I read this blog post which was a letter from a physician, Dr. Rob, to patients about looking at healthcare from the provider’s perspective.  You can read it here.

This shocked me.  Healthcare providers are often afraid of their patients.

After really acknowledging how hard it is to be a patient in pain as well as the inherent difficulties of explaining it, Dr, Rob goes on to say:

You (speaking of patients here) scare doctors.

No, I am not talking about the fear of disease, pain, or death.  I am not talking about doctors being afraid of the limits of their knowledge.  I am talking about your understanding of a fact that everyone else seems to miss, a fact that many doctors hide from: we are normal, fallible people who happen to doctor for a job.  We are not special.  In fact, many of us are very insecure, wanting to feel the affirmation of people who get better, hearing the praise of those we help.  We want to cure disease, to save lives, to be the helping hand, the right person in the right place at the right time.

Whaaaat?  But they have all this training, they make all this money, surely they’ve been trained in how to deal with this stuff.  And besides – I’m hurting here and I n-e-e-e-d their help. I’d never considered that a healthcare provider could be afraid of me when I’m so absorbed with my own story.

Frankly, this idea that a healthcare provider might be afraid of anything was shocking to me.

So, what are they afraid of?  Dr. Rob does an amazing job of explaining this here:

You don’t get better, and it makes many of us frustrated, and it makes some of us mad at you.  We don’t want to face things we can’t fix because it shows our limits.  We want the miraculous, and you deny us that chance. They (meaning healthcare providers) may feel overwhelmed by the complexity of our symptoms.  They’re (again, speaking of healthcare providers)afraid that no matter what they suggest, there may be nothing that can be done.

And, as I read that, I realized that these are the same things I am afraid of sometimes when I have pain. I’m afraid no one can help me and no matter what they suggest or what I try, it won’t work.  I’m afraid I need a miracle and there just isn’t one.

Interesting that we both may share the same fears.  We touch on their mortality as we are feeling our own when we’re in pain and can’t figure out how to make ourselves feel better.

It opened my eyes to how important it is to be kind, not just to ourselves (which can often be very challenging and is at the heart of my work) but also to our provider’s that are often, frankly, afraid of us.

Of course, it makes sense that regardless of how much training a healthcare provider has had – they are human just like us.  It’s difficult to see others in pain; it often brings up our own pain and vulnerability when we see others hurting.

I really respect healthcare providers who do their best to help us when we’re struggling.  I also know that there are some healthcare providers who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to listen to us and explain things clearly. For every provider who is trying their best, there are just as many who aren’t.  That’s reality.

It’s also true that there are countless horror stories of patient’s whose needs have not been met by their healthcare provider.  There are many cases where patients have felt more harmed than helped which often leads to fatal or long lasting consequences.  When we hear of one of those situations or are personally affected by something like this, there are no words for the aftershocks and I am in no way discounting those situations.  This post does not address those very unfortunate circumstances that I just described and my heart goes out to anyone who has been through something like this.

There are also insurance, financial and practical considerations involved that may limit our choices.

And, despite those limitations, I urge you to find the provider that speaks the same language as you do and work hard to build that relationship – because I truly believe in the goodness of human beings and healthcare providers in particular.  And, where there’s a will there’s a way to find the healthcare provider that is right for you.

I’m not suggesting you treat your healthcare provider with kid gloves.  I am urging you to find the provider who is a good match for your needs and to appreciate their humanness as you share what’s going on with you.

In the best circumstances, we partner with our providers to improve our health.  That requires mutual respect, clear communication and a willingness to be appreciative of each other’s position.

Just as you’re asking them to understand – to get – what it’s like to be you, it’s important that you get that they’re human beings too.

What do you think?

One Response to “A Doctor’s Perspective On Patients: They’re Human Too”


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