Doctor Becomes A Patient: A Practice in Empathy

As physicians, you are conditioned to a life of treating others. Running around a hospital and diagnosing medical issues is what you are best at, and you wouldn’t change that for anything. But what happens when a doctor becomes a patient? There may be times when you fall ill or suffer an unfortunate accident. You may end up in the emergency room or admitted for an extended stay, and then what?

You may have allergies or important information you want your attending physician to know. You may feel confused and lonely during your wait. You may even begin to feel the chilling temperature of a waiting room or the long uncomfortable wait times. And even though you are a physician, there is a reason you’re in the hospital and you might not understand what is happening to you. These are just some of the things that go through a patient’s minds when they step foot in the examination room. But, how can you step back and understand how to be a patient first and a doctor second?

Doctor Becomes A Patient: Things Patients Want You to Know

While you’re sitting in the doctor’s office receiving treatment, this may be the time to evaluate your own practicing skills. Pay attention to how your doctor is treating you. Sometimes patients feel they go unnoticed, and just want you to listen to them. Here are some aspects of health care practicing patients want you to understand.

Listen and Stop Assuming

Now that the “doctor becomes a patient” situation has become real for you, you may want your physician to pay more attention to your body language and how you describe your feelings. Despite what the lab test may say, you may actually believe there is something worse happening, and hearing a doctor say “there’s nothing wrong with you,” can be tough and even scary.

Access and Timeliness

No one understands the hectic lifestyle of a doctor as much as another doctor…and that’s you! And many patients understand that, whether they are in the ER, or receiving in-hospital care, their doctor is tending to other patients. But when you’re sick, your mind and body face so many scary changes. Wanting more access to your doctor is natural. Whether it is using telehealth methods such as EHR portals, or a value-based method of practicing, knowing ways to be available and timely with responses and care should be a top priority.

Emotional Recognition

Patients go through a lot when they are being treated for serious conditions. They are poked, stuck, rolled, covered, uncovered, abandoned, surrounded and so much more. It can be a lot to handle. Through all of this, they may feel embarrassed having a stranger see them naked or ask them personal questions. They often may feel like they are asking silly questions or be acting like a “worry wart.” These are all things you may eventually experience when you become a patient yourself. Recognizing the emotional trauma patients suffer and developing a strong (but honest) bedside manner can create a trusting relationship and promote a comfortable environment.

When a “doctor becomes a patient” in the crazy world of health care, empathizing with patients can be one of the best forms of medicine. Taking time to learn from an experience in a role change like this can give you better sense of how your patient is really feeling.


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