July 17, 2009

What qualities do you want in a doctor?


Oh yes, I’ve had appointments where I had to restrain myself from smacking the doc.  Where I’ve had to act sweet and pretty just to get a moment of air time to ask questions about radiation treatment.  Where tears have sprung the moment they stepped out the door because I couldn’t dare be myself in the doc’s presence.  This is why I was floored when I asked him and he said ‘yes’.

I’m talking about my doctor R. Michael Tuttle, MD at Memorial Sloan-Kettering – he’s one of the top thyroid cancer docs in the country.  We’re appearing together this Sunday on a two-hour radio special all about thyroid cancer and young adults. Perfect match right?  I’m a thyroid cancer queen (nine years and counting baby!) and he’s a thyroid guru.   So why was I  floored when he said yes to doing the show?

I’ve had a slew of docs in my cancer career. Most have been top of their game. Their skills were unparalleled, they were leaders in research, and trend setters in their field.  But most wouldn’t answer my questions in their office, let alone answer radio callers on a Sunday afternoon. They were all about science but seemed to care less about my patient experience.

I was actually cool with this. I’m a super empowered person and compensated from elsewhere for what my docs wouldn’t give me.  I hire docs for their skills not their personalities.

But with Dr. Tuttle, I now see that a good doc-patient relationship goes beyond my 15 minutes of face time. I have greater peace of mind and less anxiety about my cancer in general because I get from Tuttle the information I need. I also know that when patients have better communication with our doctors we are able to better follow their instructions for taking medications and adhering to treatment plans.

If I have to go doc shopping in the future, I will still choose skills over personality and communication style. But for now, I’m damn glad that I get to have it all.

What are the qualities you look for in a doc?  Did one ever make you cry?  Would yours do a radio show with you?  Do you have any questions about thyroid cancer and young adults you would like us to answer on Sunday’s show – medical, emotional, or social life stuff?  If you miss the show you can listen to the podcast.

To learn more about how young adult cancer patients have handled their docs’ personalities, read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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