To the editors:
Bravo to Bryan Miller for her excellent article, "Why Are Doctors Such Jerks?" [July 10]. Miller's article is subtitled "And what is the medical establishment doing about it?" Instead of waiting for the medical establishment to act, I suggest that there are some things the rest of us can begin doing right now.
First of all, we can recognize what the process of healing actually is. There's an old saying: "God heals, and the doctor collects the fee." I prefer the more secular view that healing is something that only the patient can do, using his or her own resources of body and mind. Either way, there's no room for the doctor's ego. The doctor is only there to make the process easier, not to do the actual healing. Studies have shown that patients improve when they feel a sense of hope, and a sense that their doctor cares about them. No doctor ever helped patients through hatred or shame or scare-tactics or indifference.
Second, we can evaluate our doctors' listening skills. Miller's article emphasized that a good doctor must listen well in order to diagnose and treat a patient effectively. There's more to listening than simply waiting for the patient to finish speaking, although, unfortunately, some doctors can't even manage to do that. A good listener shows respect for the other person, sets aside his or her own preconceptions, and exhibits a genuine interest in what the other person has to say.
Third, we can encourage the right candidates to become doctors. If you, or someone close to you, are thinking of applying to medical school, it's time for some soul searching. To become a good doctor, it isn't enough just to be studious and intelligent. A doctor also needs to have a high energy level. Most of all, a good doctor enjoys being around other people. And I'm not referring to a high-flown desire to serve humanity in the abstract. That can be a disguise for ego. Instead, I'm talking about an appreciation of people as unique individuals, and an enjoyment of their company. I have observed that most veterinarians choose their profession because they love being around animals. But how many MDs choose their profession because they love being around people? Evidently, not enough.
Finally, we can refuse to tolerate callous treatment. If you encounter hostility, contempt, indifference, sexism, bigotry, deception, perfunctory treatment, or unwillingness to listen, don't go back to that doctor. Don't take your kids back, either. And don't be intimidated by the doctor's credentials or reputation as an "expert," or by the fact that the doctor is part of your HMO. Do whatever you have to do to find a better doctor! You might consider sending the offending doctor a letter explaining your decision, and sending copies to your local medical society and to the administrators of the hospital or clinic where that doctor has privilieges. Whatever you do, keep in mind that you're a human being whose life has value. Show respect for yourself by never going back. You're gambling with your life if you go to a doctor who doesn't care about you. My uncle kept going to the same doctor for years, complaining of stomach discomfort. The doctor kept saying that it was only a "nervous stomach," and he told my uncle to take an antacid. It didn't help. By the time my uncle finally went to another doctor, it was too late. My uncle died in horrible agony of inoperable stomach cancer.
Alida M. Jatich
W. 56th Place