Change is never easy.
This week I had to say goodbye to my doctor of 25 years. I am not going to lie. It was scary, unexpected, sad, joyous, bittersweet and numerous other conflicting emotions I will not list but hopefully, you get the point.
I am a very lucky person. When someone comes into your life at a time when you are most vulnerable and provides a level of calm, reassurance and trust, the bond is everlasting. I am lucky because my doctor was and still is amazing. He is everything you would want in a doctor. Which got me to thinking. Why is he so special? And different from other doctors I have had.
People commonly will ask me for advice when they are faced with a health care issue specifically around selecting a doctor. The first thing I always say is to make sure there is a personal connection. The connection you feel or don’t feel is critical in the decision-making process. It is imperative that you trust the person and feel like they will advocate for you. The medical environment is complicated and confusing for a person not versed in it. Trust is key when you are not familiar with terms and diagnoses and decisions are often made from gut reactions based on what you are being told.
This week, I was honored to speak at an event recognizing my doctor. As I reflect back on my remarks I thought it might be helpful to highlight what I thought were special qualities of a man I admire and also qualities we should all be looking for when we choose a doctor. Medicine provides choice these days and we should shop around and think of ourselves as consumers just like we would choose other products and services. Here are a few characteristics that I highlighted.
I had an immediate connection with my doctor. I still remember the day I met him. I walked in the office having not slept all night and basically terrified. Within minutes his calming influence was apparent and I developed an immediate trust. Throughout our relationship, I knew he had my best interests in mind and felt like he treated me like he would treat a member of his own family.
My doctor made me feel like I was his only patient. Each time he entered the exam room he was prepared. He wasn’t spending time flipping through charts or slogging through computer screens but had already done his homework and was ready to place all his attention on me. He listened carefully and we always had an open dialogue. Now, this may seem pretty simple to treat someone like this but it requires a tremendous amount of discipline. There are so many demands placed on doctors these days and many distractions. By the way, I did eventually come to the realization that I was not his only patient!
We all know what it is like to sit in the waiting room, sometimes longer than we should have to wait. I always felt like he respected my time because he stayed on schedule as much as possible and though there were times I would wait, they were minimal and not worth noting compared to other experiences. If there was a delay he would always address it and apologize to me.
This level of dedication and focus translates into respect for the patient. As a patient and a person, you deserve respect. I remember my mother accepting so many actions because she thought she should. You listen to your doctor. Period. I will never forget when she brought an article into her doctor describing a new cancer therapy that she wanted to discuss. Her doctor took it, rolled it up into a ball, threw it in the garbage can and said “This is what I think of your article.” dismissing the subject entirely. This was after he had her sit in the waiting room filling out 2 pages of questions about her current symptoms instead of just sitting with her and asking how she felt. I never even saw him refer to the questionnaire she completed.
My doctor was always sensitive to my fears and anxiety and did everything he could to minimize my anxiety. He rushed tests and always gave me the results as soon as he had them. I never had to track him down. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer he was available to me emotionally as well as helping me navigate through her complicated care. He was always a good listener and learned about what was important to me and my family.
There is a movement we are beginning to see in this country that many refer to as patient-centered care. This includes the process of rethinking and redesigning many critical operations in order to integrate the voices of patients and families in every aspect of the medical experience.
Though patient-centered care seems to be the new “buzzword” these days, my doctor championed this effort over 15 years ago in his hospital. It is because of him and my mother’s experience that I have volunteered my time in this arena as well. I believe the patient voice is critical to improving care and creating change. Engaged patients = better value, improved health care and possibly lower costs overall.
So, saying goodbye was never expected. It is not that I never imagined he could leave his job but more that I would never let my mind go to that place. In my mind, he couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave. He was my anchor in the sea of medical chaos.
The surprise in all of this is how calm I felt when he told me he was relocating and taking another position. I would have thought such an announcement would freak me out. I think it is because we have become friends throughout the years. He has followed my life and I have followed his. We are happy for our friends when something good happens in their life and so I am happy for him even though it means it is a loss for me in some ways. I know we will always stay connected.
And as far as finding a replacement. Well, that will be tough. But what I do know if because of his leadership and his great mentoring there are now many other doctors out there that share the same characteristics of respect and compassion and great knowledge that gives us all hope for the type of experience we deserve.
What to expect from your doctor- Cleveland Clinic