Who is your primary care physician? If you can’t answer this question, then you need a doctor – a primary care doctor – so that when you are ill, when you need preventive care, when you need medication, you have someone to care for you.
Thirty to fifty percent of physicians don’t have a doctor. I was one of them. As a resident, I took sample medications. As a faculty, I prescribed for myself. I never had peers prescribe for me, but that happens too. On many levels, these behaviors are not OK. We owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves, and that means having a primary care physician.
I made up a bunch of excuses: the clinic is too far away, the hours don’t work, I might work with the doctor, I might see the doctor at a party, my history will be “out there” and no longer private, yadda yadda yadda. I considered this physician, and that clinic, weighing pros and cons. It finally occurred to me that I am not particularly special in the issues I need care for: well woman preventive care, maintenance medication, and someone whom I can contact when I develop a breast lump or stress-related palpitations. These are bread-and-butter primary care issues. And if they weren’t common issues, my doctor would get me to the appropriate specialist.
I needed to just do it: pick a doctor who is at a clinic with hours that work for my schedule, and make an appointment. Start there. You know what? It worked. And now I have a doctor who prescribes my medication and whom I call when I need evaluation for the lump that I’m sure is cancer or the heart rhythm that I’m sure will take me out unsuspectingly. All those initial concerns about choosing the “right doctor” have melted away. Yes, I see my primary care doctor walking the dog in the neighborhood, and sometimes at social events. We aren’t friends; she is my doctor and I’m her patient. She handles confidentiality as we all do in this profession: skillfully and intentionally.
Upon further reflection, none of this should surprise me, because I am the primary care doctor for many people in my community, including residents and faculty. We ask patients to trust us as physicians with their history and their health. We can do the same, but this time, with ourselves as the patient. If you haven’t already, take care of yourself, and get yourself a primary care physician.
Sonja Van Hala, MD, MPH is an Associate Professor and the Family Medicine Residency Director at the University of Utah School of Medicine.