9 Ways to Advocate for Yourself at the Gynecologist
Talking to your doctor about period pain, birth control, and other gynecological concerns can be frustrating for many people. Far too often period pain and birth control concerns are dismissed or written off as ‘normal’. It can be disheartening as a patient to leave feeling unheard and dismissed. Keep reading for nine ways you can advocate for yourself at the gynecologist.
The Problems at Hand
The problem of pain: We know that there are issues with health providers taking period pain seriously. An example of this is the staggering statistic that on average it takes someone 7.5 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis¹. This is partly due to the difficulty of diagnosing endometriosis and doctors’ lack of familiarity with the signs and symptoms and largely within doctors not believing their patients’ levels of pain.
The problem of racial bias: We also know that racial bias exists in gynecological care leading people of colour to go even longer before receiving care for period pain and concerns. Studies show that half of white doctors still believe the myth that Black people have ‘thicker skin’ and ‘less sensitive nerves’ and thus feel pain less². While scientifically proven untrue, the outdated beliefs can bring an added layer of difficulty when self-advocating at the gynecologist.
To make your next gynecology or doctor appointment smoother, think ahead and prepare. Whether you’re discussing period pain, birth control, or something else, these tips can aid you in feeling heard and cared for.
1. Book A Double Appointment Time
Doctor appointments can often feel rushed and may seem like you only have a few minutes to discuss things before the doctor is running out the door to their next patient. One way to combat this is to book a double appointment slot. This will give you extra time to ask questions and feel like your thoughts have been thoroughly discussed with your doctor!
2. Write A List of Questions, Symptoms, & Concerns
If a doctor’s appointment isn’t going well and you’re feeling dismissed, it can be easy to forget your questions and concerns. Before your appointment, make a physical list of all your symptoms, questions, and concerns to bring along with you. You can let your doctor know as soon as they come in that you’ve prepared a written list of things to discuss so that you don’t miss anything. It’s also helpful to take your menstrual cycle tracking history with you to the appointment. This way you have all the data from your past cycles in front of you if your health provider asks questions.
3. Bring A Support Person
If medical appointments feel stressful and invalidating to you, consider bringing a support person with you. This may give you a confidence boost by knowing someone with you is ‘on your side’. The support person can also take notes and be a second set of ears to listen to what the doctor is saying—this is especially helpful afterwards if you can’t seem to remember how your doctors responded and reacted!
4. Request Additional Testing
If you’re seeking an answer to reproductive pain/concerns or a diagnosis and feel you aren’t being heard, it can help to tell your doctor you want additional testing to rule out/confirm a diagnosis. This may sound something like this:
“I understand your opinion that my symptoms may be normal but I feel most comfortable running blood work and an ultrasound to confirm what is going on internally.”
5. Ask Any Rejections to be Noted in Your Medical File
If your doctor denies your concerns or requests for additional testing in regard to your reproductive health, ask them to document that in your medical chart. Requesting documentation of denial can often make the health provider reconsider ordering testing, or at the very least leaves a paper trail of their rejection if issues are found in the future.
6. Request Additional Information
If you receive a new diagnosis or start a new medication, don’t be shy to ask for additional information if you feel your doctor hasn’t fully taken the time to explain things to you. Pamphlets, videos, and printouts can be given explaining conditions and medications further.
7. Keep a Copy of Your Medical File
Keep your own copy of your medical records to stay in the loop of what your health care providers are documenting and ensure that your records do not get lost between specialists. In the age of the internet, it’s easier than ever to keep a copy of your medical records. Just ask your doctor's office to release a copy to you, and ensure you keep it up to date every year!
8. File A Complaint if You Feel Mistreated
If you feel as if your health provider has mistreated you in any way, file a complaint. By alerting your discomfort/mistreatment to the team, it may save other people in the future from also feeling mistreated! Doctors are in a position of power that they should not be abusing—your feelings and opinion matter, too.
9. Ask for a Second Opinion or Referral
If you feel that your doctor is not adequately fit to treat your concerns, or they are denying it, ask for a referral for a second opinion. A second opinion or a referral to a specialist can get a fresh set of ears and eyes on your concerns to give another course of action.
Navigating medical appointments and period concerns can feel stressful but equipping yourself with a plan to tackle it can make all the difference. Even by reading this article you’re doing something positive to help make your next doctors’ appointment a smoother experience! It can feel like doctors are in a position of authority but remember: you are equally as important and valid in the appointment and deserve to feel heard.
Arruda, M. S., Petta, C. A., Abrão, M. S., & Benetti‐Pinto, C. L. (2003, April 1). Time elapsed from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of endometriosis in a cohort study of Brazilian women. OUP Academic.
Hoffman, K. M., Trawalter, S., Axt, J. R., & Oliver, M. N. (2016, April 19). Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. PNAS.