6 Ways To Advocate For Yourself At the Doctor's Office

Because they don't always listen to us.

We are taught to see doctors as ultimate authorities on our own bodies, but they are not infallible.

They see a steady stream of patients per day and often want to give you the quickest fix possible to get the next one in the door. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve been talked down to or flat out not listened to by doctors.

Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, and ableism are well-documented in patients' experiences of medical care, which can make it exceedingly difficult to get treatment if you are multiply marginalized.

You know your body best and you are the authority on what it needs.

You are in charge of your own treatment; doctors are consultants that you pay for expert advice. If you don’t like their advice, fire them! Ask for a different doctor!

I know this may be impossible in some cases due to health insurance issues or a lack of access, so hopefully these tips can help you finagle what you want out of your doc.


1. Research, research, research

Knowledge is power. You are in charge of your own treatment and you can only steer the ship if you know what you’re facing.

Dig on Google scholar for studies in peer-reviewed journals. Find everything you can about your condition, medications, and possible treatments.

Read reviews and accounts from other people, but take these with a grain of salt, especially regarding medication. This is anecdotal evidence and everyone’s experience is different.

2. Keep a Journal

Document your symptoms and side effects between visits so you can refer to them. It’s often hard to remember these things in the moment.

Apps like Daylio, Emoods, and Manage My Pain are helpful because they remind you daily to make a journal entry and automatically create charts you can show your doctor.

3. Make A List (Or A Few)

Compile some facts and stats in case you need to refer to them during your visit. Make a list of questions you don’t want to forget to ask.

List out the medications you are willing to try, in order of preference, and any questions or concerns you have about them.

4. Bring an Ally

This could be a family member, partner, or even a best friend you trust to back you up. Go over your research and lists with your ally before you go in so they are prepared to support you and can remind you of things you wanted in case you forget, shut down, or need to argue.

Make sure they know that you are leading the conversation and they are there to support - you don't want to bring someone who is going to talk over you.

5. Get Documentation

Ask if you can record your conversation so you don't have to take notes. This will help you accurately remember what was said and can also keep the doctor on their best behavior.

If a doctor denies you a treatment that you request, insist that they document that refusal in your chart. Often this can push them to give you what you’re asking for, because they fear potential legal repercussions.

It also shows that you know your rights, you’ve done your research, and you’re not taking any shit.

6. Practice Other Ways to Say No

If you're anxious in the moment or feeling upset, it can be hard to think of words to say that will drive the conversation where you want it to go. It can be helpful to come up with phrases you can fall back on in case you want to say no or negotiate.

These could be things like:

“Are there any other options?”

“I need some time to research and think about this.”

“I would like to try x for now. I will consider your suggestion and we can revisit it at our next appointment.”

Or, if you want to compromise:

“I will try your suggestion now, but if it doesn’t work for me, can we revisit x next time?”


A version of this essay was originally published as an Instagram post on January 5, 2020.