The Heart of a Teacher

May 1, 2013 in Patient Input

x-ray of hands and wrists

By Dana Symons

I had an appointment with my rheumatologist this week.  As I was sitting in the waiting room watching the TV screen of scrolling information, I noticed something that I hadn’t known before: All of our physicians are faculty at the University’s College of Human Medicine.  This struck me as something positive, and I thought it was great that my doctor was helping to train new physicians.

Later on, I began to think of a phrase used by personal finance guru, Dave Ramsey.  He always says that he endorses financial professionals who have the heart of a teacher rather than the heart of a salesperson.  After all, you want somebody who is willing to take the time to help you understand your investment options, lest you end up putting a sum of money into something you don’t even comprehend.

I realized that I want to have the same out of my doctors, especially my rheumatologist.  I want my doctor to have the heart of a teacher—to be willing to explore things with me so we both understand them, to answer my questions and to help equip me with the information that I need to make good decisions – lest I take treatments I know nothing about for a condition  I don’t comprehend.  I think that every great teacher, at his core, is a perpetual student – and good doctors will continue to learn as much from their own patients as they do from published research.

What does a doctor on the opposite end of the spectrum look like?  I’m going to call him the doctor with the heart of a statistician.  What I mean by that is that he looks at each patient in the context of the “average patient”.  Individuals that deviate too far from the “average” are considered outliers.  Outliers tend to get ignored, disregarded or shrugged off.  With rheumatoid disease there truly is vast variance between patient experiences, so expecting everyone’s disease to act like the “average” patient seems rather nonsensical—and it is devastating to those patients who get tossed aside because their doctors don’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t fit inside their box.

I will end with a good story, though.  I realized this week that my doctor truly does have the heart of a teacher, as he took the time to explain in detail some of the benefits and drawbacks to infusion options he would consider for me down the road – not at all talking down to me, but speaking to me as a peer.  He also showed me the x-ray images of my wrists and pointed out exactly where he saw damage, what kind of damage it was and how it appeared on the x-ray.  He even took the time to pull up an image of a healthy wrist so I could see a comparison.  He helped me to understand what he was seeing and be properly informed so that together we can make good decisions about my care.