I posted a completely unscientific poll on my Facebook page recently asking a simple (but maybe complicated) question: do you think that your doctor/specialist needs to have personally experienced a disorder to effectively or compassionately treat you for it? Does your answer change based on the type of specialty/disorder? The answer on my page, unsurprisingly, was overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly, NO, a doctor needs to have experience treating a disease or disorder, but does not need experience treating it (exception: pregnancy; best if an OB has experienced pregnancy and delivery if they are going to be a woman’s OB…. I vehemently disagree as nearly all my ob/gyn’s have been male except the ones who have been hoisted on me by virtue of who has been on call at delivery time, but that’s another story and falls outside the confines of “microblog” Mondays).
Interestingly, if you pose the same question in a disorder-specific forum (say, migraines, or infertility), you get the polar opposite answer: migraneurs feel overwhelmingly that neurologists must have direct, personal experience with having migraines and infertiles… while not an overwhelming majority, still have a small margin on the side of the majority who at least feel that fertility specialists who have at least some personal connection with infertility (a family member or close friend who has struggled with infertility) makes for a better physician. Personally, I find this to be an extremely curious thing – and probably based solely on confirmation bias and nothing else. The problem is that we all have an extremely small sample size -those of us who have had wonderful physicians without personal disease experience will argue vociferously for the side of not needing direct personal experience, but rather a great deal of treatment experience; but those of us who have had compassionate doctors who have shared personal stories will argue that this is what made them know that this was the doctor for them.
But when you apply this logic to other diseases, the logic starts to break down. Do you require that your neurosurgeon have had a brain tumor or aneurysm in order to operate on yours; or that your general surgeon have had pancreatic cancer (which will surely kill him, as it has a very low survival rate) or an appendectomy (which requires very little empathy on his or her part but does require the raw technical skill of a surgeon); do you require your anesthesiologist to have undergone general anesthesia before s/he puts you under? These may seem ridiculous questions, but if they do, then why do patients insist that a neurologist must have experienced a migraine before they are qualified to treat a migraine?
What about you – do you think your doctor needs to have experience suffering from [migraines/infertility/other] in order to treat you and is there any specific disorder for which you think there is an exception?
[yes, I realize that was nine sentences and that I cheated by using a lot of semi-colons to make for run-on sentences; WORK WITH ME HERE!]