Watch the Video: Filmed at a Skills for Healing Retreat, Dr. Rob Rutledge, Oncologist and Associate Professor of Medicine, provides a practical and integrated approach to a breast cancer diagnosis. Includes how to get the best care from the medical system, and the scientifically proven healthy habits and healing techniques.
Blog by Dr. Rob Rutledge
“My Doctor is a Jerk” and other unhelpful thoughts about the medical system
Late on the Friday evening of the weekend retreat, in the Q+A portion of my ‘Complete Cancer Care’ lecture, attendees frequently bring up their frustrations with the medical system. We hear stories about delays in making the diagnosis, incredibly insensitive comments from physicians, and people feeling like they are being pushed along a conveyer belt of physical care. We could discuss what’s wrong with the system and how to make it better for hours. Instead, I try to impart a wise and effective approach to getting the best possible care which will serve the attendees for the rest of their lives.
First, it’s best to acknowledge the emotions that emerge when contemplating the medical system. It’s normal to be angry or upset with inappropriate behavior or poor care provided by your health care team. Working with emotions and underlying core beliefs is essential for psychological growth. Holding onto resentment and frustration from the past only drains us of our life energy in the present.
Second, is a simple teaching: Take action when appropriate and let go or reframe the rest. (There’s a whole section of our book on reframing.) Practically, this means that if you’ve received poor care, you can choose to write a letter to a patient advocate in the hospital, or the responsible government member, or even the licensing college of the health care provider in question. For gross malpractice, your speaking up may result in a change that will protect other people from a similar outcome in the future. If you’re going to blow the whistle, do it now, and move on. However, for most situations, you’d probably be better off focusing your energy on healing – and learning how to work the health care system for your own benefit.
Let’s take the example that your cancer doctor has poor communication skills and/or gives you the impression of being arrogant. The thought comes to your mind “My doctor is a jerk.” The first decision is whether you need to change physicians (if it’s possible) which you would do by asking your family doctor or the nurse at the cancer centre to make a referral to another doctor. It’s uncommon that this is the best approach, but if you really think your physical care is compromised or if you’ve lost trust in your physician, be proactive and find another doctor. If you decide to remain with your doctor, it would be best to reframe the thought “My doctor is a jerk.”
If you can recognize this automatic thought coming to mind, you can begin asking yourself the reframing questions.
What emotions follow this way of thinking? Anger, frustration. Also – depending on the core beliefs that underlie the thought, such as “Doctors shouldn’t be jerks” or “I shouldn’t have to deal with arrogant physicians, my illness is bad enough” – other feelings like helplessness may be provoked.
What happens to your body with this thought? Likely a stress reaction or a depressed state.
Is it helpful or harmful to think this way? Harmful. These thoughts don’t help you get what you need. In fact, you may be sending him vibes that you think he’s a jerk, to which he would react, creating a vicious cycle of deteriorating communication.
Is it exaggerated or irrational? Labeling people causes us to think of the person as their label and nothing else. “He’s a jerk” sound like he’s a total jerk 100% of the time which likely isn’t true. Labelling is a cognitive distortion resulting in overgeneralization or ‘black and white’ thinking.
To reframe use a kind and rational voice: Your doctor is a human being. He has his strengths and weaknesses. Almost all cancer specialists go to international conferences to make sure they are delivering the best possible physical care to their patients. Your doctor may not have good communication skills but it’s your responsibility to try to get the best care from what he has to offer. Don’t look to your physician to be your spiritual advisor. Instead, figure out how to work with him, and get your questions answered by being persistent or by another one of the team members. Tap into other resources (like talking to a nutritionist or going to a support group) by asking your nurse about what’s available. You can empower your body, settle your mind, and facilitate healing in many other ways outside of the medical system – including reading this blog.
Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad.
Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.
In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.