When a day at the office means performing 15 rectal exams or caring for
patients with raging vaginal infections, one has to ask: How do you cope?
Who hasn't wondered (and worried) about what goes through the mind of
doctors while they perform a thorough exam? After all, doctors often peek under
the hood at areas of the body most of us work hard to keep hidden.
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
You can put your anxiety to rest, says Jeff Goldman, MD, a
gastroenterologist with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill.
"Fifteen years into my career and having trained in New York City, it would
really take something extraordinary to shock me."
Elizabeth Houser, MD, an Austin, Texas–based urologist in private practice,
agrees. "It's part of the job," she says of some of the ickier aspects of her
work. "It's like if you're a mechanic and have to clean out a carburetor. It's
just what you do."
According to Houser, anyone who has gone through a residency program has
seen worse than whatever might cross a doctor's exam table in private practice.
Case in point: As a third-year medical student, Goldman was sent to treat
someone who hadn't had a bowel movement in nearly two weeks.
"I had to use my finger and manually 'disimpact' the patient," he
explains."I got over my squeamishness of doing a rectal exam that day."
Sometimes such incidents leave new doctors unsteady on their feet, says
Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at New York
University's School of Medicine. But a quick recovery is typical. "Passing out
is usually a first-time phenomenon."
Still, no amount of experience can desensitize a doctor to everything,
Rajapaksa explains. "Just because you're used to the gross things within your
field of medicine doesn't mean you don't get grossed out about other
Why It's Hard to Shock a Doctor
It’s common to feel anxious when visiting the doctor for an invasive exam.
Best way to cope? Try to relax and remember to:
Laugh it off. A sense of humor during an exam can lighten the mood
and make it go more smoothly. “It helps to put me at ease so I feel like I can
do a more thorough exam if needed because I’m not forcing anything or making
[the patient] feel like I’m being invasive into their body,” Goldman says.
Stay focused. Remember that the test or exam you’re undergoing is
being done because you need it. Remain focused on your health and how your
treatment contributes to it.
Seek comfort. Find a physician who makes you feel comfortable. If
you’re not at ease with your doctor, discuss it with that physician or find
Jeffrey Goldman, MD, gastroenterologist, Advocate South Suburban Hospital,
Hazel Crest, Ill.
Elizabeth Houser, MD, urologist, Austin, Texas.
Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, assistant professor of medicine, New York University
School of Medicine, New York.