What is your Background?

It is amazing how words have changed in meaning.  A few years ago, if asked this question, you might reply with where you were born or describe the cultural roots of your family.  But recently this often refers to the choice of photos that we put up behind us for our many meetings online.  This has been a creative and sometimes humorous exercise, as people select from the choice of options from the online program or a photo of our choice.  We all have been in a meeting where someone blurs into their background.  Some companies or individuals direct people to blur their home environment for online meetings while others show their office or home in its real state.

As a family doctor, appointments with patient have also shifted online. This enables me to see patients and for them to see me.  Although not as convenient a phone visit, this virtual visit provides so much more information.  This past week, I met with a patient in this virtual setting and she did not have a background photo, nor had she blurred her surrounding but instead allowed me to look into her house.  She actually went further than that – she gave me a tour.  She pointed out some of the artwork that filled her home, her patio and the view from her window.  Now you might think that this is a little strange but for me this was really important. Firstly, because this individual has challenges with her mental health and often struggles to get out of bed or off the couch to do the things she wants to do.  Therefore, that space that she showed me was very important for her as she spends many hours sitting there thinking and looking, remembering, crying and sometimes smiling.  In addition, the tour allowed me to learn more about her as a person, as a daughter, a sibling and a spouse.  These additional background pieces are so important for me to know as her family doctor and help me provide good care for her. 

In my training as a family doctor, we received lectures about the importance of boundaries and not sharing personal information with our patients. We saw our peers and teachers demonstrate examples of how to keep patients at a safe distance and not to get “too attached” to our patients.  In family medicine this is especially challenging and sometimes not helpful where the strength of the relationship between doctor and patient is really important.

Although I still have most of my clinical encounters in my clinic, I have learned the benefits of getting out into the community to meet people where they are.  This may be seeing students at their school or people at an exercise program in the park.  I also do a few home visits to see patients who cannot come to the clinic. I remember one of my teachers talked about the very powerful experience which comes from doing a home visit.  He read a passage from “The Cunning Man” by Robertson Davies where the fictional doctor describes his strategy for home visits to gain the most information possible to help care for the patient in front of him.Practicing family medicine and being a part of people’s lives is truly a privilege.  I learn so much from each patient in my practice. Thank you to my patients who have allowed me a window into your lives.


  1. Davies, R. The Cunning Man. Toronto: Penguin Books; 1994

Written by Doug Klein. Photo Provided by Patient

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