Being A Physician Patient

I’ve completed four years of medical school, four years of residency and have over ten years of clinical experience. I’ve learned it’s far more difficult to be a patient than to be a physician. And how incredibly broken the American healthcare system truly is.

Today, I was scheduled for a follow-up post-accident because, although I’m much better, I’m still experiencing neck pain. Normally I would do this sort of thing on one of my precious half days. Unfortunately the doctor was only available on two days, neither of which was my half day. So I took a sick half day to attend to my own health.

I arrived forty minutes prior to my appointment time. The receptionist handed me a 12-page pamphlet to complete. Among all the other questions, I had to put a dot anywhere I had pain and had to rate each dot on a scale and describe if I was improving or worsening. Paperwork took me almost twenty minutes to complete.

I was roomed fifty minutes after my appointment time. I have been on the opposite end countless times — sick patient, late patient, complicated patient, patient who needs immediate intervention, delivering bad news — all can cause a physician to run off schedule. I empathize and I would never complain. There are few feelings worse than telling someone they have cancer and overhearing someone else at the reception desk complaining their appointment was at xyz time and now it’s past.

The nurse who roomed me asked me everything that I had already filled out on the paperwork. I realize it’s her job to input all that information. But at some point I did remind her everything she was asking me was on the sheet. She seemed annoyed and said “ok” and left the room. I didn’t identify myself as a physician. Maybe she couldn’t read my doctor writing. 

The physician himself was fantastic. Solid introduction, attentive, thorough exam, thorough communication. Was I supposed to notice he was wearing Figs scrubs?! At some point, he figured out I was a physician. Then his lingo changed and he used all medical terminology instead of layman’s terms. He suspects I have some degree of cervical arthropathy after the accident.

He shared pictures, demo models and articles. With “shared decision-making,” we came up with a plan. I told him how I prefer to schedule follow-ups on my half days. He pledged to accommodate me on my half day. We discussed choice of NSAIDs. I’ve been taking Naproxen and he prefers Meloxicam. Ok, will have to get some of that now.

We ended with some general social conversation. All in all, it took two hours from arrival to finish, but I left satisfied from the standpoint of my health.

I want to shout out to my male colleagues. Society makes it seem like women are naturally people-oriented, compassionate and empathetic. The last three male physicians I have had have been nothing short of wonderful. They’ve gone so far as to give me their direct numbers in case I needed anything. The last two female physicians I have seen made me feel invisible (some of you may remember my encounter with a checked out female physician immediately after my accident). I’m all for amplifying women, but let’s amplify the good men too. #HeForShe

I realize I have been blessed with access to care. I know this doctor will accommodate my schedule solely as a professional courtesy. I am lucky but so many are not.

Being a patient as a physician brings to light how many patients struggle with navigating the system. Or getting the care they need. Or patients that don’t understand what the doctor explained to them. Or what their medicines are or supposed to do. Or how to ask for the help they need.

This has been a humbling experience indeed. We as a health system need to do better to truly serve our communities.


  1. Hi Dr. Khan - I'd love to make a connection for you to be a guest on the Quality Talk podcast that I host for Primaris, which is headquartered in Columbia, Mo. The best way to connect is via my email,
    I'm looking forward to it!
    ~ Jodie Jackson Jr.

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