Remember you are not the doctor.

Photo © Josh Clark | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © Josh Clark | Flickr Creative Commons

Doctors’ receptionists have a tough job. They deal with stressed, unhappy, contagious people all day, and when they aren’t doing that, they file and photocopy paperwork, deal with ancient fax machines, and, I bet, put up with crap from the doctors. I’ve read that some offices don’t even provide their front-desk staff with internet access—which, to me, is practically a human rights violation. They probably get ill constantly from all the germs, and when they aren’t physically sick, they’re sick of their job.

Knowing this, I try not to be one of “those” patients. I’d say I’m pretty friendly, and I know I’m polite. In return, I hope for civility and, ideally, a bit of compassion. In my most recent medical experiences, I’ve encountered neither. My doctor never called me with my positive bloodwork results, and when I scheduled a follow-up, he and his staff forgot to check my results until I asked about them specifically. They were brusque and unapologetic and they sent me a duplicate copay bill.

When the time came to get my biopsy results, I didn’t want to go in and do it all over again (not to mention pay another copay or two). Instead, I tried to find everything out over the phone, and it got messy. In the end, the receptionist got fed up with me and said, “Remember, ma’am, you are not the doctor.”

This stuck with me, and not only because I found it funny that she called little ole 23-year-old me ma’am. It was also simply good advice. As I gear up for my first appointment with a brand-new doctor, I thought I’d share it. If you are a doctor, this may not apply to you. But otherwise:

Remember you are not the doctor.

Remember you do not have the doctor’s medical training, or credentials. Remember that to many, your understanding of your own health will never count. Remember you are presumed ignorant. Remember if you speculate or self-diagnose, you will be accused of hypochondria. Remember that not everything you’ve read or heard is true. Remember you may be biased, and remember fear can cloud your judgment.

But also: Remember it’s okay to be scared.

Remember to stay calm. Remember you care more about your health than anyone could who is paid to do so. Remember you have spent many recent hours researching your symptoms, and that if your doctor hasn’t kept up with latest research, you may in fact be better informed. Remember you are open to new ideas. Remember you do not have hundreds of other patients to keep track of. Remember you are focused. Remember you are the world’s leading expert on your own medical history and feelings.

Remember you are you.

Remember it is you, and not your doctor, who must live with whatever treatment—or lack of treatment—you’re prescribed. Remember you can seek a second opinion, or a third, or a tenth. Remember instinct counts for something, too. Remember it is easier for you to walk out on your doctor than for your doctor to walk out on you. Remember you’re worth more than a copay. Remember there are people rooting for you or relying on you to get well. Remember you are your own best advocate, but you are not your only advocate.

Remember you are loved.

Remember you are smart, and strong, and beautiful, and kind, and worthy, and interesting, and special, and whatever else you need to remind yourself of before you walk into the waiting room for your next appointment; but for God’s sake, remember you are not the doctor.

And remember you’re important anyway.

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12 thoughts on “Remember you are not the doctor.

  1. Remember you also have to be your biggest advocate of your own health. Good Luck!

  2. Amanda says:

    And remember that if you don’t advocate for your own health, no one else will.

  3. Only you truly know how you feel.

  4. Mary Kate says:

    “Remember it is you, and not your doctor, who must live with whatever treatment—or lack of treatment—you’re prescribed.”

    This one sticks with me, and seems the crux of everything. YOU have to live with “it,” whatever “it” turns out to be. So if you don’t know what “it” is, keep on asking until someone helps you figure it out. If you don’t understand or don’t like the treatment being proposed, keep asking. It is NOT easy. But you have to live your life in your body no matter how much it seems to want to betray you!

    Good post.

  5. Molly says:

    Thanks for your additions, everyone. So true that we need to rely on and advocate for ourselves (even when we’re angry at ourselves for failing us, ha! Good point, Mary Kate!).

  6. Great post! Hope your new doctor is an improvement. Couldn’t be worse, right?!

  7. thepatientceliac says:

    I developed a few new food allergies/intolerances last year summer (started to wheeze after eating). I had a few week delay before I could be seen by an allergist, so I called my primary care physician’s office to leave a message asking for an Epipen prescription in the meantime. I did not receive a call back so I called back a few days later and I was told by the receptionist that it was impossible to develop food allergies an an adult. At this point I had reached my limits of kindness and patience and I told her that I am a doctor and that yes, adults can develop food allergies, and that if she didn’t leave a message for my primary care physician that I was going to prescribe one for myself and then discuss her treatment of me with her office manager…
    So, within 5 minutes I had a call back from my MD and within 1 hour I had 2 new Epipens. Although I am not proud of my treatment toward her, it was a crash course in being a patient advocate. Being “nice” left me undiagnosed for far too many years.

    • Molly says:

      Nice job! (Or, not-nice job?) I think it’d be really nice to be ABLE to be nice and still get results, but it really doesn’t seem to work that way so much of the time…and yes, many receptionists could do with being told that they aren’t the doctor, either! I’m glad you put your foot down and advocated for yourself. I wonder if she’ll actually remember any of it for future patients…once again, wouldn’t it be nice?

  8. […] The body parts ruled by Gemini are the lungs and arms (get it? Twins?), and we g-free types sometimes have asthma and weak bones to deal with. Eat those calcium-rich green leafies to avoid breaking any arms this month when you get overexcited about trying the new bikeshare program in your city; and don’t diagnose yourself with any associated autoimmune disorders just because you have a cursory understanding of them from WebMD. Beware your tendency to skim and assume mastery having done so. (Remember you’re not the doctor.) […]

  9. […] written seriously about books, food, hunger, my own life, love, and doctors. I’ve gotten silly about messiness, sandwiches, brainfog, and the […]

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