Being a Child of Doctors Taught Me How to Advocate for My Health

Women are sometimes dismissed in medical settings. My parents empowered me to fight for myself.

I’m lucky to be the child of doctors for all sorts of reasons. One of them is that my parents knew how to take care of various sicknesses and medical issues that affect young kids — when they should worry and when they didn’t need to. Another is that as I grew older, they taught me how to advocate for my health and navigate the medical system as a non-professional.

That’s certainly not the case for everyone. Many people get intimidated in medical settings, don’t know what questions to ask, or go along with what a doctor says even in cases when they should push back. Several studies show that doctors often dismiss women’s pain, such as a study of 981 emergency room patients that demonstrated that women with acute abdominal pain were 13 percent to 25 percent less likely to get powerful pain killers than men. For Black women, the bias against hearing them may be even more pronounced — a study by the National Institutes of Health found that healthcare providers were less likely to identify pain the the faces of Black patients. 

When I was younger, my parents found good doctors, brought me to appointments, and took care of everything. But as I got older, I started going to doctor’s offices on my own. I had to deal with my own medical challenges, like anemia and severe menstrual bleeding, by myself and learn how to make sure my health needs were being met. My parents taught me that I was the only expert in my own symptoms and needs. And I had to communicate them effectively with doctors that I encountered over the course of my life. That’s the way I could ensure that I was getting the best care possible. 

Here are five tips to keep you in mind as you navigate healthcare spaces. Of course, be sure to check in with yourself and trusted healthcare providers in your own medical journey. 

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Talking to Doctors Healthcare Providers

1. Preventative care is still care

You may think that your health is invincible, but no one is immune to health challenges. Block out time in your calendar is set reminders to ensure that you get your routine exams done, which may include physical and wellness exams, dental exams, and eye check-ups. As you get older, check with your doctor about getting diabetes screenings, mammograms, skin checks, and bone density tests.

These appointments are also a great time to check in with your doctor about any changes in your medical history or get routine blood work done to check for things like your A1C, iron, cholesterol, lipid panel, and more depending on your family history or prior symptoms. Routine blood work was one of the ways that I was able to figure out the cause of my reduced energy levels and endurance, which was caused by anemia due to menstrual bleeding. Thankfully, bloodwork was one of the things we used to figure out what could be contributing to my symptoms.

2. Know your medical, surgical, and symptom history

Whether you’re following up with your regular doctor or seeing a specialist, it’s important to know your own medical and surgical history, family history of conditions, and a list of concerns or topics you want to discuss. You can’t advocate for your own health, if you don’t know your current state. It helps to have a written list of medications, past surgeries, and health concerns so you can easily share them with your doctor and give a copy to your doctor’s offices, especially if you switch providers or are going to a new clinic. 

3. Vocalize your needs and questions

Healthcare settings can be intimidating, especially if you’re processing new information or don’t know the intricacies of the appointment or exam you’re having. Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations like the option to bring a support person, if allowed, or a fact sheet about a new medication, treatment, or recommendation. 

The field of medicine can be full of jargon that’s hard to understand. If your doctor is describing conditions, symptoms, or medications that you’re not familiar with, ask clarifying questions in the moment to ensure that you have all the information you need. For example, when my doctor goes over the bloodwork, I ask my doctor to explain what the acronyms mean. If a number is too high or too low, I’ll ask about what diet or lifestyle choices affect that.

Switching Doctors Healthcare Providers

4. Understand what’s covered by your insurance 

To advocate for your health, it really helps to know what won’t come straight out of your bank account. Call your insurance provider to ask what clinics, prescriptions, services, and exams are usually covered, and when you can typically expect to pay out of pocket. You can also confirm that a practitioner or clinic takes your insurance by checking their website or calling ahead. I usually start by looking online to see what preventative services I’m able to receive, which are usually covered entirely, and then decide what other exams and prescriptions I am considering.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion

Your care should work for you and your needs, but you can only get what you ask for. If you’re unsure about the recommendation from a practitioner, it’s fine to see another provider. These reasons can be personal, like if you wanted to see a practitioner with a shared demographic trait or someone who simply makes you feel heard because of how they respond to your questions. I look for providers who don’t only focus on diagnosing me, but instead focus on understanding my symptoms, asking about my mental health as much as my physical health, and explaining the long-term effects of treatments and medications.

If you want to see a doctor or health practitioner who understands your lived experience, works near you, or simply makes you feel heard, it’s totally OK to go look for someone who can help you meet your healthcare needs and goals. If you’re not in a setting where you feel comfortable to speak up, important details might be overlooked or missed entirely. You just may need to switch providers if your needs aren’t being met.

Ultimately, your health needs and care will continue to evolve, but you will always be your own biggest advocate.

Aleenah Ansari
Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who's rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. Read more
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