I’ve been to a lot of doctors in my lifetime - many times for myself and many times with my mom as she fought cancer.
The majority of those experiences left me heavily dismayed and disappointed with the quality of patient care provided by doctors. While the doctors seemed to have a firm grasp of their medical knowledge, they were woefully ignorant about how the person in front of them was feeling and their impact on that person.
To my utter surprise, I recently had the best doctor’s visit of my life. It was so wonderful that I called every close family member to rave about it. I wish every medical experience could be as comfortable, respectful, and empowering.
I’ve decided to highlight what the doctor and her office did as an example of the kind of care that doctors and medical settings can strive for.
For some context, I went to a new dermatologist to have a skin check.
They had hot beverages in the waiting room. Although I didn’t drink the hot beverage, it was wonderful to hold in my hands to help calm me.
They played a cooking show in the waiting room. In many medical offices, they play the news or “health news” that makes you wonder how many things could be wrong with you. I appreciated having a pleasant distraction that didn’t elevate my stress levels.
They didn’t weigh me. Instead, they asked me to approximate my weight. This is significant to me because I used to associate health, beauty, and worth with my weight. I’ve worked to repair my relationship with my body and part of that has included no longer weighing myself.
They had cloth gowns. As an autistic individual, I am highly sensitive to how things feel on my skin. I loathe paper gowns. They also feel dehumanizing.
They didn’t ask me to unnecessarily undress. I’ve been in procedures where I was asked to be completely naked, when that wasn’t necessary (but more so convenient for them). They let me keep my underwear and bra on underneath my cloth gown, which helped me to feel more comfortable.
The room was a neutral temperature. There is nothing worse than sitting in a freezing waiting room, in nothing but a small piece of fabric while you wait for a doctor. It was wonderful to not be cold.
They were timely. I did not have to wait long before the doctor showed up. In some instances, I’ve waited for more than 30 minutes while I am completely naked, in a paper gown, and freezing. This time also gives my mind time to wander and worry. By the time the doctor shows up, I’m a stress ball.
They started with questions about me. The doctor asked me questions about my life (and not just my body), that helped me to feel calmer and that I was there as a human in her office (and not just skin to be examined).
They respected my requests. I explained to the doctor that I am autistic and therefor do much better when someone tells me before they touch me. She honored that request.
They explained things as they went. The doctor explained what she was seeing as she examined each mole on my body. She explained why some were not problematic and why some we might need to watch.
They understood me where I was at. The doctor found a suspicious mole and informed me I had the option to have it removed or return in two months for monitoring. Due to my medical trauma in the past, I was extremely emotional and told the doctor I couldn’t make that decision because I have an extreme aversion to medical procedures. She calmly said that we could go ahead and remove the mole so I didn’t have to worry. I was so grateful to not have to decide in that moment.
They let me have my emotions. When the doctor and I decided to remove a mole, I informed her that I would most likely cry. She told me that was absolutely fine and they’d be there to support me. A doctor that actually lets me have my emotions??? Amazing!
They did everything possible to mitigate pain. Prior to having the mole removed, they gave me a cold press for my skin. The doctor then used a vibrator as she gave me shots. I barely felt a thing. It made me want to have all of the moles removed from my body.
They acted on my unique needs. I asked the doctor to not let me see any of the instruments and to speak to me as she removed the mole (to help distract my brain). She did just that.
They were not rushed. From beginning to end, I never felt that the doctor was rushing. I can sense when other doctors are rushing and it always puts my nervous system on alert. It was nice to feel like this doctor was fully present and going at a natural pace.
When my biopsy results for my mole came back abnormal, I was told I would need to return to have more skin removed. I was deeply relieved to know I would be returning to the same doctor.
They explained what to expect. When I spoke with the medical assistant on the phone, she took the time to explain what the procedure could be like, how I could prepare, and what I could do after the appointment to take care of the scar.
While I was still nervous about the minor surgery, I was significantly more calm and grounded than previous medical procedures. I’m sure if someone measured my blood pressure, level of stress hormones, and all of that other good stuff, there would have been a dramatic difference. Maybe the medical profession should do a study on that!
They were consistent in their care. When I returned for my minor surgery, I experienced the same level of care. It was nice to know my previous positive experience wasn’t just a fluke.
They checked again for understanding. The doctor took her time to explain the results of my test and why she was doing this procedure. She even double checked that I understood.
They crouched down to my eye level. When the doctor spoke with me, she didn’t stand over me. She squatted down to my level so that she could look me in the eye.
They accommodated my preferences. When I was told that the assistant would be numbing me, I asked if the doctor could do it instead. I had such a positive, pain-free experience with her. The assistant responded in a kind manner (whereas she could have been agitated or taken it personally) and retrieved the doctor for the numbing.
They worked with my unique needs. I didn’t want to see any of the procedure, so I told them I would close my eyes. They then made little compresses for my eyes to help me feel more relaxed. We joked it was like a mini spa day, and it truly did help regulate my nervous system.
They ensured privacy. The mole was on my left breast, which meant my nipple was exposed. They offered to cover my nipple with some gauze and tape. I deeply appreciated the level of consideration, as well as not having a cold nipple.
They checked in on me. When there was a bit of a delay between the doctor and plastic surgeon (he was coming to sew me up), the doctor returned to check on me. It felt wonderful to be remembered.
The doctor was relatable. Every time the doctor interacted with me, she exhibited accessible professionalism and helped me to feel like we were two humans interacting.
As I’ve been in the recovery and healing stage now, I still cannot believe how wonderful the experience was. After my surgery, I laid down for a nap and cried myself to sleep because I was so relieved about how simple, pain-free, and comfortable the experience was.
I think that most doctors are so used to the medical setting and the work that they do, that they forget how stressful and scary a medical experience can be for everyday people.
In my experience with my dermatologist, I felt seen. I felt heard, respected, and understood. I felt considered.
It is my genuine hope that everyone can have such positive medical experiences.
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