13 things every doctor wants their patients to know

1. We worry. We lie awake worried sick about you more often than you’d think. The stakes are so high, and we know it.

2. We wonder. I ran into a friend who’d met a patient I’d had sixteen years earlier. She gave me some follow-up, and it made my day — maybe my month. It was a year ago, and I’m still thinking about it. She’d had blood cancer. I referred her to oncology, residency was over, and I moved away. But I’d always wondered: What a gift to hear she’d survived and was doing well!

3. We forget. Don’t be embarrassed to see us out. I know exams like paps and hernia checks feel humiliating, but we do them every day. We are looking at body parts objectively and professionally. If we see you at the grocery, we’ll remember you, but I can promise we will not remember what your cervix looks like.

4. We scraped by for years. Doctors go to four years of college and four years of medical school, paying tuition all eight. They then do a minimum of three years of residency making about $10 per hour working 80-100 hours per week. After that, salaries vary widely by specialty. Surgeons make the most, but they also have at least a five-year residency.

5. We do a lot behind the scenes. Doctors forget that being in the hospital is scary. I had a hospital stay a year before medical school. I remember thinking: Where are the doctors? What is the plan? When a patient gets admitted to the hospital, a doctor does an initial evaluation. Then he or she scurries off and gets to work writing up the evaluation, plan, and orders outlining what needs to be done. You may not see him again until the next morning, but he (or the poor slob on call for him) is available by phone continuously to address any concerns that arise regarding your care. He checks back for test results and is all the while recalculating his diagnosis and plan for your care.

6. We know you’ve already answered the questions, and we are sorry to ask again. When you call for an appointment, you’re asked what’s going on. Then, when you’re checked in, you’re asked again. When you finally get to see the doctor, you’re sick of the story. But we can’t help it. We have to hear it with our own ears. And we’ll have more questions. I’m not sure how to change this. It annoys me too.

7. We define fever in a very specific way. A doctor does not consider your temperature a fever unless it’s at or above 100.4 degrees (oral or rectal) or 101 degrees (tympanic or skin). And fever is a nonspecific finding, rarely guiding our actions alone. Most importantly, a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or above in an infant four months or younger is an emergency requiring immediate hospital evaluation.

8. Some of us have PTSD. I have nightmares about patients down an infinite hall, each with a problem worse than the last. Some doctors may be more psychologically hearty than I, but they can’t all be. Most doctors have some symptoms of PTSD, with the potential for new trauma each day. In my short career, I saw a baby take her last breaths. I watched a woman, bleeding uncontrollably after giving birth, lose consciousness as I worked, a pool of her blood expanding at my feet. I heard a woman, after having both legs traumatically severed, saying goodbye to her father, assuming she wouldn’t survive. And I could go on. We know we signed up for it. Just keep it in mind when you are tempted to be angry with your doctor.

9. We can be idiots. Isn’t it embarrassing to be human sometimes? Do you know how many prescriptions I have written? And to this day, when I need to use the word prescription or subscription, I momentarily freeze. You’d think I’d have solid footing regarding these words. It’s akin to having to recite the alphabet in your head when asked to choose a line according to the last name. I can’t be the only one.

10. We hate medication ads. It’s not that we don’t want well-informed patients. Believe me. It’s just that those commercials are relevant to so few and are so detailed. They seem aimed to send viewers into a tailspin. “I bet I need that medication? But if I take it, I’ll be dizzy and have greasy stools. I’m doomed!” How about let’s just see your doctor yearly, be honest and detailed about your symptoms, and let your doctor discuss medications and potential side effects when necessary.

11. We respect your time. We don’t think our time is more important or valuable than yours. But if you have an 11:45 and the patient before you, who’s scheduled for a 10-minute sore throat visit, mentions blood in his stool or is suicidal, 11:45 can’t happen. We have to do the right thing for every patient. Don’t confuse urgency with importance or lack thereof. I hate waiting for doctors! But it’s the unpredictable nature of the beast. Until some miracle of office management occurs, your best bet is to get the first appointment of the day.

12. Some of us are jerks. Just like in any area, most doctors mean well and are doing their best. But there are always the handful that are arrogant, incompetent or both. If you are not getting a sense that your doctor, although human and harried, has your best interests at heart, please go elsewhere.

13. We like to feel appreciated. A thank you can make our day. We are trying our best for you. Hearing that you notice is such a treat!

Joanne Jarrett is a physician and can be reached at Creating Cozy Clothes.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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