1. I applied to medical school so that I could become a doctor and provide care for patients. I care about people. I am eager to be part of the health care community. I believe that most, if not all, physicians feel the same way. Physicians are also human and flawed and fallible. Everyone, including physicians, have off days and make mistakes and run late. What you may not know is that your physician is running late because a patient before you with a life-threatening emergency that required immediate intervention. A patient scheduled before you may have arrived late creating a delay to the rest of the schedule. If you regularly see a physician who seems to never run on time, it may be a sign that they care — they care about you, about their other patients, about patient education. They most likely take time to explain and listen. They probably squeeze in patients who need to be seen that day.
2. As much as we care, you are actually your best advocate. If you have a long or complicated medical history, keeping some kind of log or diary may help you with remembering details that your doctor may ask about during your visit.
3. Stay updated with your family. You may have very complicated relationships with some of your family members, but there are many diseases, conditions, treatment responses that can run in families and could help your doctor help you.
4. Ask questions. There may not be time to answer every question, but it is important to understand medical conditions, treatments, ways to prevent disease, methods to cope with problems, screening guidelines. Even if your doctor is pressed on time, they may recommend a return visit to go over your questions, they may have handouts that you can read, they may have recommended websites to visit, or they may refer you to a different doctor who is better equipped to answer your questions.
5. Be cautious and judicious with your Google searches. I encourage patients to learn about themselves. However, not every patient will benefit from reading about every single detail of what may or may not happen. There are some people who actually get more anxious with that information and for those patients, I would recommend a sit-down conversation with a doctor as opposed to an Internet search. Alternatively, if it would benefit the patient to read more about a medical problem or treatment, then I would recommend websites that are vetted by physicians. Blogs and other postings on the Internet may not be accurate, may stir up unnecessary concern, may create confusion.
As a patient, one of the questions you could ask your doctor is which website(s) they recommend for more information. All that said, if you pre-Dr. Google your symptoms prior to a visit with your doctor, please keep an open mind with what diagnosis and treatment plan your doctor recommends. The educational path to become a doctor includes K-12 education, 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 3 or more years of residency (depends on the type of medicine), and possibly 1 or more years of post-graduate fellowships (again, depends on the type of medicine). It is not an insult to your education or knowledge base if your doctor suggests something you did not find yourself: your doctor has simply spent a decade studying and training in medicine, and that is not something easily replicated in an Internet search.
6. Please see and follow-up with your doctor. I find it absolutely tragic when someone has gone years without seeing a doctor, and then we identify a metastatic cancer with a very poor prognosis. What makes these moments so disheartening is that if the patient had come sooner or more regularly, it may have been caught sooner and may have resulted in a better outcome. I know some patients are afraid to go to the doctor, fearful they may get bad news, and detest some of the procedures involved in their care. However, technology is improving, more screening tests are being developed, and diseases are being detected earlier than before.
7. Mental illness/psychiatric disease affects 1 in 4 people that we know of. Everyone needs help with something at some point. People develop differently, process life events differently, and it makes every patient different even if they share a diagnosis. Nobody judges a diabetic for taking their insulin, so nobody should be scrutinizing a patient for seeking help with managing their psychiatric health. In fact, it should be encouraged. Access to health care can be limited, but please be honest and speak up when you or your loved one is depressed, anxious, panicked, manic, hallucinating. And should you be the other 3 in 4 people not affected, check your biases and try being supportive.
8. Medical students are future doctors. After conferring with many of my friends and family members who are nurses, not one of them ever introduced themselves as a medical student while in nursing school. I appreciate that the nursing profession has largely been an occupation held by women and that physicians are disproportionately male. However, I am a little over a year from earning my doctorate, which will officially make me a female physician. I have been asked so many times if medical student means nursing student that I have started to say that I am in “doctor school” instead of medical school. Many patients will then ask what kind of doctor? Medical school teaches the basics on how to be any kind of doctor, while residency trains you to be a specific kind of doctor.
Ashley Griswold is a medical student.
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