Article Content

Glancing around the hospital room, I felt an unfamiliar vulnerability. In this hospital environment, it seemed my life had become an open book and was not my own. Everyone walking in and out of my room knew more about me than I cared to share, making me even more uncomfortable. Many treated this unwelcome access to my personal life indifferently, without much thought to the effect it had on me and my dignity. I felt my life was on stage for all to see as my health history, social history, and family history danced on my chart.


As a nurse, I knew this detailed information was pertinent to my care. I knew that having access to my health history enabled those caring for me to offer the most holistic care. I knew the facts, but my heart struggled to accept this humbling role. Don't the staff realize the discomfort I feel at having my life so exposed? With a deep sigh, I answered my own question. No, they probably don't think about how disconcerting it is to be in the patient role. As a nurse, I hadn't considered this before becoming a patient myself.


Amid the discomfort, a few nurses treated me and my personal information with a degree of respect and confidentiality. This set these nurses apart from the others. I later discovered that these were nurses who had once been patients themselves. They demonstrated empathy as a result of their experiences in the vulnerable role of a patient. I also discovered that there were nurses who valued their patients because their Christian faith imparted value. Because Christ valued them, they were able to value others. As someone on the receiving end of this care, I experienced firsthand the strength such valuing gives patients.


Since my brief hospital stay, I've often thought about the privileged role we have in healthcare. We are given immediate access to the most detailed aspects of a person's life. Do we realize the privilege and responsibility that comes with this role? How easy it is to take for granted that we are privy to confidential patient information.


It's apparent to me as a caregiver that the greatest example we have to follow is that of Christ. While on earth, he was about the business of healing. He touched people, and they were well. But more than that, he knew the state of each patient's heart. He knew the patient's social background, life story, and probably more than the patient cared for him to know. But never do we see Christ abusing this power he had as healer and Savior. He did not broadcast the personal state of those he healed. Instead, he met each one on an individual basis, simultaneously caring for body and soul.


As Christian nurses, this is the model we can safely follow. As we ask questions, read charts, and care for our patients, we can inspire confidence in them and in their personal dignity by assuring them of their privacy and our concern for their individuality. It might be easy to assume that a patient's health history belongs to us as healthcare providers, presuming it is our right to obtain a patient's personal information and part of our role to disclose this information to others. But, when we focus on being Christlike, we are the ones humbled, not the patient.


My experience as a patient taught me to guard my patient's privacy above all else. Just because a patient's role requires much vulnerability does not mean I cannot help reinstill the dignity each patient deserves. By protecting details of the patient's health history-disclosing it only to those who need it and only what is needed-I am assuring my patient that his or her dignity is valued and protected in the healthcare world. By earning my patients' trust and respect, instead of assuming my position in their care, I am empowering them and their individuality within the healthcare system. This is a unique opportunity we have as Christian nurses-to equip our patients toward better health by maintaining their privacy amid the busy care they receive, in both hospital and outpatient settings.


Following Christ's example, let's seize opportunities to empower our patients through the strength we have in Christ. It starts with protecting patient privacy.