This post doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with hysterectomies or cats (my back-up blogging subject) but … I think we can all agree that when you’re having a hysterectomy (or thinking about one) a physician has to be involved and hopefully a good one!
Over the years I’ve had my share of great docs, mediocre docs and shitty-shitty bang bang docs. The great docs are the fewest in number and the mediocre ones outnumber the good and the bad combined. I really can’t tell you what makes a mediocre doc, simply in the fact they don’t stand out as being exceptional nor do the rank as awful.
Please know that in no way am I picking on physicians in particular. I could just as easily write about crappy (or great) nurses, lawyers, dentists, teachers, herbalists, psychics, professional bloggers, Wal-Mart Greeters and other general humans. I’m singling out doctors because my last post got me thinking about what makes a good one.
I’ll start with my bad experiences because everyone wants to hear the dirt first.
When I was 19 I went to see an Ob/Gyn (emphasis on the Gyn) because having sex was painful. Painful intercourse actually has a name; it’s called dyspareunia (dis-puh-ROO-ne-uh) — sounds like a petunia gone wrong.
After I abashedly admitted sex was painful with my boyfriend, he gave me vaginal dilators that were actually plastic coverings to large syringes and told me to “play with myself”. He never got a good history from me and simply assumed the problem was purely physical. Previously, I had had boyfriends where sex was not painful — not with any of them. Not ever. That boyfriend relationship was an emotionally and physically abusive one which is probably why I was so tense with sex. I’m not expecting physicians to be mind readers by any stretch, but he didn’t take time with me to see what the underlying problem was. So, I left thinking I was physically defective and was too embarrassed to use the dilators. After that relationship with that boyfriend ended I never experienced dyspareunia again. What made this doctor bad was that he didn’t listen, made assumptions and took less than five minutes addressing my chief complaint.
Another bad doctor I had, asked me out on a date while I was in his office. Me being naive and only 20 and him being in his late 30s, I said yes. Our first date was a movie where he picked me up late, said he didn’t have any bills less than a hundred, asked me to pay for the movie and to buy popcorn with drinks. This is the same guy that on our second date (yes, I went out with him again — stupid, I know) consisted of him giving me a box of chocolates — a half-eaten box that he brought from his office. He also “diagnosed” me that day with herpes without any exam because I had complained of pain running down my leg — only later to have a real diagnosis of sciatica or lumbar nerve impingement syndrome. What makes this guy bad as a doctor is because he took advantage of the patient-physician relationship and dated a patient. Later I found out he was married. What a schmuck!
I won’t write about all the bad docs I’ve encountered because that could be a blog by itself. My final example of a bad doctor is when I went to a clinic because I thought I may have had a kidney infection starting. If you’ve ever experienced pyelonephritis you will be able to relate to what I’m talking about. About six months prior to seeing this doctor I was hospitalized for pyelonephritis; when I went to see this physician I explained this to him and was treated for the early UTI (urinary tract infection) I had. When I followed up with him I complained that I was having a hook-like pain sensation underneath my ribcage area — both sides. He became verbally hostile and told me he would send my urine off for a culture but that it wouldn’t show anything. Again, here is an example of a physician who didn’t listen. I never asked him to get a culture. I only asked why I was still having pain in my ribcage area and wondered if I needed any other testing — like ultrasound or anything else. Instead of actually giving me some reassurance by telling me that I was healing and what signs to look for in a serious infection, he became dismissive, defensive and hostile. This man was the most insensitive physician I’ve ever met in my life … and probably one of the most uncaring people in general.
The U.S. is not the only country with crappy doctors. Here is one woman’s experience: Dear Doctors, What Happened to Your Bedside Manner?
Why do so many doctors here treat their patients like mindless cattle?
Yes, I understand that doctors regularly treat relatively uneducated patients who may not be able to follow procedures or understand information. However, when a person comes along, clearly literate enough to make sense of what is happening, it is beyond me as to why doctors treat their questions or opinions with careless disdain, as if we have foregone the right to ask and respond by stepping into their domain.
What makes a good physician? Some of these may sound like commonsense, but it’s actually quite surprising how many physicians (and other professionals) don’t have these basic qualities.
- Liking the profession. Some docs are burned out from years in practice. I can only imagine how escalating malpractice insurance costs can put a damper on one’s enthusiasm for medicine. However, with this said, no patient should pay the price of a self-righteous physician who has a dismissive attitude. It may be time for a physician who doesn’t like what they do to retire, go back to school, cut back to part-time, switch careers or volunteer for a medical mission. Ultimately the patient pays the price when a physician is unsatisfied with their job — it is no longer a calling but rather a chore. The patient becomes a bothersome burden.
- Listening. This sounds very basic and simple. Most physicians probably assume they are good listeners, when in fact they are simply waiting for their turn to speak and advise. Sometimes they butt right in and don’t wait their turn! I know some patients can drone on and on, as some people can drone on and on. A verbally skillful physician can guide a patient through conversation and get to the gist of the patient’s complaint(s) or problem while actually listening — this can be done, this is possible. I realize that physicians have a limited time schedule and are often working under unreasonable time constraints simply to operate a practice in an affordable manner — I get this. However, when doctors do not take the time to truly listen to patients they become pill-pushers, order unnecessary tests and shove patients onto specialists without actually addressing the patient as a real person with valid needs, concerns and possible fears. Yes, a physician must be part therapist even if their speciality isn’t psychiatry!
- Caring & kindness. You’d think this would be a prerequisite in becoming a physician. However, sadly this is not. And how does one measure kindness anyway? Some people are kinder than others — that’s simply a personality trait. There is no “caring & kindness” school; one of the things as a nurse that patients will tell what makes a great doctor is that “he (or she) truly cares about me”. A kind and caring attitude can be shown by the physician making good eye contact, remembering to ask a little something about a patient’s personal life — even if the physician had to refresh their memory by briefly reading the patient’s chart, and showing a positive attitude about what the patient is experiencing whether it be a physical or emotional symptom. Also, a genuine smile, under the appropriate circumstances, can go a long way in presenting oneself as being friendly. And the best tip of all, would be for a physician to show enthusiasm either upon initially meeting the patient or seeing them again. Patients like to feel special, especially when they are going through something physically or mentally troubling — no matter how seemingly trivial.
Of course, being mentally astute and an excellent diagnostician don’t hurt either in being an excellent physician. For a patient to discern which physician is knowledgeable in their field may be a difficult and daunting task; a patient will however, know when a doctor is simply doing their job in a blasé fashion, isn’t listening or isn’t friendly.
It also works the other way … there are some very nice doctors who get by with mediocre medical treatment simply because they are friendly. They are charming. They are schmoozy. It’s challenging to get the mix of a genuinely kind, caring physician who is adept in their field.