I haven’t always been able to speak up for myself with my GP. If you’re anything like me you’ve been raised to believe that the GP, like the priest or the policeman, are above you – to be respected and obeyed without question. So often I heard my parents saying, ‘They’re the doctor!’, in reverential tones and then unquestioningly following the advice.
It has taken me quite a while to understand that this power dynamic works to my disadvantage. Yes, my GP is the medical professional; yes, they are the one with the knowledge; yes, I need their help. However, it’s also true that I’m paying them. I have my own understanding of what’s going on in my body, and most importantly of all I am the one in charge of my health (as much as anyone can be).
I think getting a handle on this power dynamic with the GP is the cornerstone for being able to advocate for yourself. The second essential is having a good relationship with one regular GP. Finding someone that you like, that you trust, and that you are at ease with makes speaking up for yourself so much easier.
Finding the right GP can be hard. I have had to trial a few in my time. When you find a good one, stick to them! I still go to a GP who was my local when I lived in an entirely different suburb. For me, it’s worth the forty minutes by bus to maintain that good relationship, where I can speak frankly about my health, and where I can trust what they say to me.
Here is a short guide to finding the right person, and ensuring that you’re heard once you’re there:
Step one – Choose the right practice. Find a practice that is close to where you live, has facilities you want (e.g. a practice nurse or a treatment room) and most importantly, has a variety of appointment lengths. If you want to be heard and you have multiple health issues, they can’t all be dealt with in seven minutes. My GP practice offers brief, standard, and long appointments. That means I can choose the right length appointment to ensure that I have time to discuss what I need.
Step two – Choose the right GP. Find someone that you click with. Don’t be embarrassed to see someone once and then ask for a different GP the next time you come in. Keep going until you find someone you’re happy with.
Step three – Always bring a list. Think of all the things you want to talk about, and make sure that you put them in priority order. This ensures that the most important points definitely get covered. It’s also worth asking the doctor if they have anything they are concerned about with your health. They are the professional, and you are there to seek the help.
Step four – Book the right appointment length for what you need. If you want to be respected by your GP, you need to respect them as well. So, if you have multiple needs, book a long appointment. This will give you a better chance of getting your needs being met, and maintain a good relationship.
Step five – Practice asking why. “Why this test?” or “Why this drug and not another?” If it’s done in the spirit of respect and trying to understand what’s going on, then a good GP will give you good answers.
In the end it’s also good to remember that we are all just human. We all have our good days and our bad days and so does your GP. Not every interaction will run smoothly, but luckily, there’s always a next time!
This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.
To book your first call visit: https://my.efriend.org.au/preregistration/