”My mother worked in women’s health care for more than thirty-five years. (To be honest, it was forty years, but she says that makes her sound too old.) I learned a lot from my mother about the importance of knowing about your body and of being unafraid to ask questions, and about being responsible for your own healthcare. That’s why, when it came to a time to find an OB/GYN to deliver my third child, I asked women I respected who they would recommend. One of my closest friends recommended Dr. Sherry A. Ross. Now, one of the first things people should know about Dr. Sherry is that upon entering her office, you’re greeted with an entire wall covered in photos of women giving birth — babies in various states of afterbirth, little faces screaming as they come into the world and joyful pictures of Dr. Sherry holding newborns next to sweaty, enthusiastic new parents.
Honestly, I have never met a person more passionate about women’s healthcare. No one cares more about women’s health than Dr. Sherry.”
— Reese Witherspoon
During my 25+ years as a practicing OB/GYN, I have heard a common refrain from my patients, “I know I should have come in to see you sooner but I’ve just been so busy with life that I couldn’t find the time”. You’re not alone. According to the Kaiser Women’s Health Study, more than a quarter of all women consistently put off seeing a doctor based on time constraints. While not yet at epidemic levels, this is a disturbing trend. As both a mother of three sons and a full-time practicing doctor, I know how challenging it can be to put yourself above those who depend on you 24/7. But if I’ve learned one thing in all my years of practice it’s that, if you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you can’t fully be there for those you love. So, how, as women, can we prioritize our health?
There are two reasons why women don’t’ make time to see their health care provider. First, balancing work and home life demands often doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to care for their own basic needs, physically and emotionally, nor tend to their health care. Persistent stress can aggravate high blood pressure, insomnia, diabetes, herpes, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic medical conditions. It can also lead to poor concentration, irritability, anger, and poor judgment, which ultimately can affect your job performance. Outside of the workplace, stress leads to marriage breakups, family fights, road rage, suicides and violence. As a result of additional pressures placed on women, seeing their health care provider yearly is needed now more than ever
The second reason many women don’t prioritize their wellness is it can be hard to find an in-network health care provider they like (assuming most women have insurance), and navigating the hurdles to actually get to the appointment can be daunting.
As a woman, you’re expert at problem solving for our loved ones. It’s time to turn that attention on yourself. There are a myriad of obstacles that will prevent you from finding and seeing a health care practitioner on a regular basis. It can be a Herculean task, but you need to work the problem in the interest of being your healthiest self to support everyone else in your life.
First, if at all possible, get on a health care plan. While it may be expensive, you’re investing in your long-term well-being. Next, identify the roadblocks preventing your from taking time out of your day to see your doctor — child care considerations, demanding job, lack of paid sick days, lack of transportation, the inability to pay the copay, etc. These are all real hindrances but if it were your child or significant other, you would find a way. You need to prioritize your own health.
Lastly, even though I don’t run my office this way, I know very well what a trip to the doctor is generally like. There’s a rushed, in-and-out (literally!) sort of feeling, the sense of limited time and attention, of other patients waiting to be attended to behind other closed doors. The doctor hurries in, barely makes eye contact as he tries to absorb as much of your chart as possible, and drives the conversation in a narrow, mundane way: “How are your periods? Any problems? Okay, great, now let’s do a quick exam.” Take control of your health! You worked hard to find that doctor and get to that appointment. Your time is just as important as your physician’s and the other patients. So come prepared and make good use of that session:
· Prepare a list of concerns.
· Talk about the problems that trouble you most first.
· Be specific and candid.
· Anticipate what your doctor will ask (when did your condition begin, how long have you been experiencing pain, do you have other symptoms, etc.?).
· Organize your medical history.
· Keep a journal of your symptoms.
· Know your medications (bring them in or take photos).
· Request a verbal summary of action items and follow up instructions.
· Record the session on your smart phone.
Statistics tell us the average woman will live to be 81 — four years longer than the average lifetime of 2007. Good health habits, lifestyle choices and seeing a health care provider yearly should start at a young age. When you embrace and value the importance of your health this sets the foundation for optimal health and well-being. Get educated, know your risk factors for certain diseases and see your health care provider yearly.