When You Find a Physician You Trust

December 19, 2013

Do you remember the scene in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, when Luke Skywalker tells the Emperor, “your overconfidence is your weakness,” to which the Emperor quipped, “and your faith in your friends is yours.” Well, Luke was right, and that is what led to the Emperor’s ultimate downfall. But the Emperor was also right, and it was only by luck that the Rebellion was victorious.

The Rebel Alliance had a two-stage attack, with one stage dependent upon the previous. Luke trusted his friends to do their best, but should he really have trusted them to succeed, without any form of back up plan?  What if there were no Ewoks? What if the stormtroopers executed all the prisoners? So many what ifs. A major military campaign should always be undertaken with full knowledge of the situation, not faith. Admittedly, the Rebel Alliance was desperate, with few alternatives. But that doesn’t mean he should have relied so heavily on friends to succeed when too many variables stood in the way.

If I can define “faith” without looking at a dictionary, I would define it as a belief that something is true, with some evidence in support, but not necessarily overwhelming to be considered obvious. “The sun will rise tomorrow” is not faith. That is just overwhelmingly obvious. “I will not get hit by a bus today” is faith. It is possible, but not so probable, so I can have faith it will not occur. Faith is not blind; you must have some basis to it. I cannot have faith that just anyone can babysit my children. And even if I do have this faith, there is always an implicit level of uncertainty.

Now, what does this have to do with medicine? Do you have a personal physician? If no, do you trust just any medical provider you see? On what is that faith based? Simply having an M.D., D.O, or N.P. after someone’s name suggests at least a basic level of training and competence, but is that enough? Do you have faith that you will like every physician, or that every physician will like you? No one is popular with everyone, regardless of who you are. Do you have faith that they will always make the right diagnosis? Never make a mistake? I hope not; all humans are flawed. Sometimes I wish that was not the case, but such thoughts themselves betray dreams of hubris, which may be a human flaw unto itself. To me, faith in your physician simply means that you trust that their advice is sincere, and their effort to help you is true, within the context of human limitations.

So where does that leave us? It is wise to not have faith in someone you do not really know, so getting advice from any person who is a doctor seems excessively naive. Faith takes time, and it takes effort. Look for a physician with whom you are comfortable, and someone whom you can trust. If you find such a physician, consider yourself fortunate–trust is more than a degree, or at least should be. Never assume that a physician is always right, but understand why they think what they do. The more you understand their perspective, the better you will understand your own health. And that may be the strongest argument to find, and stay with, a physician in whom you have faith.

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