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  • Dr. Joy

Relax. Relate. Release!: Advocating for Yourself in Healthcare

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

Whitley at the therapist. A classic scene from A Different World.

You are in the doctor’s office learning about a new diagnosis and have a million questions swirling through your head and the doctor is talking so fast, you feel like you can’t get a word in. You feel dismissed. You do not feel heard. How do you turn this encounter around? Relax, relate and release! Do not feel alone. No matter your education or economic class, black patients often do not feel heard in the medical community. We are here to give you the tools to be heard and find your voice.


It is frustrating when your doctor rushes you or the receptionist or nurse has already done

something to offend you. Maybe they got your pronouns wrong or perhaps they assumed you had a certain type of insurance. We all know that black bodies have difficulty existing in many spaces, but the doctor’s office is one where this issue can do great harm. One bad experience can stop many of us from ever returning. So the first thing to do is to breathe! Inhale excellence and clarity. Exhale disparities and prejudice. Going to the doctor relaxed may not change how they view you, but it will help you hone your power to get what you need out of the encounter. No matter if it is a refill you need or a second opinion, being your most relaxed self will allow you to navigate this space better.


I know the title says relate, but it really should be placate. The doctor’s office can be a hostile place for us and I want to give you tools to turn that encounter into the best possible consultation for you. It starts from when you hit the receptionist. Tell them that you like the color of their sweater. Do the same to the medical assistant or nurse who rooms you. The staff color your experience but also the way the doctor perceives you. Countless times my medical assistant has said, “She’s really nice” or “You are going to like them” before I even go into the room to meet my patient. That changes the attitude of the physician walking into the room. When the doctor walks in tell them they came highly recommended even if you never heard anything about them before. You can just say it was an online review. The goal is to have that doctor to see that your value and to see that you descend from kings and queens like you do. It is just like buttering up your parent or spouse to get what you want. Make them see you as relatable by catering to their ego and then you will certainly have their ear.


Be honest about your fears. If you are worried about your blood pressure not being controlled by a medication or concerned that you may need surgery tell the doctor this. Be vulnerable. Just like in any relationship, you must share to get the most out of the experience. While many physicians may not make you feel comfortable enough to want to be vulnerable, consider it you walking in with your head held high and empowered enough to share your thoughts in order to walk out with the information you need. The most honest preconception counseling visit I ever had was with a 38-year-old black woman who came into say that she wants to get pregnant but does not want to die. She shared this because she was in a room with another black woman physician. However, with the news highlighting black mortality while birthing, other physicians should hear these fears and should validate them. Now if the physician does not validate

your thoughts or concerns during the encounter, then you can also release them as your physician and find another one. Do what Yamani Hernandez (@yamyan) learned on #blackwomentwitter and have them document their refusal to order a particular test or prescribe a certain medication.

Many health disparities in the black community are thought to be due our people not being heard. Culture Care is empowering you to seek solutions outside of a doctor’s office but also empowering you to walk into an office or hospital with facts and confidence. Should you need to enter a physical healthcare space for an emergency or even a routine Pap smear, we want you to be able to get out of the encounter what you need to not only survive, but thrive.


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