As women, we simply aren’t imagining it when we feel our doctors are not listening to us, and we need to reverse this long-standing trend!
My friend Ava went through an experience with her doctor that troubled her for several years.
She had irregular periods and did not feel well most days. She was overweight and she felt that it somehow contributed to her symptoms, but she also had trouble losing weight and keeping it off. It was more than frustrating. She decided to tell her doctor during her annual wellness checkup about her concerns, especially that she was not having regular periods.
Her doctor’s response felt like a slap to her face – “Many young ladies complain about this. This is just a common thing. I want to see you thinner when you come back next year,” and he ended the conversation at that.
Ana’s symptoms and concerns increased over the next several years, so she decided to seek out a new doctor with the criteria:
1) that the physician was not in their latter years of practice
2) that they were female. She found one that came highly recommended by co-workers and friends.
Ana repeated her concerns to her new doctor during the first visit and the doctor immediately replied, “I am positive that you have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). I want to run tests, but without a doubt, your symptoms point towards PCOS.”
Ana’s new doctor ran her through a series of tests and verified her diagnosis.
During the first follow-up visit, the doctor told Ana, “PCOS, especially late periods, increases your chance of developing ovarian cancer later in life. This is serious.” She went on to say that this happens especially when periods are missed for at least 8 months.
Ana’s heart thudded. Her thoughts turned to her prior doctor—he put me at risk!
I told him that I was concerned about my irregular periods, and he dismissed me. He ignored me.
How many years have I been at a higher risk of developing cancer? How is it, thank goodness, that this doctor listened to me, and gave me a quick and thorough diagnosis?
The Big Picture: Doctors Who Don’t Listen to Women
Ana’s dilemma, feeling as if her doctor wrote her concerns off, is more common than not. It is a reality for women!
The article, “Dismissed: The Health Risks of Being a Woman,” published by Today.com, discusses the reality of why women often feel that their doctor is not listening. According to Dr. Alyson McGregor, director for the Division of Sex and Gender in Emergency Medicine at Brown University:
“It’s the women who keep coming in over and over again without a diagnosis that I see so often that it just makes me feel we have to do better at figuring out women’s specific physiology.”
Women may have different complaints than men — even with similar health conditions — and they experience pain differently, but most doctors are trained to identify and treat symptoms in men, making it less likely to correctly diagnose female patients, the experts warned.
“It’s terrible. It’s a very big problem,” says Dr. Janice Werbinski, executive director of the Sex and Gender Women’s Health Collaborative and a clinical associate professor at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. “It’s everywhere.”
“Women can be harmed by practicing one-sex medicine or gender-blind medicine,” said Dr. Jenkins, a professor of medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and chief scientific officer at the Laura Bush Institute for Women’s Health. “We need to stop ignoring the mountain of evidence that we have that men and women are different.”
“This is not a fad — this is about science. The evidence shows that being male or female has profound effects on your health,” added Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health.”
The article, “Gaslighting in Women’s Health,” published by Northwell.edu – Katz Institute for Women’s Health, contains revealing information and educated opinions from numerous physicians:
“There’s a dirty little secret in health care that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Female patients are continuously gaslighted about their physical and mental health.”
Jennifer Hermina Mieres, MD, interjects:
“Over the last couple decades, science and evidence have emerged to show how sex and gender impact various diseases—yet our health care delivery model lags behind. We still have many mid-career and senior physicians whose practice of medicine is based on the “one-size-fits-all” approach to diagnosis and treatment. A sex-and gender-based approach to disease management is not even on their radar. That’s one piece of the puzzle. The second piece is related to what Dr. Grossman mentioned earlier: Many women don’t feel empowered to speak up for their health and wellness. Instead of reinforcing the idea that they be “good patients,” we need to encourage them to push back.”
What You Can Do to Ensure Your Doctor Listens to You
Well, ladies, our health matters. If you feel that your doctor is not listening to you, you either must speak up for yourself pointedly, or you need to find another doctor (perhaps one that is female).
Your relationship with your doctor is based on a partnership. Your doctor holds the credentials, but you are not subordinate to them. The elements of any good partnership include commitment, good communication, fairness, and trust. Your role in your partnership with your doctor is to present to her/him your concerns. Your doctor’s role (and yours too) is to listen, and in fairness and commitment, to not brush your concerns off.
Always prepare for your doctor’s visit:
- Bring concise notes to the appointment.
- Are you experiencing symptoms or signs that concern you, and for how long? How does it affect your lifestyle (work, daily life, sleep, etc.)?
- Direct the conversation to cover the specifics.
- Ask your doctor to document your concerns.
If you feel that your doctor ignores your concerns or is not listening to you, ask them why. Ask them to document why they are not concerned, or why they are not testing. This is not a matter of being on the defense—but it is a matter of you ensuring that your health concerns are being met and that you are empowered to speak up for your health and wellness.
For decades, many women have believed that they need to be a ‘good patient.’ Being respectful of who holds the medical degree in the doctor’s office is appropriate, but this does not make you a doormat with your health concerns swept under it and walked on!