I WhatsApp'd my British doctor to ask for an appointment, and she responded along the lines of

Thank you for your message. I'm really happy to see you but I'm doing voluntary work in [country]. I'll be back in the UK and have some appointments on [date]. Let me know if that works?

I'd like in my response to not completely ignore her mentioning voluntary work and so I want to include a couple of words acknowledging that she said that, and possibly express something positive about it, but without appearing condescending in any way.

What would be the best way to phrase it? I may be thinking a bit too much about it, but I'm looking at the situation as an opportunity to improve my social skills :)

  • Do you know your doctor on a personal level? Or are they purely your doctor? – Chris H Jul 26 '19 at 13:27
  • @ChrisH purely my doctor; she's a physiotherapist if that helps – Gabi Jul 26 '19 at 13:32
  • Hi Gabi, I feel that there is no "best way" to phrase a personalized message to your doctor and answers to your question would be primarily opinion based. Is there a particular outcome you want to achieve by replying (i.e. is the main goal to ensure you have an appointment? to become more friendly with your doctor?) – Crosscounter Jul 26 '19 at 14:48
  • @Crosscounter no goal other than to satisfy my empathy which tells me "it's not nice to ignore something someone tells you"; my empathy may be off, but I see no harm in being a slave to it here :) – Gabi Jul 29 '19 at 22:08

I exchange a LOT of emails (and skypes etc) with people I don't know well, to set up times for things, and sometimes mention personal reasons for rejecting a particular time. I am never offended if the person pays no attention to the reason and just sticks to the business we're doing. However, if you want to mention her voluntary work, keep these points in mind:

  • your reply should first address the regular content of the message. So if the suggested appointment works, start by agreeing to it. If it doesn't work, start by suggesting another time that would.

  • a sentence or two about the personal information your doctor revealed is fine. You might have always wished to do such a thing, or admire people who do such a thing, and saying something like that won't be out of place. If you write something about yourself, you're less likely to say something about her that reads as rude or too personal.

  • avoid either patting her on the head for being a good girl, since that's not your judgement to make, or acting like the two of you are now best friends because she revealed a small part of her personal life while explaining why a particular time didn't work for her. This is especially important if you are male, older than her, or more educated than her (I'm more educated than my female doctor, who is younger than me.)

Sentences I'd be happy to see in a reply like this would include "I think it's amazing/terrific/wonderful that you volunteer in [place]." Be careful with wishing you were X enough to do it too -- over text it might sound sarcastic ("must be nice to have time to do that sort of thing") or overly jealous. A simple "sounds great!" is less likely to be misinterpreted.

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    The section on "avoid patting her on the head for being a good girl" is overly snarky. It detracts from the answer, rather than contributing anything. The OP already said he wants to say something positive w/o being condescending. – DaveG Jul 26 '19 at 14:19
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    yes, the OP does say that, and I am reinforcing the importance of that. If you've received these head-pats you might not be aware that those delivering them often feel like they are being nice. Knowing how some comments might be interpreted can spare a person from making them. – Kate Gregory Jul 26 '19 at 14:21
  • @KateGregory thanks! yeah, I was quite paranoid of appearing condescending -- I went with "I hope it goes well" -- see, so paranoid I don't even want to express an opinion, rather I express a wish. She didn't mention it in her reply back, but kept being very nice and friendly, so I'm just gonna assume she didn't take it badly – Gabi Jul 29 '19 at 22:06

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