With healthcare being a prominent part of the public conversation as we manage a worldwide pandemic, we thought it was important to revisit a topic that we run into over and over with our patients: Women not being taken seriously by their doctors. If you’re a female who feels unheard or disappointed with the care you’ve received, this post is for you. It was originally published in October 2019, but it’s still relevant today.
At Minneapolis Integrative Medical Center, the vast majority of our patients are female. My estimate is that we treat about 85% female patients and 15% male patients. The “why” of that is not because women have more health issues than men, or that they’re hyper-sensitive and seek out treatment. It’s more often because they’ve been dismissed by the traditional healthcare system and are looking for answers because they don’t feel well.
I’ve been told so many stories by women who are either outright dismissed by their doctors or have been told some extremely degrading comments. “Estrogen dominance in women doesn’t exist” or “Of course you’re tired; you work and raise children. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Other women come in having been told, “You could achieve weight loss if you ate less and exercised more.” Or, the kicker: “You don’t sound tired—you sound depressed.”
When you’re not feeling well, the last thing you need is for someone you’re looking for help from to tell you that you don’t actually feel as bad as you do. What you need is someone who will listen, give you support, and offer you a treatment plan to try.
How to Know When You Should Go to the Doctor
In general, women are professionals at being able to put their own health on the backburner. My philosophy is that if you’re not feeling good, then go in and talk to someone about it. You are an expert in your body, your symptoms, and how you feel. Seeking out support for any symptoms that are out of the ordinary is a good first step if you’re not feeling like you.
Women are often taught to rationalize symptoms and warning signs related to both physical and mental health. But symptoms that have become normal to you may sound a little alarming to a healthcare professional or someone trained to recognize warning signs of other conditions. So let me be (maybe) the first to tell you—you’re not overreacting. It’s worth scheduling an appointment to get a professional opinion.
What to Do If a Doctor Doesn’t Give You the Answers You Need
Every health care professional you meet will teach you something. When you tell a traditional practitioner that you’re exhausted and have all these funny symptoms and they’re able to rule out really serious pathological things (like cancer, addison’s disease, etc.), that’s a win.
But if you’re in, let’s call it the “grey area,” where your labs are technically “normal,” you may run into the “watch and wait” recommendation. This could happen if you’ve got gut bacterial overgrowth without an autoimmune disease, or lower AM cortisol but not Addison’s disease, or you’re having difficulty losing weight even with a caloric deficit.
If you find yourself in a doctor’s office, being told to just keep an eye on your symptoms, a simple and easy response would be, “Thank you so much for the knowledge and expertise you bring to the table. I’m going to explore X modality, and I’ll be sure to update you on any new findings in my health.” And then explore another option.
Other options include a provider who analyzes your health in the way that you want. Do you want a nutritional approach to your weight loss? Seek out a dietitian. Do you have gas, bloating, or think you may have SIBO? Look for a functional medicine doctor who specializes in or spreads knowledge about those things and has written testimonials about the work they do.
Three Recommendations for Women Trying to Navigate the Healthcare System
First, talk to your friends and family.
We talk to our friends about everything under the sun… except our deepest, darkest health problems. Don’t be afraid to open up if you’re having some sad thoughts, some hair loss, or unexplained gut health changes. It might surprise you who is going through the exact same thing and who they might know who can help.
Second, do your homework and learn the lingo.
Go down the deep, dark Google rabbit hole—with this caveat. Learn the lingo so you can find the most credible sources. Googling “Adrenal Fatigue” will get you lots of very superficial articles and possibly some misinformation because the word has become so click-baity. Googling the term “HPA Axis Dysfunction” will get you the most credible sources. From PubMed articles to doctors and other medical professionals who write articles on it, the quality of your information will increase when you use the right lingo.
Use your homework and lingo to be your own advocate.
When do you think the last time your doctor was asked, “I see that oral contraceptives have been linked to higher incidences of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I have a strong family history of this. What is your opinion on my risk factors?” Probably never. BE THAT PERSON.
When you’re not feeling well, you shouldn’t have to convince someone you’re as sick as you feel. Using these tips and understanding that it’s not YOU (it’s them) will help you navigate the system and find the answers you need.
Interested in trying out our type of healthcare? We just launched a NEW membership option that might be right for you: Essential Membership.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.