Madeline’s Five Steps to Being Your Own Health Advocate

Meeting with your health care provider can be scary! In their sterile offices while dawning their crisp white coats and shiny stethoscopes, they can seem intimidating. As a teen, it’s easy to feel like your voice doesn’t matter when you’re conversing with someone older and more educated. Consequently, it’s also easy to stay silent throughout your entire appointment. However, this is the biggest disservice you can do to yourself. During your visit, you need to be an active participant and learn to advocate for yourself. At first, it might be uncomfortable, but it will save you so much trial and error and miscommunication in the long run!

Here are my five steps to being your own health advocate:

1.Bring a list to your appointment

It might seem silly, but arriving with a list can really help you stay on track during your appointment. When you’re nervous, it’s easy to go scatterbrained or suffer a “brain fart.” By creating a list of symptoms you’re having or questions you have, you are ensuring that you stay on track during the appointment. This method can also help ease any anxiety you may have about talking with your provider. By having a list, you eliminate any chance of awkward silence or the need to second-guess your thoughts; they’re all there! There’s no need to sweat when you have it all in the palm of your hand!

2. Get comfortable with the “Private” topics

As a girl with a chronic illness associated with my, uh, reproductive system, trust me when I say I know how weird it can be to talk about your private parts. I also know how much weirder it gets when that person your talking about it with is a male, as I have multiple male doctors. Keep in mind one vital thing: your health care provider went through years of medical school and training where I promise you, they have heard every possible scenario or symptom you could possibly throw at them. Of course, this may not take away the uneasiness or embarrassment you may feel from discussing it, but the more you talk about your body, the easier it gets!

3. Don’t be afraid to laugh

If you’re anything like me, you may laugh when you’re nervous. Don’t hold that back! It may sound silly, but cracking a couple jokes or laughing at your own embarrassment can help break the ice between you and your health care provider. As long as you don’t take it to the extreme and make the whole appointment a joke, this can be an easy way to bond with your provider and talk to them as you would with any other person! At the end of the day, health care providers are just like us.

4. Ask to talk to your health care provider without a parent present

Having a parent in the appointment with you can be reassuring; however, it can also limit your ability to ask sensitive questions. Most health care providers will suggest meeting separately but if they forget to mention it, simply ask for one on one time with them.

5. Make sure it’s a fit

This maybe the most important step in being an advocate for yourself: make sure that your health care provider is a good fit for you. I cannot stress this enough; if you are not comfortable around your provider then that person is not a good fit. You should never feel ignored, belittled, or judged during an appointment. Being embarrassed or nervous is one thing, being trivialized is another. Picking the right health care provider is like choosing a comfortable pair of shoes. Some are the wrong style; others are too narrow or broad. Be rest assured though that you have multiple options. Like a department store offers wedges, flats, stilettos, and sneakers, your local hospital or clinic has many different health care providers who can fit your own personal needs!