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February 13, 2024

Bad Patient Experiences

Bad experiences. Unfortunately, we have all had them. We have had them while purchasing groceries, eating at a restaurant, or doing some shopping. But when bad experiences happen in a medical setting, it affects and hits us differently.

Bad Patient Experiences

Bad experiences. Unfortunately, we have all had them. We have had them while purchasing groceries, eating at a restaurant, or doing some shopping. But when bad experiences happen in a medical setting, it affects and hits us differently. When we are the patient, we are already in a vulnerable state. We are seeking advice and care from a stranger. When we have bad experiences as a patient, it can be extremely traumatic and even change us.

As a board certified female plastic surgeon, I spend a lot of time with my patients, most of whom are female. Some of these brave women have felt comfortable enough to share some of their prior experiences:

“The plastic surgeon I went to for consultation took his hand, slapped the underside of my bare breast with his bare hand and said, ‘That won’t sag. You don’t need a lift.’”

“My OB gyn finished my pap smear and while I was getting up, he takes off his gloves and said, ‘Okay, make sure you behave now.’ I found this especially offensive because I was married.”

“My previous plastic surgeon came out of my breast surgery, gave my boyfriend a high five and said he did him a solid.”

“Although I was the breast cancer patient, the plastic surgeon directed the entire conversation at my husband, barely looked at me. He finally then asked me, ‘Why do you even want to have breasts? You’re already married.’”

“When I told my doctor that I was getting a breast reduction, he looked at me and said, ‘That’s crazy. No man ever would want his woman to do that.’”

Do these stories shock you? Sadly, many of us would respond, “No.” As women, we have endured countless accounts of sexual harassment, misogyny, abusive comments, judgement that we are almost used to it. We roll our eyes, shake our heads, and know that something similar will come up again. But maybe that is part of the problem: our acceptance. Just because women are strong, does not mean they have to even deal with this level of disrespect.

Before we delve into how we can best handle these situations, let’s have some fun and perform some psychoanalysis on the culprit. Why do these type of doctors act this way? Why do they say such things? Now, to be clear, we are discussing a “type” of person; we are not describing all doctors, persons or men. Of course there are a myriad of reasons for why someone is the way they are, but this “type” typically lack a well-rounded personality and healthy interpersonal relationships. To get into medical school is extremely competitive. Residency is grueling and exhausting. To be a dedicated physician, one must sacrifice a lot of socializing, outings, vacations, and hobbies. Perhaps these physicians have some God complex peeking through. They were the golden child, spoiled by their parents because the good ole ‘My son is in medical school’ apparently excuses you from normal daily responsibilities and manners. But it is possible that these doctors are not even deficient in compassion or humility. Perhaps they have ‘physician burnout’ from their stressful jobs and just lack a filter. Whatever the reasons may be, no one is all good or all bad. Doctors are people too and certain ones may not be a good fit while others are a perfect physician-patient match.

Looking back, why did we allow these comments? For most of us, we were young(er). It was different time even just ten or twenty years ago. Women are more empowered now to speak up. Sometimes, these comments are so shocking that we think the issue is us. Are we too sensitive? Did I take that the wrong way? Women also may not realize that they do have other options; they are not forced to stay with the same doctor. It is relatively easy to transfer your care and medical records to another physician. Maybe we do not say anything because we do not want our friends asking questions, “Why did you not go back?” You would then have to tell the whole story about your experience, which could be embarrassing or traumatizing if you have to relive it. Some of us are a little more complacent; we tell ourselves that we have already established care at this office, that it would be too much trouble to leave, that it would cause too much unwanted attention if we go somewhere else.

Many of us are not confrontational and just “let it slide.” But for those of us who speak up so that “this won’t happen to the next girl,” keep it classy. A simple, “I find that to be offensive,” or “That is not an appropriate comment to make,” is perfect. There is no need to engage and get angry. If things do escalate beyond your control, it is always acceptable to request the presence of a chaperone or office manager.

At any point, if you feel uncomfortable with your healthcare provider/doctor, you need to look elsewhere. Again, a patient is inherently in a vulnerable position and requires support. The relationship between a doctor and patient should be special and safe. We often tell our doctor things that we won’t even tell our own family members. It is absolutely acceptable to select a medical team who you feel will act in your best interest and make you feel comfortable. I don’t mean that you need someone to hug you, but your doctor should have your best interest in mind and not dump their personal beliefs on you. They need to be able to objectively tell you what they feel is best for your health.

When selecting a new doctor, the best thing to do is to see a few of them. This can be well worth the required copay amounts or consultation fees. Being physically in the office and meeting the staff can make a difference. Although friends and reviews may be helpful, everyone’s experience is different and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. No one is you and your needs are unique and special.

Remember: You have options. Just like selecting your hair girl, your gardener, your attorney, your grocery store.  You already pick the people who vibe with you and fulfill your needs. A doctor is an especially important part of your team who cheerleads you on and helps you with your health.

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