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Should You Change Doctors?

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Heather Millar - Blogs
By Heather MillarAward-winning writerMarch 15, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

“I don’t really feel comfortable with my doctor.” I’ve heard a lot of fellow cancer patients and survivors say something to this effect.

Sometimes, it sounds something like, “I don’t click with my doc, and I wonder if I should do something about it.”

But other times, the statement includes a feeling of powerlessness, “I don’t click with my doc, and there’s nothing I can do.”

Let me say up front that I’ve never experienced this in cancer treatment. I chose my medical team for very specific reasons (I wanted the smartest team I could find, and looked for emotional support elsewhere). But I did experience a doctor dilemma when I was going through another medical challenge: trying to get pregnant. I won’t go into all the lengthy details, suffice to say that having a kid was a years-long, complicated process for my husband and me.

We started that journey with one doc. She was super smart, responsive, professional. She was usually the brainiest person in the room. But I didn’t feel comfortable with her. She just wasn’t warm. I didn’t feel I could just chat with her, and I’m the kind of person who usually can talk to a rock.

So halfway through the process, I asked to switch doctors. Thankfully, I was getting treatment at a big practice at a big medical center, so there were choices.

I chose another brainiac female doctor, but this one just overflowed with concern and empathy. She reassured me at every step. I felt that she really understood how scared and desperate patients feel during fertility treatments.

I remember lying in the hospital after the embryo transfer that resulted in my now 15-year-old daughter. My doctor came up to me, and she looked into my eyes. In that moment, I felt like she was looking into my nervous, hopeful soul. She squeezed my arm, and said softly, “Good luck.”

I don’t know if her bedside manner helped ensure the success of that fertility treatment cycle, but I like to think that it did.

We don’t fully understand the role of stress and emotional upset in illness. But I think patients, especially cancer patients, should try for every advantage they can get. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, for whatever reason, then change!

There are lots of oncologists in the world. All with different styles and personalities. And there are lots of patients in the world – likewise, with different styles and personalities. Compatibility is important. You’re going to be relying on this person through harrowing treatments, through uncertainty, through setbacks and triumphs. You should feel comfortable with this person.

Don’t worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings. (I did worry about this in the situation I described above, but I got over it and now have a cordial relationship with the first doctor.) Don’t worry about not having “a good reason,” a medical reason.

You’re a cancer patient. You are coping with so many things. Feeling weird about your medical oncologist/surgeon/radiation oncologist should not be one of those pain points.

If you can’t relate to your medical team, make a change. The National Institutes of Health publishes a good guide on how to pick a doctor, and WebMD has this overview on picking medical specialists.

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About the Author
Heather Millar

Heather Millar is an award-winning freelance magazine writer and author with wide-ranging interests including health, science, the environment, geopolitics, technology, parenting, and Asian affairs. 

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