As I make my way through medical school, I naturally look back to my own experiences. Due to recent health circumstances, I realize the immense impact of a single physician on a person's outlook on the medical profession and on their health.
In my own experience, three types of physicians exist. The ones who help you thrive, the ones you forget about, and the ones who make you worry every time you come into contact with the medical community.
My first GI doctor was the first. She challenged me to take control of my disease and to advocate for myself. During the two weeks following my diagnosis, she called me over her lunch break as the "poop patrol" to ask about my bowel movements (color, consistency, etc.), my symptoms, and what I ate. She then asked me to piece together as to how my lifestyle could affect my symptoms. Although I was 10, she forced me to quickly mature and to learn to listen to my body. Every appointment, she told me the same thing, and I will always remember it.
Although she was the one with the medical degree, she could never understand my personal disease. She told me she could only help me as much as I helped her to know what was going on in my body. No test or person could tell me what I was feeling or about the state of my health.
Every appointment she asked about my thoughts about my disease. She asked about my symptoms and what I wanted done. It didn't matter what the tests showed; she said they were a piece of the puzzle, but no where near as important as how I felt.
This physician taught me to trust in myself and my body. She taught me to understand what my body told me and how to figure out what triggered symptoms and how to try to avoid those triggers.
For several years, I had a doctor who was the last of the three described types. When I came to him, I was experiencing the most intense symptoms of my life. After going through clinical studies and finally having 25 centimeters of my intestines removed, we thought I was in the clear for awhile.
However, within a few months, symptoms reappeared in full force. My physician never thought much of my worries. It was only through determined insistence that he would alter medications. When one medicine gave me full-body, medicinally-induced psoriasis, his only response was that he hoped I could handle it and gave me a prescription for anti-itch cream.
I took it upon myself to fix my disease. My physician was no longer a team player, so I educated myself as best I could. I attended conferences, spoke with doctors from around the country, and ended up learning about many different alternative medicines. I saved myself with the help of many other medical professionals, but not with that doctor's help.
About a year later, symptoms picked up and I spoke about my worries every appointment (I was on a clinical study and had monthly appointments/injections). After nine months of begging for something to be done, my physician finally said he would do something. At that point, however, any trust we had was gone. During those nine months, he told me my symptoms weren't that bad and he thought I could live with them. He thought that maybe they were in my head and several times suggested a consult with pain management because he thought my body was trained to always think I was in pain. With him as my physician, I constantly doubted myself and my body. I would leave for my drive back to school crying because I didn't know if my doctor was a jerk or if I had a psychological problem.
I switched to a new physician at the clinic who looked at my records and couldn't believe how long this had been going on. Two tests later, and we found a treatment. Those nine months didn't have to occur and none of it was in my head, but it continues to affect my healthcare.
Now, when I feel ill, the first thing I tell my fiance when he says I should call my doctor is my worry that the doctor won't believe me. I don't want the physician to think I make up stories for attention. All of the work my first physician put into me to trust my body and my symptoms was washed away by one physician who couldn't be bothered to take the time to really listen to me. Rather than talk to the physician when I'm sick, I take it upon myself to try to lessen my symptoms because I don't believe a GI will help me.
I hope patients don't allow one physician to compromise their health. We need to advocate for ourselves and I learned my lesson about getting a new physician as soon as the relationship turns sour.
For future physicians, I hope you learn the humility of realizing the patient knows more about their disease than you ever could. I hope you take the time to really listen to your patients and to help them thrive.
The relationship between a patient and physician is so critical to a patient's entire well-being. I hope that future changes in the culture of medical care allows for patient experiences to matter and to inform the doctor just as much, if not more, than the actual tests.