife, my son's teacher approached me to say she was thinking about coming to my practice for her OB/GYN care. I was flattered when she said she wanted me to deliver her baby.

She asked if it would be awkward for me, and I bluntly replied, “Well, I won't be the one getting naked, so no, it won't be awkward for me at all. Will that be awkward for you?”

Over the past five years, I've had many acquaintances and friends ask me the same question. I've learned that my initial off-the-cuff response to my son's teacher works well to make people think. Are you comfortable revealing not just your body, but also your personal and sexual health history to a friend?

When one of my closest childhood friends transferred to me for her GYN care, I realized that it can be challenging to care for someone that you love while maintaining professional neutrality. I tend to overreact to every symptom she has, fearful that I might miss something big and never forgive myself.

But there are many positive aspects to caring for a friend, particularly during pregnancy.

I was recently able to be present at the cesarean delivery of a girlfriend's baby. I was also honored to catch the son of my children's former nanny, and the daughter of my son's teacher. I will never forget their births; there is something magical about being present at the birth of a loved one.

Sometimes, I'll have a sense that a friend wants a good recommendation for a provider but isn't entirely comfortable seeing me. This is perfectly understandable, so I'll usually refer them to one of my midwife or physician partners.

The most awkward moment for me as a provider is when I know a patient socially, but they don't realize who I am until the moment I walk into the exam room. In this case, I always offer to have them see another provider and try to bow out as gracefully as possible. I never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Over the years, I've developed friendships with some of my patients outside the office as well. When you work in a relatively small community, this is bound to happen. 

While I'm flattered when friends come to me for care, my most important concern is that every woman is comfortable, honest, and open with her OB/GYN provider.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.

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