An Open Letter to Medical Professionals

Dear Medical Professional,

When you treat me— or any other patient— you are entering into a health partnership with a human being and not a set of symptoms. Your ability to recognize and value this partnership will make the difference between providing real health care and just going through a checklist at best, or possibly causing more pain, distress, and ill health at worst.

I am very glad that you went to medical school. Your medical training gives you an expertise that I appreciate to keep me well, especially when I am sick. You are an expert on human illness and this is why I turn to you for help. But you are not an expert on me or my body. I am an expert on me. And you need our partnership to help you to provide quality health care to me.

We have to work together if I am to get and stay well. I welcome you as my health care partner and wish/hope that you reciprocate. Sadly, this partnership has not always been recognized when I have needed your colleagues. Please do not be offended when I tell you that your medical expertise is only as good as your ability to acknowledge our partnership in my health care. Unfortunately I have encountered medical professionals who have bullied me with their (mis)understanding of how far their medical expertise extends into the healing process.

Luckily, I have worked with plenty of great doctors. The quality of my life has been vastly improved because of their ability to work with me to overcome cancer and other scary diseases and injuries. Unfortunately I have also had a few who arrogantly treated me as a checklist of symptoms and not a person. They did not welcome my questions or my specific expertise on me. In other words, they did not recognize our partnership. This is not health care. This is the opposite of health and care.

Here are two recent examples:

During a routine colonoscopy, the doctor bruised me internally and then insisted it was impossible for me to be in pain from it. But the pain was so overwhelming that I ended up in the ER the next day. He refused to acknowledge that my pain was from his work, even though he had explained to me that he had been unable to finish the procedure after trying to for an extended period of time—think of being repeatedly poked inside your colon. Thank goodness this was my second colonoscopy, so I knew that his inability to complete the procedure and the resultant pain were not normal.

The second example came from in the ER, where I was rushed to after going to urgent care due the pain from the colonoscopy. After determining that I was not bleeding internally (yay!) the doctor prescribed the pain killer Vicodin. When I told her that I get nauseous from Vicodin, she insisted on prescribing it to me anyway. How does it help my pain to make me nauseous? Who treats a partner like this?

Both of these doctors insisted that their perspective was more beneficial to my health, even though this was obviously not the case. It is not routine to end up in the ER doubled over in pain after a colonoscopy. It is not routine to prescribe a medication that will make someone ill. Why did these two doctors maintain that their expertise on “human illness” was more valid than my ability to know myself?

So Medical Professional, if you want to provide both health and care to people, please, please, please listen to them. Welcome the health partnership that you are in with your patients. Do not insist that your medical training and knowledge is more valuable than what they are telling you about their own body. You are an expert in the general human population, but each of your patients has a vast array of experiences that will help you heal them. Ignoring their/our information will cause harm and ill-health—the opposite of why I assume you chose the medical profession.

Sincerely yours,
Heidi Sloss



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Medical Professionals

    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thanks Lorrie! I plan on sharing this post with the quality control department at the medical service we use. They pride themselves on providing excellent medical services, but sometimes they fail and they need to know when that happens. The more we each speak up when customer services misses the mark, they better service we all (hopefully) will get in the future. I am ever the optimist!

      Reply
  1. Leslie Conway

    Amen!!! I am allergic to a ton of meds and no one ever believes it’s possible. The resulting rashes, vomiting etc never seem to be enough to prove my point. I hope u are feeling better and the great listening doctors are out there. Don’t stop til you find the right one! Thanks for this

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thank you Leslie. I am always shocked when medical professionals think they know me better than I know myself. I have had several bad experiences with doctors who did not like my asking questions about their recommended treatments. One was a podiatrist who wanted to give me a steroid shot and was upset at my asking about possible side effects; another was a dentist who became unglued when I asked about side effects to having dental sealants applied to my teeth. I always ask my primary doctors about their attitude towards questions and most always say how much they welcome it, but in reality it makes a lot of them nervous and uncomfortable. My attitude is to no longer worry about their discomfort. In fact we just changed our primary doctor and I interviewed wanted to interview the new one, and it kind of surprised her office. I guess no one else had done this at her practice.

      Reply
  2. Erica Tener

    Well said. Having just spent 24 hrs in the hospital I really appreciate your words. Sure hope at least one doctor or other healthcare professional reads your words.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thanks Erica. Hope you are okay! I plan on sharing this post to the quality control department at our medical office as they need to know what happened and more importantly how to help other patients who might experience this kind of (mis)treatment in the future.

      Reply
  3. Rex

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had some recent negative experiences with physicians. I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak for those particular physicians you’ve encountered, but your dissatisfaction is genuine and should be heard. Absolutely, the therapeutic alliance and a collaborative approach are the foundations of any kind of progress to one’s health. It’s great that you are involved in your care, and asking questions and informing providers about your experience should be welcomed. I encourage you to continue to provide feedback to member services (good and challenging) so that we as physicians learn from our failures and can improve upon the care we provide. We’re human too, and these scenarios are opportunities for us as a reminder of the human condition and that healing and care is not unidirectional.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thanks Rex, your comment means a lot to me for both your thoughtfulness and your medical training. The GI doctor would have done right by me if he had a) finished my colonoscopy or b) acknowledged my pain or c) returned my calls to his office when I was in pain or d) apologized for not finishing the procedure and for causing my pain. My primary was terrific when I finally got to speak to her afterwards. One of the reasons I picked her as my primary was the way she welcomed my input. I have still not heard from the customer service department, they have not returned my calls, but I am stubborn and will continue to leave messages!

      Reply
  4. Heidi A

    Great open letter, Heidi!

    I’ve had similar experiences (I imagine most people have). The worst was during a physical last year when doc suggested I get a pneumonia vaccine (over 50, blah, blah, blah). I told her I was currently on heavy antibiotics from a dog bite and was concerned about interaction of anything with the antibiotics. She totally dismissed my concern, saying that was just “silly”. I felt bullied & agreed to the vaccine (not a smart decision & didn’t listen to my gut). So… the next morning I wake up with giant hives all over my body which quickly progressed to my head, neck & throat swelling leading to a trip in ambulance to ER with systemic allergic reaction! Lesson learned (albeit the hard way). When I contacted my doc about what happened, she was completely defensive and said it had nothing to do with vaccine. Needless to say, I changed primary doc.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      How awful! Hope you didn’t have to pay for the resultant ER visit. I am fighting the charge from the medical office for my Urgent Care visit, which was only for about 20 minutes as they called for an ambulance ASAP and sent me to the ER. As for the ER doc who insisted that I go home with a prescription for vicodin, even though I told her it makes me nauseous, I found out today that it is absolutely the wrong medicine to prescribe to someone after a colonoscopy; it causes constipation! And yet when I asked for something else, she kind of treated me like I had no clue. Not good. Glad to hear you have a new primary!

      Reply

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