What Makes A Good Doctor? – A Patient’s Perspective

Health and Healthcare CategoryWhy am I writing this article? I admit, even to myself it seems a little random. But a combination of recent events and articles I’ve read lately lead me to write this, my pleading to doctors if you will. Let me brief you.

Recently I wrote Acknowledging Vaccine Concerns. The main point of the article was to note that doctors who acknowledge their patient’s vaccine concerns would help increase the vaccination compliance number more than any other method.

Castlerigg Stone CircleNext, I read an article in BMJ titled, Obsessive compulsive disorder with associated hypochondriasis, which gave a brief account of one woman’s struggle with both of these disorders. She describes her first visit with her current doctor who exhibited so much understanding, concern, and patience that it made me want to move to England just so I could have the same doctor!

And then finally someone close to me, a friend we’ll call Judy, recounted an experience she had with her (former) endocrinologist. Judy was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and after taking medicine to correct the imbalance she started having some unusual (for her) problems such as painful knees and stiff muscles. Along with this, she felt worse then before she started the medicine and her thyroid levels were still not on track. When she tried to gain a clearer understanding of her condition by asking questions about her diagnosis and prognosis, her doctor got angry at her. Judy felt so frustrated because her everyday life was being affected greatly by these issues and her thyroid problem was still not resolved.

All of these “events” led me to really think long and hard about what I need in a doctor, and what I believe most laypeople want. So I’ve made a list. And it is my sincere hope that if others out there disagree with my list or have things to add, that they put in their two-cents worth.

Before I get to my list I want to say something up front. I have had many wonderful doctors. And a good doctor is somewhat like a good vet or a great teacher… they impact you for life and you never, ever forget them. And no one expects a great doctor to be perfect; they have “off” days and bad moods and personal problems. But even in the midst of this, they respect you. And that is number one on my list:

1. Respect: A good doctor respects you. They show you this by listening and responding in a kind manner.

2. Time: A good doctor doesn’t make you feel as if you are one of 20 people she needs to see within the next 2 hours…even though you may be. This doesn’t mean that she sits with you for as long as you want. No, this means that she is present and takes time to address your concerns.

3. Acknowledgment: A good doctor acknowledges your thoughts, opinions and viewpoints. This doesn’t mean that she agrees with them or likes them; instead it means that she respects your point of view enough to seriously address these issues.

4. Understanding: A good doctor realizes that most people are really scared of anything related to doctors and medicine. They are fearful of getting bad news, fearful of not understanding the language used or the tests being run.

5. Knowledge: This one is such as basic necessity that I almost didn’t include it. I think everyone agrees that a doctor needs to be knowledgeable in their field; a good doctor knows their stuff.

I’d like to end with my corny but honest plea to doctors everywhere. I think that this was the basic sentiment — although certainly not the exact words — I was thinking when being prepped for emergency surgery a few years ago:

Please understand that this body you are treating is the only body I have. Please realize that this medical world is yours, not mine. I am a foreigner to all of this so I need you to explain things to me and I need you to help me feel comfortable because it feels vulnerable for my life to be in someone else’s hands.


Harrington, P. (2008). Obsessive compulsive disorder with associated hypochondriasis. BMJ, 336(7652), 1070-1071. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39555.608252.AD

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.
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