Have you ever left a doctor’s appointment feeling confused, dismissed, or completely misunderstood?
Do you find it challenging to communicate your preferences with medical professionals?
Or are you at a loss for how to advocate for yourself to receive adequate healthcare?
If you’ve had these experiences, this episode on creating healthy, effective boundaries with the medical community is for you. By the end, you will know the best way to prepare for a doctor’s appointment and when it might be a good time to ditch your doc.
I am passionate about medical boundaries because of my experience with a cancer diagnosis many years ago. It is at the forefront of my mind again because many of you are writing in about perimenopause and menopause and dealing with dismissive doctors.
I wanted to give you some of my hard-earned wisdom because boundaries have everything to do with this.
(Disclaimer: I am not an MD, so this information is not medical advice. I am sharing my story with you from a patient experience. Always consult your doctor.)
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Why Might We Feel Disempowered With Our Medical Community?
Many of us were raised to think doctors were above reproach. They are the experts. What they say goes. They know better, right?
You may think this sounds old-school, but I am talking about our collective unconscious. Not long ago, there was a time, especially in the United States and North America, when doctors, to a degree, had unfettered power.
We could not look things up like we can today since we didn’t have access to the internet. We had to rely on the expertise of our doctors.
Even if this belief has changed over recent years, it still exists somewhere in our collective unconscious. It existed for me.
A Personal Example
Many years ago, I was facing a potential cancer diagnosis, and a doctor at a well-known cancer center in New York City told me: if you can make a decision in the next five minutes, I can do the surgery tomorrow.
I was terrified. I did not know how advanced it might be or what would happen.
My husband Vic (then boyfriend) was with me, and we decided I would have the surgery and go from there. I was under the false impression doctors knew best and that I should take him up on his offer.
In hindsight, I would definitely not suggest deciding to have major surgery in five minutes to anyone. And I don’t love that the surgeon I spoke with put me in such a vulnerable position.
It was cancer, and shortly after this surgery, my intuition told me to get the other half of my thyroid checked out.
My original surgeon told me I was hysterical, so I fired him.
I went to a different surgeon and said, “I need to tell you the whole story and you need to care about what my intuition says and how I feel.” He said, “Great. I’ll make us some tea and we can talk.”
This surgeon was wonderful and listened to me. He performed the surgery based on my intuition.
Do you know what he discovered on the other half of my thyroid?
A different, potentially more aggressive cancer.
If I had stayed with my original surgeon, I do not know what would have happened. I imagine I would not have had the good outcome I’ve been blessed to have.
But if I had taken more than five minutes to think about the first surgery, I probably could have avoided a second surgery and round of radiation. I was scared and didn’t feel empowered in my relationship with the original surgeon to push back.
This is why I am so passionate about having and communicating medical boundaries. Knowing your preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers when it comes to your health ensures you receive the best possible care for you.
The first step is understanding your preconceived ideas about doctors and understanding the dynamic between you.
Choose an Empowered Dynamic With Doctors
Think of your appointment as your chance to interview the doctor. It is not as if they are doing you a favor. If you decide to hire them, they are working for you. And if you decide it’s not a good fit, there are other doctors you can go to.
It is more about whether you like them, not whether they like you.
For sentence starters and ideas on how to feel empowered during a doctor’s appointment, download the guide here.
Always Get a Second Opinion
Any doctor who is worth their salt will want you to get a second opinion, especially if it concerns surgery or anything major. This common practice protects both you and the doctor.
Yes, getting a second opinion takes more time and energy, but it is worth it because you receive better care by considering different treatment plans.
Research Ahead of Time
There are experts on all kinds of conditions researching specific areas. Even if you cannot make an appointment with them, you can read their research.
After I call to see if a doctor is taking new patients, I do pre-work to find out: who is the top doctor in this field who has become extremely masterful at this one thing we need right now?
You can do the same. The internet is free. Do the research and read medical journals if you have a complicated situation. Talk to the medical professionals in your life. Go into it with an empowered point of view.
Red Flags to Watch Out For With Doctors
These are the red flags I watch out for when choosing a doctor to work with.
Your Doctor Treats You Poorly
Look at the medical team who is supposed to be working for you. How do they talk to you? How do they treat you?
Beyond pressuring me into making a quick decision about surgery, my original surgeon was also condescending. Whenever I spoke up, he seemed mad that I was an educated patient.
Once I fired him, I resolved to never stay with a doctor who made me feel like I had to stay quiet or was mad I had a brain.
I am so clear about what I am looking for in a doctor:
- Someone to partner with me for my optimal wellness
- Uses a portal (if they have one) to communicate with me
- Is responsive and answers my questions
- Does not get mad because I do research or have questions
If they don’t match my criteria, I don’t hire them. If I bring up a concern and they diminish it, I say something. If they reveal things I don’t like while working together, I fire them. Life is too short and medical boundaries are possible.
I worked through my experience in therapy, but it was traumatic to feel like someone else had such enormous power over me when I was vulnerable.
Your Doctor Dismisses You or You Don’t Feel Safe
Do your questions seem to bother your doctor? Or does it feel like your doctor dismisses you? Those are red flags.
I do not care what you are talking about, you want to feel like your doctor is in the healing arts because they are there to help you. You do not want to feel like you’re annoying them!
This is where having internal boundaries comes in. What kind of care will you tolerate? If something makes you uncomfortable, it matters. If you have something on your mind, you need to be able to tell your doctor. You are paying them. Your job is to assert yourself to get the best medical care possible.
Does your doctor listen to you? Do they remember anything about your history? Do they care?
I understand the medical community is under a lot of pressure. I know insurance, especially in the US, is terrible. I know some HMOs only give doctors 15 minutes to see patients.
I am not saying there is not a lot in the medical community. There is. But this is not about the challenges doctors face. Nor am I vilifying doctors. I just want to empower you to get the best possible care, and we often self-sabotage with respect to getting this care.
Your Medical Boundaries Matter
You do not deserve to have a doctor dismiss you. They are supposed to be there to help you.
How can you advocate for yourself instead?
First, you need to know your preferences, limits, and deal-breakers. Your internal boundaries – what you think you deserve – matter.
One of my preferences is to have women medical professionals. It is my right to have this preference, especially when it has anything to do with the female body.
(I am not dissing the male gynecologists out there just sharing my personal preference.)
How to Get the Best Medical Care Possible
In the guide, I will give you questions and ideas for what you can do to have a better experience with doctor’s appointments. The following tips have enabled me to get the best medical care for myself and my family.
Prepare For Your Appointment
Before your appointment, list your concerns and questions. Your goal is to clearly communicate what you’re experiencing and why you are seeking care.
If you feel like you choke when talking about stuff like this, write it down. Make sure you talk about everything. Inform your medical professional if you are on medication or a particular diet.
Try not to be embarrassed or afraid to talk about any of your experiences because that’s what you’re there for. This is their job and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Understand What Happened During Your Appointment
Before you leave your appointment, you want to understand what happened and what you can expect next.
It can be helpful to have someone else in the room with you to take notes. My mom went through cancer during the pandemic, and while we weren’t allowed in the room, my sister and I Facetimed into her appointments to record everything.
Many doctor’s offices have since lifted this restriction. If you don’t have trusted individuals nearby to accompany you, some offices have assistants or chaperones on staff who can. There are also professional patient advocates who will take notes during your appointment and send them to you. There is a lot of support available if you look.
Double Check With Your Health Insurance
If you have health insurance, check your coverage before doing anything.
I know insurance is intense, but if you have surgery and the anesthesiologist is out-of-network, you could get a $10,000 bill. You might think someone is monitoring your care to prevent this, but they are not.
The same thing goes for bloodwork and using labs. Ask, “Where are you sending my bloodwork? I want to check if they take my insurance.”
These are all boundary issues because if you do not take care of these things, A) you do not receive the care you want and need, and B) you might spend lots of money on otherwise avoidable bills.
If you want strategies and conversational boundaries for going to doctor’s appointments in an empowered way, make sure to download the guide. It also has a couple of ideas on how to strengthen your internal boundaries when it comes to interacting with your healthcare professionals.
I hope this was helpful. If it was, please share it with the people in your world. I want you to be empowered in all areas of your life, and physical wellness is one of those areas.
If you have other tips to share from your experiences, leave a comment below or let me know on Instagram (@terricole). I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Great advice! I had a real JERK of a kidney doctor and a robotic resident/fellow who acted like a zombie whenever she did my intake. He is at UVA, a TEACHING hospital, and just a fat uncaring slob. He insisted I go on dialysis, I said, "I don't think so," and I found another doctor at Sentara Martha Jefferson who came into the appointment not only having read my entire, 2-inch thick file, but who explained that I DID NOT have kidney disease, but a kidney injury and would never need dialysis because the thing that caused the injury no longer existed (sepsis). He not only took the time to review all the other opinions but to give me hope and explain what was happening. Had I listened to the original JERK I'd be attached to a dialysis machine 3-4 times a week. ALWAYS go in prepared as this is why doctors are the leading cause of death in the US. They don't know all they think they know. Good and great doctors ARE out there, but you have to look, you have to NOT believe they are gods (they're NOT), and you have to have good boundaries. I now record all my appointments, and I always get a second opinion outside their practice.
Hi Becky- thank you for sharing your journey. I am so sorry you went through that, and I am glad you found a doctor who listened to you. ❤️