How being in the medical field gets you better medical care

I don’t sugarcoat it when I visit healthcare providers. I use anatomic landmarks and names to pinpoint problems, and I use specific medical terminology to describe them. The puzzled look on a new physician’s face when I say something akin to “paresthesia along the right T6 dermatome” is worth its weight in gold, and the first question I’m often asked after providing my reason for coming in is not about history or a clarification, but “what do you do?“. They see on their chart that a 25yo female with a laundry list of diagnoses is in room 6, many think “hypochondriac!” and the rest assume I’m just another Average Joe (Joline?), and now they’ve been thrown a huge curve-ball. If they had actually read my chart – which is a topic for another day – they’d see I’m in the medical field.

And I’m smart. Very, very smart.

I immediately notice a shift in how my physicians present themselves and communicate with me after learning this piece of information. Everything down to their body language changes. It’s almost like a secret door into their brain opens up, and I can see small beams of light shining through. They get excited. They get excited because they know they can talk shop with me. They get excited because they know I know have a better grasp on my case than a typical patient. They get excited because they know their job is about to become much easier in many ways, and the hard parts ahead will be more navigable. I get excited because an invested physician is an effective physician.

Some of the most critical pieces of information a clinician gains come straight from a patient’s history. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of pulling teeth to get the information needed, and a lot of weeding through extraneous information to home in on what the real problems at hand are. I know how to give a good history, which makes their job easier. When their job is easier, I get better care. I pride myself on knowing how to identify, present, and prioritize chief complaints with relevant supporting information (and knowing what other information is less critical to irrelevant). Ultimately, this prevents the clinician from having to ask more questions, which saves us both time and effort. Again, a satisfied physician makes for a satisfied Sam.

I know what questions to ask about my concerns and how to really prepare for appointments. I get a lot less flack for researching problems ahead of time because they trust I’m being rational and using reasonable sources, and, more importantly, I know how to present my findings and concerns in the framework of the appointment. Rule number 1: never self-diagnose or tell your physician what you think you have. Instead, involve your physician and trust their training: “I was reading up on x and it seems to be very consistent with the problems I’m having. What are your thoughts?” or “Is y something you’re at all concerned about?”. When you make it clear you still see them as the authority, they don’t begrudge you for presenting things you’ve found.

When explaining risks, complications, and pathologies, I understand the big picture of the problem at hand. I know what I don’t know, what I need to know, and what I already know. I know how to fill in the gaps and advocate for myself. Communicating using medical terminology saves time and effort on both our behalves, and it gives us the option of discussing problems and options in more detail. They trust me more, and I often feel like I’m viewed as a student or pupil. Because of this, I get increased transparency and information because they know I understand how messy medicine truly is. They let me in on information they don’t always tell other patients because I have a foundation of understanding that allows me to integrate knowledge further.

When I’m trusted, I’m taken more seriously when a new complaint arises, and I’m often made privy to details of diagnostics other patients aren’t. I can’t tell you the number of times my provider and have sat in front of their computer monitor, scrolling through CT images and radiographs formulating game plans together. That word is important. I’m fortunate enough to have providers that make me feel like we’re truly part of a team and are working through solving problems as such. They have the expertise about the problem at hand, and I’m able to remind them to keep it in the big picture of a) what’s important to the patient and b) how it affects the rest of the body as a functional unit.

It’s an empowering feeling, and that changes everything when you’re a patient with chronic illness…especially when you become a pain patient.

Knowing these things about me makes my physicians more excited to see me. Yes, I’m a difficult case, but when physicians or other providers feel like they can talk shop with and relate to you, I’ve found they’re more willing to work hard and think harder on your behalf. Huge barriers are broken down and you can meet on common ground. I keep them on their toes, and I think they secretly love it.

They say physicians make the worst patients, so maybe veterinarians are the best?

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