EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of a Bedsider Providers series highlighting the lived experiences of getting sexual and reproductive health care with a focus on people of color. Originally published on Bedsider, articles in this series allow sexual and reproductive health care providers see through a patient’s perspective how their entire interaction with the health care system impacts their reproductive well-being. The articles in this series will appear as they were written for Bedsider, followed by questions to ask yourself for self-reflection.
Bedsider Providers is committed to strengthening health care providers ability to provide high-quality, culturally responsive sexual and reproductive care that meets patients where they are. That commitment includes celebrating all that birth control has to offer, but it also includes shining a light on some of the harsher realities, like inequities in health care.
As a young person in search of health care, my goal was to find a provider where I felt understood. To me that meant someone who came from a similar background, was a woman of color, and would advocate for me and my health.
So, when I came across a Jamaican-American female gynecologist online, I thought I had found a provider that would be a great fit for me. She was a smart, middle-aged woman of color who reminded me of the strong women in my family. As I sat in the waiting room at my first appointment, I was surrounded by mothers and young women of color who shared similar experiences to mine. It felt right. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were other factors to think about when choosing a provider.
Through my experiences with this provider, I learned some key ways you can tell when you need a new provider:
1. They don’t respect your time
The wait times were always a little long but that seemed inevitable in a busy Brooklyn neighborhood. But as time went on, the wait times got longer and longer. I sometimes waited over an hour to see my doctor. It doesn’t have to be this way.
2. They don’t engage you in shared decision-making
My doctor had a no-nonsense attitude, and, at first, that was okay with me. I just wanted a provider who would advocate for me. But then I told her I wanted to go on birth control, and she told me that I would start on the pill without sharing any other options with me. I had used the pill before and wasn’t aware of other options, so I went with it. After all, the pill is a safe and reliable method, and I knew it would be easy for me to use.
Looking back, I realize that she shouldn’t have told me what I would use for birth control so much as talked through all of my options with me. She should have asked me what I was looking for in a method and what experiences I’d had with birth control in the past. She should have given me multiple options, informed me of the side effects and benefits of each, and asked me if I had any questions.
Having your provider understand your history and preferences is important for your health and it also creates a space for you to be open about your feelings and experiences around your method. If your provider forces a method on you without considering your thoughts and experiences first, that can be a sign that it’s time to look for a new provider.
3. They don’t get your consent for procedures
I continued visiting this office for check-ups, UTI’s, and other gynecological issues that came up in my early twenties. It seemed that my provider became less and less friendly over time. She would examine me without proper warning. Provider consent is just as important as any form of consent. (You can read more about it here.) Before performing an exam or procedure, a provider should ask you first if it’s okay. And they should ask you before they touch you, or at the very least give you a heads-up during key moments in an invasive examination. They should also check in with you throughout to see if you’re okay.
Finding a provider who understands the importance of consent in the exam room and has compassion for your experience in and out of their office is incredibly important.
4. You leave appointments feeling disrespected or even violated
And then one time, I called to schedule an appointment for what I suspected was a UTI. I was told that my regular doctor wasn’t available, but that I would not need a physical examination so I would be fine without her. However, once I arrived, I was told to remove all of my clothes and wait for the doctor to arrive for a physical examination. I sat on a tall, cold examination table in a thin cloth robe for over an hour. I considered leaving many times but the more time that went by the more hope I had that someone would show up.
A male physician finally walked into the room, and without apologizing for the delay or even asking my name, he began an examination. I felt incredibly violated. He left the room without offering me any information as to what he had discovered. His last words to me were “you can find out more about your prescription at the front desk.” I sat there, half dressed and cold, in disbelief.
After that experience, I sent feedback to the office and vowed never to set foot in there again. I knew deep down that I deserved better care and I was determined to find it. I asked my friends and family for a recommendation for a better provider, but ultimately it was my therapist who gave me the name of the provider I am currently seeing.
A great way to find recommendations for care is to speak with your community and learn from their experiences. If you’re seeing other healthcare providers or specialists that you like, it may be worthwhile to ask them for recommendations.
What it’s like when you find a good provider
My first wellness visit to my new provider’s office was a pleasant surprise. A nurse practitioner greeted me with a warm and inviting welcome. She engaged me in an open dialogue about my previous experiences, my birth control options, and what would be taking place at the appointment. I knew in that moment that I had been neglected and poorly treated at my previous provider. I have never looked back.
We all need and deserve providers who are thoughtful, thorough, and diligent in their care for us. When you go to see your provider, you should feel welcome and safe, and they should make sure you’re comfortable voicing your questions and concerns. After all, finding a compassionate, competent provider who cares about your experience can be life-changing.
- In your practice, how do you create space for patients to be open about their feelings and experiences?
- Think about all of the interactions patients have with your clinical setting, starting when they call to make an appointment or when they walk in the door, do all of those interactions leave patients feeling welcome and safe?
- Before a physical exam, do you ask before you touch and get explicit consent in the exam room?
- Did you find yourself defending the providers in this article? Did you see yourself in these providers?