One of the things we hope for when we go to the doctor is a definitive diagnosis. If you’ve ever looked at the amount of information med students need to learn, book learn, in two years is utterly amazing. Is it any wonder that even through years of education and training they don’t always have all the answers? Over the years of going to doctors I’ve revamped not only my expectations of my doctors, but I’ve reformulated my view of their stance in the world. The truth is that doctors are only human. They possess all the character flaws the rest of us possess, but they are trained to keep ignorance at bay so that we presume they have all the answers.
One of the things I’ve looked at is what happens when a doctor says “I don’t know”. Many of you may find that statement scary because the doctor should have the answer. I only get scared when they don’t tell me they don’t know and go on treating me for a diagnosis that is unsure. I’d rather give my doctor the elbow room to tell me they didn’t know, without shame or judgment, as long as they are egoless enough to refer me to another doctor that may have more experience or conducts research on people with specific symptomatology. It’s when the ego gets in the way that we’re all at risk for missed diagnoses.
If you have a doctor who says “I don’t know” and “I’d like you to see this doctor” then you should give them a standing ovation because they have potentially saved your life without dispensing any treatment. They are secure in their knowledge and skill to understand that no matter our expertise we all have limits. Understanding and honoring those limits can definitely mean the difference between life and death.
Have you had an experience where a doctor exhausted their own knowledge and sent you on to someone else? How did it work for you? What’s your relationship like with your original doctor?