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When Doctors Seem Dismissive

I intentionally titled this post, “when doctors seem dismissive” rather when doctors are dismissive. Most doctors are anything but dismissive. Overall, my doctors have been great, and this post is not intended to be a criticism of any doctor in particular.

Some, maybe even most doctors, appear to be dismissive from time to time for a whole host of reasons.

Perception matters.

No matter how great your doctor is or isn’t, one of the things you remember most later on is how he/she listened or did not listen to you. And of course, being dismissive isn’t exactly the same thing as not listening, but they are closely tied.

Having a doctor who is competent is vital, but having one who listens to you and is not dismissive is also important.

After first ruling out a heart attack the day I went to the ER, the attending physician went on, though unintentionally, to dismiss my chest pain. After a brief discussion during which I was reassured that more than likely my pain was nothing, the doctor left the ER room with almost a flippant attitude (perceived by me to be anyway), patting my legs and saying something like, these kinds of aches and pains happen to people our age.

Needless to say, I soon began feeling a little embarrassed and then guilty as co-payment costs and dollar signs starting flashing through my mind. He meant no harm. I knew he was merely trying to lighten the mood and make me feel better, but he didn’t lighten the mood, and I did not feel better.

It seemed he was being dismissive.

Then, there was the comment often made, again with purely good intent, by so many on my healthcare team. I can’t tell you how many times during/following appointments, before surgeries and all through treatment I heard the words, you’ll be fine.

Again, this was a completely innocent remark which was supposed to be comforting to hear, but I found it to have the exact opposite effect.

It felt dismissive.

No one knew things were going to be fine. Saying so felt dismissive, as if my fears were being brushed aside. Even Dear Hubby sometimes remarked on this very thing.

And many times, I might add, his feelings as the caregiver were dismissed entirely, or so it seemed to him.

The day I learned I was going to be having chemotherapy was one of those times when I lost it. I mean, totally lost it. Right there in the exam room.

When I announced to my oncologist (yes, rather dramatically), something along the lines of, I’d rather have a dozen more surgeries than undergo chemotherapy; he didn’t say anything, but gave me a look that said, come on lady, get a grip.

Again, it felt as if my fears were being dismissed. I was terrified, and for some reason, I wanted him to understand this. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever did.

Later, following each infusion, my health status was monitored, of course, along with all the necessary markers and such. In addition, I would be given an opportunity to inform my team of any side effects I was experiencing. While admittedly, my side effects were mild in comparison to those some experience, nonetheless, I sometimes felt they were too quickly dismissed. They weren’t as bad as they could have been, therefore, I didn’t feel comfortable “complaining” too much, and so I didn’t.

I felt dismissed.

More recently, I received what to me was upsetting news about my bone health. The side effects of my ongoing adjuvant hormonal therapy have raised some pretty intense havoc on my body. The side effects of this treatment are real, unpleasant and serious, and this time, I did not so easily allow them to be dismissed.

The difference now is that I no longer keep quiet. Since my mother’s cancer and now my own, I have a lot of experience from the cancer patient’s vantage point. I now express, or try to express, exactly how I feel about things to my doctor. I don’t allow my concerns to be so easily dismissed anymore.

I think I’ve earned this right, but I don’t think any of us should have to “earn it.”

A patient should never feel dismissed.

When patients are feeling sick, (due to any cause) they are often also feeling vulnerable. When you’re feeling vulnerable, self-advocating is harder, perhaps even impossible at times. Sometimes, it’s easier to allow your thoughts, feelings, symptoms, fears or worries to be dismissed.

If you’re a caregiver, you might feel as if your feelings or fears don’t matter as much or even at all, so you keep quiet and allow them to be dismissed.

Anyone who is part of a medical team can be tremendously helpful to patients, no matter what the situations are, by merely acknowledging their patients’ feelings, pain, reaction to medications, fears, symptoms, emotional well-being or whatever it might be.

In addition, the importance of acknowledging the feelings of the caregiver cannot be emphasized enough either.

I understand. I know this must be hard. I hear you. I want to help. I wish I could change this. I’m sorry about your pain. I don’t blame you for being frightened. I’m listening. I care.

Such simple and empathetic words would mean so much to most patients and to most caregivers as well during times of illness or injury.

From a patient’s point of view, or at least from this patient’s, having a doctor who listens to your fears, understands your worries, acknowledges your pain and does not dismiss your concerns means an awful lot.

Sometimes it means everything.

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Have you ever felt “dismissed” by a doctor or someone else on your care team?

What matters most to you about your doctor/patient relationship?

What’s something (good or bad) a doctor said to you that made an impact?

What do you do when your #doctor seems dismissive? #sideeffects #cancer #chemotherapy #advocacy #womenshealth #caregiver

Carmen. Gerardo

Tuesday 30th of July 2019

Great info i have lymphedema now going 20 yrs .i hate it but im alive .i live in california when the weather is hot my arm gets bigger . i wear a compression garment boy it is hot. Last yr i tore my rotater cup the lymphedema arm no surgery no relife i needhelp the morethe fluid fills the tears get bigger. Any suggestions. From anyone. Good luck everyone ❤

Alison T. Gibson

Friday 21st of August 2020

You know, Carmen, I am having a problem that is similar in that the more doctors dismiss my concerns and actual experience of body-alerts (like pain and unusual visual symptoms), the more I start to panic that I will be left to slowly die of my condition rather than get relief that is most likely available somewhere out there, being hidden by the egos of routine-only doctors. You know, get the status with minimal effort. It would almost make one want to call the ambulance and be unresponsive so the doctors are forced to check for any abnormalities and attend to them. But because that is dishonest, it's not an option. It feels like taking your car to a mechanic and starting to tell him your problem with the car and he interrupts and says, listen, I'll put in a new radiator and you can see if that helps. If not, come back in a year. Then he charges you $600.00 and if you go back sooner, you will be listed as hysterical. Anyway, with a torn rotator cuff, your quality of life is severely reduced. I don't know how the author of this article can be so dismissive... like, I am writing a medical advice article but can't for the life of me understand what a person with LE and a torn rotator cuff could possibly do for relief. Jesus. I will do a little bit more than the author offered you and that is to seek the help of a healthcare ombudsman. Check out the services of an ombudsman, and if you get any dismissive Doctors in the future, the Medical Board of your state is urging anyone to report these doctors. It's simply unacceptable and should never require an ounce of effort on the part of the paying customer (conveniently called patients in this field) to be skilled at prompting them to do their damned jobs. You lost 20 years of life by having to panic before doing daily tasks, such as putting on your bra, to say the least, where you didn't have to even have but temporary trouble in the first place.


Wednesday 31st of July 2019

Carmen, Sorry to hear about your LE, the rotary cuff tear and that you're not finding relief. I can't offer any medical advice for your situation, but I hope you find someone who can help. You deserve relief.

One-eyed tasteless numbskull

Wednesday 27th of February 2019

So, last week I go to the neurologist's office for an initial consult to investigate the possibility of a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leak post brain tumor resection. These symptoms had been plaguing me for 3 years, and now that I'm finally done paying (through the nose) for the resection, I might actually be able to investigate this issue.

The PA listened as I outlined my symptoms: clear fluid drainage from primarily the left nostril when up and active, fluid build up in the right ear causing hearing loss, neck pain that won't go away, and daily bouts of intense nausea.

The first thing out of the PA's mouth was "Well I don't think that you have what you think you do."

This sentiment was repeated two more times over the course of 10 minutes.

My thoughts and concerns were dismissed immediately. Why?

One missing symptom: headache.

Now, as I explained to the PA at the time, the neurosurgeon who performed the resection of the tumor also nicked the nerve bundle that the tumor was growing around, thus causing the right front quadrant of my head to be appx. 95% numb forever. I don't think I can even have a headache now.

I was still met with "Well I don't believe it's ..."

I won't be going back there. Ever.

In fact, I'll probably just forego any further healthcare period. I'm done with doctors and the medical/industrial complex, and I will not feed that beast ever again in this life.


Wednesday 1st of August 2018

This was my recent experience. My doctor said I had to go to the ER because of numbness in the right side of my face and an incident I described as a vivid, half-awake dream, and she said was a hallucination. I go to the ER, because she said I absolutely had to go. The doctor there rushes in before I am fully dressed in my hospital gown, before I have put my things away. She starts by asking my symptoms, and then becomes angry with me for not answering an unasked question about which doctor I had seen. (Use your words, maybe?) Then she becomes angry when she places both hands on my body and asks me to press against "this hand". I do not know which hand is "this hand". Again, using words would be nice. She wouldn't let me finish about my actual complaint and kept saying, "So, besides the numbing, what's wrong?" I mean... nothing? I went in for the numbing. She also said that the thing the other doctor said was a hallucination was a dream. So, I don't know, which is it? Then she said that me being anxious about the symptoms caused the symptoms, even though I wasn't worried about them until after they happened. But apparently time is no longer linear, I somehow caused myself to go numb on the right side by being anxious about it from the future. She didn't do any different tests than the clinic did. The clinic that said that these test were inadequate. Then she said I probably didn't have anything because of my age and because I'm relatively fit (I'm a hiker). Well, cool. Probably nothing, then. Great! Of course, my other doctor thought it was possibly something. But, hey, probably is good enough. Then she said I was anxious. I said I was only there because the doctor told me to be and if she didn't think it was anything I was happy to go home. In the hall, I heard her sarcastically talking about me and saying I was "adamant" that a doctor sent me. Well, yes, lady, because you were rude and dismissive before I even described my symptoms. I also had bloodwork come back positive for some things, but she wasn't interested in letting me explain that, or my medical history. But, ya know, she left by saying I could have freaking MS and that she doesn't do anything with MS. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool. That's fine. That's fine. You're fine. That's fine. That's fine. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. I'll probably get charged like $1500 or more for those 15 minutes of condescending nastiness, too. And now I can tell my doctor that we still don't know. I'm done. I literally would rather this be a serious thing and die than ever go back again. Worthless waste of time from quacks with egos. Oh, but at least I got asked if I smoked about 950 times. Because it's impossible to share records and document something, I guess.


Thursday 2nd of August 2018

Carrie, I'm sorry you were treated so badly. That's not so unacceptable.


Saturday 31st of March 2018

My breast surgeon completely validated my feelings and my level of intelligence when, after receiving an OncotypeDX score of 24 (a mid range where the value of chemotherapy was considered murky, at best) I told her (without first hearing her opinion) that I had already chosen not to pursue the chemo. Her words to me were - “I agree and accept your decision.” I felt like I was in charge of my care, even if she would have ultimately said the same thing - I got to say it first.


Monday 2nd of April 2018

Leann, Sounds like your oncologist is a gem. Thanks for sharing.


Saturday 13th of August 2016

I was recently diagnosed with Stage2 grade 3 er/pr + Her2 negative I had a mastectomy. I had follow up appointment with oncologist to discuss my treatment plan...but it was not really a discussion..she mater a factly stated we will start you on Arimedex. For 10 chemotherapy. I should be happy with her decision no chemotherapy but I am concerned about micrometasties-She wasn't willing to discuss because the oncotype test came back low risk.When I question that it did not make sense because the tumor was grade 3 she said why would we do the test if we didn't go by the results...basically she just shut me down. I am seeking a second opinion


Saturday 13th of August 2016

Patricia, If you feel shut down and not listened to, definitely get a second opinion. Good luck.

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