What makes a great Doctor

As a cancer patient who has fibromyalgia, I have been to my fair share of doctors. In my cancer treatment year I logged over 2,000 miles in my little red corolla going to doctors appointments, and my doctors were no farther than 7 miles away! Yikes!

Going through something like cancer can be really scary, we unfortunately have to rely on other people (doctors and nurses) to guide us through our battle. We can’t do this without them. Even when we are vigilant and advocate for ourselves, sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. Which doctor you get and how well they treat you. But if you have to have the mindset that you are putting together “your Team” and that you are in control of who is on your Team, and that they should know that they are lucky to be there. Doctors should not only know everything there is to know in their field they should also have a great bedside manner. Doctors must have both of these qualities if you are to trust them with your life.

When I was in my 20’s I had a dear friend go through cancer treatment, and one of the things I learned from seeing her go through this was that we all need to stand up for ourselves and demand better treatment from our doctors. And if they fail to give us the best possible care it’s in our right to FIRE them and find another doctor. (I realize I am fortunate and live outside a major city with lots of doctor’s to choose from.)

What a Bad Doctor is….

I once had a doctor who told me some bad news and then after seeing my reaction said rather flippantly, “I see you have a problem with that”. Can you believe it? Fired!  I once had an ultrasound scheduled on a religious holiday, and because my last name did not look like I would be needing to celebrate that holiday- they took patients before me- who were scheduled After me! Did I mention they made me drink a ton of water and not pee for the ultrasound? I couldn’t believe it- I was in a lot of pain. The nurse did confess what was going on and apologized. But, needless to say I never went back there.

What a Great Doctor is….

Let me tell you about some great doctors…

Great doctors put their patients first before their egos. Dr. Robyn Sachs was my breast surgeon, (here’s an interview with Dr.Sachs)on youtube.com. Dr. Sachs did my initial surgeries and diagnosis at Winchester Hospital (small hospital outside of Boston) And she said several things that made me like her. One- that I would be a fool if I didn’t go to Dana Farber, 10 miles down the street for a second opinion. Two- That if she was me, she would go get a DIEP flap at Beth Israel in Boston. That she had seen the plastic surgeon’s work and that is what she thinks would be my best outcome because I was 33 years old and I had a lot of living to do.  She recommended that I go somewhere else -not because she wasn’t qualified but because they didn’t perform the complicated 10 hour long immediate reconstruction surgery that would give me my best outcome. She put me First. I recently went to a breast cancer conference where I went to a reconstruction workshop with cutting edge plastic surgeon- and even 4 years later with all of the advances – what Robyn Sachs did for me- still stands true. It WAS the best choice for me. I listened to the other women who were in shock because in hindsight they saw how they were never offered the options for plastic surgery like I was. I stayed with Dr. Sachs even though she didn’t do my double mastectomy surgery throughout my treatments because I wanted her on my team and I wanted her checking in on me.

Another example of a great Doctor, was Dr. Richard Heidbreder ,(click on his name, great story about him)my radiation oncologist. When I first met with him, I was so overwhelmed and my head was spinning. I had started chemo, I needed to know if I needed radiation and what plastic surgeries I really could do after my radiation treatment. All the doctors were telling me I couldn’t do a DIEP flap reconstruction (where they basically take your stomach and make you new breasts) because I was going to be radiated. And I wanted to know, why not? Dr. Heidbreider was the only doctor that took the time to tell me the physiology of it and why it wasn’t a good idea. He also explained the risks if I didn’t go through radiation. That I had a 30% chance of having the cancer come back. He never patronized me, he took his time to explain everything fully and answer all my questions. He never acted in a rush (even though I knew he was busy). He always had kindness and an optimism and a smile to share even though he was going through his own struggles. This is an example of a great doctor. I never knew he had a reputation for being a great doctor to other patients until after he died from ALS. The world has lost a great man.

dr richard heidbreder winchester hospital great doctor

Dr. Heidbreder sitting with a former patient (pic from Boston Globe)

And last, but not least, Dr. Beverly Bowker, my oncologist with Winchester Hospital. You will not find a kinder, more generous or smarter doctor. She not only treats you for your cancer- she is keeping your whole body in mind- she is a great internist. She is always up on the latest findings and medications. Even when she hasn’t seen you for a couple of months- she tells the nurse to call and check up on you. Who does that? She is the only doctor I have ever patiently waited 2 hours past my appointment time to see. I figure- if she is not in the room and she is running late for her appointments there is a really good reason. She is saving lives- she saved mine once. Now it’s someone elses’ turn to have Dr Bowker’s focus. Once she is in the exam room – her attention is undivided. She’s all yours. And what a Dr to have on your team!

So -if I could leave you with one thought- put yourself first. Don’t worry about a doctor’s feelings- make the best decision for yourself and get great doctors on Your Team. And if they are not good to you, Fire them!