Apr 19, 2010

How Should I Thank My Doctor?

Believe it or not, this is the most common question that Doctor D gets in his email!

I must admit I hadn't posted a response yet because the answer seemed kind of obvious: Your parents taught you how to say "thank you" when you were a baby. It should be fairly straightforward at this stage of your life. If you are grateful to your doctor tell him or her "thanks" and doc will have a better day because of you.

But as more "How do I thank my doctor?" emails poured in I had to rethink situation. I'd been thinking from the doctor side of the equation, but from the patient perspective expressing gratitude may be more daunting.

Doctors are intimidating. We hold life and death in our hands with a god-like power! Our lives are always exciting and sexy, as anyone who watches prime-time doctor dramas can tell you. MDs are so intelligent and knowledgeable that we cannot help but act like jerks to our inferiors! We are so universally admired and appreciated that your expression of thanks had better be impressive or we will scoff at you.

As a physician, Doctor D can personally assure you that all of that is BS! We only put up that ridiculous front because it helps us handle a stressful and scary job where people expect the world of us. Trust me, doctors are normal people: we always love it when people thank us for a job well done.

I had the son of a patient find me the other day, "Doctor D, I just wanted to thank you for saving mom's life." Did I save his mom? Maybe. I just did what any doctor would have done in the situation. But thanks to his gratitude Doctor D was had a spring in his step for the rest of the day. Everybody likes to be thanked.

So if you want to thank a doctor, go for it! Say it, write it in a card, bake cookies, whatever. Trust me, your doctor will be thrilled any way you say it.
Since everyone seems to want detailed strategies Doctor D will start a series of several posts on dos and don'ts of doctor-thanking so all my readers can tap into the intricacies of thanking MDs!
You're welcome!
Did you ever try to thank a doctor and have it just flop terribly or complicate your doctor-patient relationship? Doctor D always loves to hear your stories in the comments!


Pissed Off Patient said...

Actually it was kind of harder than I thought to figure out what to give the ER. I was on a tight budget, I knew I needed a decent quantity and that was about it.

I finally settled on 2 canisters of those Pirouline (sp?) cookies and Lindt truffles. All my docs got chocolate as well as did the medical secretary (who always made sure to forward messages to the doc asap--she's great).

It still doesn't feel like a enough!


tracy said...

How about suggestions on how to apologize...to an Emergercy Department Staff? Honestly apologize for being a terrible patient?

WarmSocks said...

I can believe you get asked this a lot. This topic brings people to my blog every day, simply because one time I had a post saying that it hadn't ever occurred to me to thank my doctor. That's back when things were routine. Once things extended beyond the once-a-year checkups, I was really grateful to my doc.

It's harder than you might think to come up with the right words if you're writing a note. Nobody wants to sound gushy or like an overly dramatic sap. Conversely, it shouldn't sound like a flip, obligatory "thanks." It takes me three or four pages of notebook paper, writing, scribbling things out, rewriting, editing, wadding the whole thing up and starting over, to get the right words to fit in a little thank-you note. Gifts are hard, too, to know what's appropriate.

I'm looking forward to your series. Thanks, Doctor D!

tracy said...

PS i OD-ed and cut up my arm and was apparently horrific...and i feel soooooo terrible about the whole ugly situation...especially since i admire doctors and nurses so much. :*(

Anonymous said...

I've always said thanks to my doc or nurse practitioner -- as you said, it's how I was raised. But more than that, I liked to be thanked when I do things for others, too, whether it's on the job or just going about my daily life.

Gifts, on the other hand, I've never given a doctor. Nor have I ever written a thank-you note. But I have been thinking of doing something like this for my rheumatologist. He's given me excellent care in the two years I've been seeing him, and he is invariably polite, respectful, and patient with me. His staff is also very pleasant. Sooo... a box of donuts? Homemade cookies and a card?

Great post, Dr. D. Thank you!

Albinoblackbear said...

I heard a great suggestion once--a photo with the thank you card...saying 'hey, thanks to you I am able to play with my dog or snuggle my grandchildren' or what have you.

I thought that was a great suggestion. I'd much rather have a card or wall of nice photos than more tim hortons timbits. (Seriously--people *always* give donuts and even though it is a great gesture I reached my donut max about 3 years ago).

Though my chocolate threshold will never be reached. :)

We are not supposed to accept gifts from patients technically and there is a lot of literature on how it can change the pt/doc relationship. That said, the family of a dear cancer patient gave me a gift certificate to the Keg and when I tried to refuse it they said they would be offended if I didn't.

I thought it was really sweet and enjoyed a nice glass of wine with it, toasting the family in my mind while I drank it.

I can say for sure that health care staff take a LOT of abuse and have to deal with unhappy people all of the time. It is always a welcomed ray of sunshine when someone takes the time to write a thank you note (or sometimes a little piece in the local newspaper). I know we are just doing our jobs and we don't expect the gratitude--but some folks do go above the call of duty.

Helen said...

I always say thank you, but I've only sent cards once. When my rheumatologist and her nurse practitioner fought for months for me to receive drug coverage and we finally got it, I wrote them both notes telling them how much their unwavering support had meant to me through everything. It was true, and I wanted them to know.

My surgeon checked in on me after my ICD surgery when I was in serious pain and sort of confused. I said something like, "Gasp - Ow! - Gasp - can I have some painkillers? - Gasp - Oh.. thank you!" I still remember everyone, including me, laughing, but I think he appreciated it.

Anonymous said...

I also always say thank you to my GP and the receptionists whenever I go, or even when I'm on the phone making an appointment. I find it hard to believe that people wouldn't say thank you!

Beyond basic courtesy, though, I also think it's really important to make sure that the key people in your life know that they are appreciated for what they do, especially when they go above and beyond. I count people like my GP, my son's preschool teachers, and my older son's school-teacher in that category - they aren't "friends", but they are important. We are generally healthy as horses, but I know without a doubt that when something does come up for me or the kids that I can always talk to our GP on the phone or see him that same day (he even stayed late on his birthday once because I had a burn that got infected late in the day). His staff goes out of their way as well, so every once in a while when we go in I bake a cake, banana bread, or muffins for the entire practice (including the other docs), because I want them to know that I value not just what they do, but the ways in which they go about their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Thank yous are sometime hard for me because the underlying illness for which I've seen a number of doctors has not been resolved. My condition is incurable and terminal, and the sadness of that can make it hard for doctors to feel beamingly happy when I thank them for their efforts. They wanted to do more for me, but it was impossible. I usually send long, heartfelt thank-you letters to doctors, physical therapists, etc. that detail their particular shining qualities and the things they did that I especially appreciated. It's hard to say in person as much as I want to, plus sometimes one or both of us starts to cry and that gets awkward, although it's sweet too. So, I try to thank them in person, usually at my final appointment, and then I often follow up with a letter. A few times I've unexpectedly run into them later, and they've told me how much they appreciated the letters.

Anonymous said...

I do just say thank you in person to doctors who have listened to me and been helpful (though it's true that I have some really great docs who probably think they're just going about their day).

I've also had heart surgery twice. For those docs, and the ones who I've gotten to know really well like my internists, I like to send a thank you a few years down the road to let them know how much their care meant to me, and like someone else said, I like to let them know what I'm doing with the life that I am blessed to live because of what they did for me.


Old MD Girl said...

I once had a patient thank me. It literally made my entire week. I still get all teary eyed thinking about it!

Anonymous said...

I try to remember my team of docs on Doctor's Day and around the holidays, usually with a thank you note, but also with something edible. I've done fruit arrangements/fruit trays because they can be shared with the whole office (cuz let's face it...the doc isn't the only one taking care of me), and also because they get donuts and baked goods from everyone else. I have a tremendous appreciation for the care my docs have given me, and even though I realize they are paid for the job they do, the way they do it means a great deal as well...and THAT is what the thank you is for.

Post a Comment