Allison’s Story – When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

Session 62

Session 62

In this episode, Ryan and Allison talk about what it's like when the doctor becomes the patient. Specifically, Allison shares her personal story of being diagnosed with Crohn's disease,  its impact on her practice and her family, and the most important lessons learned.

This is something we need to understand being the ones who usually are well and who treat patients and that is to try to relate to somebody when you've never had that experience before. Becoming a patient when you're the one used to treating other people’s illnesses certainly gives you a totally new perspective toward patient care.

Today, Allison gives you a huge glimpse of what it's like to be a patient as we try to bridge the separation between the “well” and the “sick.” You need to understand and reflect on the patients who come to you for help and trying to put yourself in their shoes that we all must strive for if you want to become a better physician.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Ryan and Allison:

Allison discusses her health condition:

  • Allison started losing weight
  • Running to the bathroom 5-6 times a day and being really sick
  • Focusing too much on patient care and not focusing on herself
  • Realizing that something was not right
  • Calling her primary care physician
  • Going to a gastroenterologist for a consult
  • Going through a colonoscopy
  • Getting diagnosed with Crohn's disease

From being a physician to becoming a patient:

  • Feeling vulnerable and in need of help
  • Although having a background in medicine but not knowing what specific treatments she needed
  • Not knowing what the future held
  • A humbling experience and having a new perspective

Allison's silver linings:

  • Having a background in medicine
  • Having a basic understanding about the disease, outlook, and general treatments

Biggest lessons:

  • Try to think what it's like to be a patient that doesn't have the resources
  • Going to forums and being able to talk to other people going through the same thing
  • Take the time as a physician about how the patient is feeling, their fears and anxieties. This is part of the treatment.
  • Respond to your patients as immediately as possible.
  • Make friends with the nurses. They're very nice people who take care of their patients.
  • Meeting a community of other patients with Crohn's disease who are trying to raise money and awareness.

The different stressors that patients deal with:

Stresses of life that might have led to their diagnosis

Stresses of their diagnosis

Stresses of insurance companies.

  • Seeing medical bills as a whole new level of stress(more like a $10,000 bill that got Allison pulling her hair off)

Stresses of not hearing from your doctor right away

Paternalism versus patient-doctor collaboration:

Paternalism in medicine means that as a patient, you do what the doctor says. No questions asked, just do it.

Patient-doctor collaboration:

  • There is conversation about what works best for the patient. There is patient autonomy where they get to make informed decisions
  • Inform the patient about all of their options.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of each option.
  • You still add in your expertise and your thoughts where you're guiding them.

How you perceive them as difficult patients may just be patients who are advocating for themselves.

Understand that as a patient pushes a little bit, they're not being defiant but simply advocating for themselves.We learn so much from patients. Respond to patients in an open-minded manner.

Respect the patient's decision and support them the best way that you can and in the safest manner possible with all the options laid out.

Don’t make a crack or joke about a patient or what they're dealing with because you never know what they're dealing with. Never make blanket statements.

Bridging the gap between the well and the sick:

We're all human beings.We all suffer from diseases.

We need to be taking care of each other in a mindful manner

Team Challenge

An organization that is part of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America where various groups across the country get together and run a marathon in order  to raise money for research and awareness of the Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease in general.

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

Understand that patients are vulnerable. They have to deal with a lot of stresses.At the end of the day, it's human-to-human interaction. Understand their stories and stresses to be able to fully treat them.

Links and Other Resources:

Session 047: Avoiding Burnout as a Premed, Med Student, and Beyond

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America

Team Challenge – Organic Chemistry Resources & Tutoring

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  • Ryan, great show! You and Allison did a great job.

    I think you’ve got such a great idea and I’ll be sharing your show with anyone I know who is in the medical field.

    Great meeting you in Vegas!

    • Thanks Ellory. I hope we answered you question about how to talk TO a patient.

  • Jared Easley


  • Thanks for sharing your story Allison. Just got a chance to listen to this episode, a little late.

    I think a lot of us go into medical school all bright eyed, bushy tailed, and primed for empathy. But the longer you stay in the hospital, the more the empathy starts to fade. Maybe it’s cynicism or peer pressure. Maybe it’s just the fact that you need to insulate yourself from all the serious, emotionally heavy things that are going on with your patients.

    I think there are some benefits to being emotionally distant. It would be very stressful to be deeply invested in every patient. But I also think that empathy is a necessary tool to have available as a physician.

    I don’t think it’s cynicism, peer pressure, or even the desire to maintain an emotional distance from their patients that causes physicians to crack jokes about patients or be dismissive of patient input. Rather, I think it’s simply a lack of mindfulness.

    In your case, you had a trigger that snapped you back to the reality of what patients are really going through. I don’t want to say you are ‘lucky’, but you do have a perspective that many physicians do not.

    While many of us may not ever fully gain that insight, we can also use triggers to remind ourselves to be more empathetic and understanding of our patients. I learned a little trick from an attending during medical school who had great bedside manner. Upon entering each room, he would touch the handle on the door, whether it was open or not. He used this physical stimulus to remind himself to be that caring, mindful physician each time he entered a patient’s room.

    A lot like tying a string around our finger, we can use these little triggers to be more aware of how we are interacting with our patients and everyone else for that matter.

    Anyway, great episode!


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