Dear Future Physician,
Truthfully, no one every WANTS to visit a doctor. But we sure are grateful for the wonderful men and women who put up with us when we are at our weakest, grouchiest, and most vulnerable. And that’s just it… When we are at that low point and have to seek medical attention, we need you to be understanding. We don’t WANT to be there, but we NEED to be. And we need you to treat us as more than just our illness.
I’ve encountered a lot of doctors in my 31 years of life. I was born with congenital heart defects and have been poked and prodded ever since. My blood vessels are so tired of being stuck, they run and hide at the mere mention of needles! I’ve built up a tolerance to all of the drugs that used to work wonders, and I am an anomaly even to the “experts” of the field. But I’m still a person. A person with hopes, dreams, family, and a LIFE. I’m not JUST my disease.
What I’ve found through the years is that the doctors I trust the most are the ones who take care of all of me. Not just my aches and pains, but also my emotions. The ones who ask me how I’m doing, not just how I’m feeling physically. I currently have the best cardiologist in the world. Any time I talk to her, I feel human. She asks how work is going, what my husband is up to, etc. She doesn’t launch directly into the “What can I do for you today” speech I’ve gotten from many other doctors. And she really listens. When I bring something up at one visit, she remembers it for the next time. She’s a friend, and I love her for it. She lets me ask every question I have and never makes me feel like I am silly or stupid for asking. She may not always know the answers. But she cares enough to admit that, and then goes out and talks to others in the field to find out!
I’ve also encountered some doctors who were insensitive and unkind. Doctors who didn’t accept that my thoughts and feelings were valid. When faced with emergency surgery to stop the bleeding from an ovarian cyst, an insensitive surgeon was called in. I had never met the man in my life, but he presumed to know more about me than I did. He was confident he could “save my ovary.” When I told him I didn’t care if he saved it, since I can’t use it anyway he told me I was “Too young to make that kind of decision.” Excuse me? I did not make that decision. It was made for me. And that one sentence from him told me all I needed to know… I did NOT want to see him ever again.
Always read a patient’s chart before stepping into the room. I realize this takes up precious time, but it can help in the long run. When a patient has a complicated history, you need to be aware of the pieces that may effect your course of action. Take your time before you make a decision. Research if you have to. If I were not a well-informed patient, I could have had procedures that were dangerous to me because of my pacemaker and a doctor who did not read my chart and the procedure information very carefully. Luckily, I did. I did not return to that doctor ever again.
Remember, you are not God. It’s okay to make a mistake, but please admit it when you do. Don’t presume you know it all, or even that you know more than your patient. In my case, I have 31 years of experience with ME. I’m different from all of the other patients you’ve ever had, and I shouldn’t be lumped in with them. Treat me as an individual and explore every concern I have. Don’t dismiss me or what I have to say. Let me be a partner in my care. After all, I’m this for the long haul. You may only be in it for today.
Thank you for caring enough to read about the patient’s point of view. That is the first step in making sure you are a good physician. If you continue in this fashion, I know you will be a wonderful asset to the medical community.
Patient and Human