Once, in my local writer’s group, I shared a fictional (but realistic) story about a speech therapist who is harassed by her (male) patient. Most of the writers in the group felt that the therapist was at fault, because she should keep the conversation strictly professional at all times.
That evening, waves of guilt washed over me. I, like many medical providers, have experienced inappropriate language from patients. And there are other times I’ve failed to keep things professional — when my work stress has bled into my bedside manner, when I’ve been unable to meet the demands of my bosses and patients. Further shame threatened to drown me as I contemplated days when my chronic health condition has hampered my ability to provide care, and moments when my ignorance has led to less-than-stellar treatment. I couldn’t sleep in the whirlpool of memories.
Time for a reality check.
Praying for kindness
Working in the medical profession is teaching me to be more compassionate toward my doctors, nurses, therapists and anyone involved in my care. While medical professionals have moral and ethical responsibilities to their patients, they are also human. Although I may strongly disagree with some medical approaches, I have never worked with a provider who purposefully wanted to harm a patient. I want to show God’s love to those who care for me — even if I don’t like their bedside manner or their proposed plan of care.
An important clarification: truly abusive medical situations do exist, and that situation requires a specialized spiritual approach. This conversation is about when we feel ignored or disagree with a provider’s approach.
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Healthcare has high stakes. As a patient with chronic illness and reproductive disorders, I know well the weight of dead-end appointments. I’ve felt the sting of providers’ mocking remarks about my symptoms. As a woman who menstruates, I feel deeply out of place navigating a medical field designed by men for men’s bodies.
But too often I find myself grumbling and gossiping about my medical providers. Maybe it’s time for me to give them the same respect I want my patients to give to me.
If Jesus could be kind to the soldiers who nailed him to the cross — “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34) — then I can be kind to another nurse who writes derogatory comments in my medical chart, or another doctor who dismisses my symptoms, or another OBGYN who refuses to treat me if I insist on menstruating.
I’m praying to become a kinder patient. When I go to an appointment, I want to see my providers through Jesus’s eyes. Compassionate eyes.
The dignity of medical providers
Evidence based practice isn’t always clear. Sometimes research provides conflicting (or not enough) evidence. Sometimes what works for one patient doesn’t work for another. Sometimes “best practice” is overturned and we have to learn how to do our jobs in a whole new way.
I’ve had to make a few “U-turns” in my treatment approach as new research has revealed my old methods weren’t as effective or as positive as I was trained to believe. Sometimes I have to leave behind the treatments I feel confident to provide, learning instead new skills to provide more up-to-date, evidence-based care. It’s a humbling experience.
If a medical practitioner’s treatments negatively affect my health or the health of someone I love — even in dangerous ways — I try to remember that the medical worker is only human, like me, and their intentions are good. Of course, I advocate for myself (and, when appropriate, my loved ones) to receive better care, but advocacy doesn’t need to compromise the dignity of the medical provider. One person’s dignity should not be at the expense of another’s.
Speaking from experience, medical providers often work long, demanding shifts. Working eight hours (or more) without a proper meal or bathroom break is not rare. If a provider seems brusque, dismissive or rude, I need to pray for them to feel listened to and cared for.
On the flip side, when a provider listens respectfully and provides excellent care, I let them know. When possible, I leave a note through the facility’s official recognition program, which alerts their supervisors. As a speech therapist, I value patient praise more than the highest professional accolades.
A simple prayer
St. Pope John Paul II’s sermons on the theology of the body teach me that I should value the whole person — no matter how they treat me — because their worth does not come from the quality of their service.
Sister, I’ve been there. Medical appointments can be disappointing, infuriating and downright dehumanizing. The next time we feel angry at the doctor’s office, let’s take a moment to pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on [my doctor/therapist/nurse], a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, teach me to have mercy on my medical providers. You love and respect them, so I can too.