Why Doctors Deserve Compassion Too
Throughout my advocacy work, I have heard and even promoted the importance of healthcare professionals (HCPs) being compassionate towards those living with eczema. This is mainly regarding HCPs understanding our needs, providing treatment options that align with our health goals, and considering the impact that eczema has on our day-to-day lives.
While this remains significant and vital in the patient-to-healthcare provider relationship, it's also important that that same level of compassion we expect, we give in return. Here's why...
We blame our doctors
I grew up blaming my doctors for not providing me with the treatment options and resources that I thought would have benefited my healing from eczema. I was given one to two treatment options and zero resources on how I could best manage my condition. In fact, every doctor's appointment was the same - sit in the waiting room for 10 minutes, see my doctor for less than 5 minutes, walk away with the same prescription drug that was given to me months before. Sounds frustrating, right?
It wasn't until I began learning how to advocate for myself that I felt confident to ask for what I wanted and needed. I, and only I, can stand fully responsible for my health - not my doctors.
Our doctor's don't know everything
Contrary to popular beliefs, doctors don't know it all (and I don't mean that in a degrading way). It's just impossible for all doctors and healthcare providers to become experts in all chronic conditions, including eczema.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a renowned doctor was to find a dermatologist who specializes and is an expert specifically in atopic dermatitis/eczema — one who has chosen to dedicate their lives and careers to bettering this community.
Many dermatologists focus on cosmetic treatment
I was in shock when that doctor told me that most dermatologists are more interested in cosmetic dermatology - skin treatment for aesthetic purposes like smoothing wrinkles, tightening up "sagging" skin, and correcting skin tone and texture - not the treatment of chronic illnesses. (A Dermatology Market Overview posted in 2013 claims that 60% of dermatologists are general dermatologists, with cosmetic dermatology being the second highest at 20%. I could not find information on the percentage of dermatologists specializing in atopic dermatitis/eczema.)1
It made complete sense to me. I began reflecting on all the "wrong" doctors I possibly went to growing up simply because they were considered (general) dermatologists while not taking their specialty into account.
There isn't enough research on eczema
One of the main reasons many doctors are not trained to diagnose and treat eczema patients properly is that they aren't given enough education on the topic. Although I couldn't find any statistics on how many medical books mentioned or discussed eczema, I do have a sibling and close friends who are doctors who noted that they spent anywhere from 1 to 3 days discussing eczema during every year of medical school. (Dermatologists specializing in skin illnesses are suspected to have spent more time on this topic.)
As someone who has lived with eczema for almost 30 years, I can't say that I feel comfortable trusting just any doctor in treating my condition if they only spent 5-7 days learning about it.
In addition, an estimate of 4.5% of images in general medicine textbooks shows conditions on darker skin.2 Being solely trained to diagnose skin conditions on white skin could be a reason why many people of color living with eczema are misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed.
So what does this information tell us?
Doctors are humans
It's important to see our doctors as human beings. They are people who are perfectly imperfect, just like us. They also can make mistakes or may not know all of the information necessary to treat our condition.
Not all dermatologists are eczema experts
From what other professionals have told me, it is challenging to find a doctor who specializes specifically in the treatment of atopic dermatitis/eczema. You increase your chances of getting the treatment you need when you find the "right" doctor for you.
Research is happening now
With atopic dermatitis being a "hot topic" nowadays, there is a lot of research taking place to support doctors, caregivers, and patients in better understanding their condition. This is another reason why we must have compassion for HCPs - eczema has not been studied and researched intensively the way it is now.
(Most) doctors have good intentions
Regardless of if a doctor misdiagnoses you or if you are receiving the treatment you desire, it's important to approach every situation with the intention that doctors want the best for us. They want us to heal and get better. When we approach our doctors with this compassionate-based mentality, we can then co-create a relationship where both the patient and the doctor learn and thrive together.
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