Why it’s strangely comforting that MS doctors don’t know everything

Part of being an expert is knowing when you don't know something

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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I’m not a doctor, just a patient. And depending on whom you ask, I’m not a very good one, either — unless you happen to be fond of lots of questions.

I was a medic in the U.S. Army — a time buyer, as I refer to it — but over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of medical professionals. As a patient, I try to be my own best advocate, but I’m not my own doctor.

Before multiple sclerosis (MS) forced my retirement, I learned much from the various healthcare providers I encountered on the job. There were so many lessons, and each was important, but one of the best happened during my second hospital rotation near the end of my medic course.

The main doctor I worked under was a great mentor. He’d been practicing for a while and exuded confidence. During one shift, a strange case came to the emergency department. It wasn’t quite TV medical drama material, but it was baffling to me. After the examination, we returned to the doctor’s office, and I waited for him to tell me the diagnosis.

Instead, he looked at me and asked, “Do you have any idea what that is?”

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I was a bit stunned and must have appeared so, because he quickly added, “You don’t honestly think I know everything, do you?”

I suppose I didn’t really, but the bluntness of it was a little shocking at first. Then his statement became oddly comforting as it sunk in. The lesson he taught me was that genuine expertise and confidence come from knowing that you don’t know something. I will always be indebted to him for allowing me to learn that early on.

As an MS patient now, instead of a cocky young medic, it’s still helpful to know that my doctors, nurses, and therapists don’t know everything. It would be impossible for me to have confidence in any member of my healthcare team if they thought or acted as if they did. That includes the head of the team and my best advocate: me.

If I knew everything, I wouldn’t need the neurologists who treat my multiple sclerosis. If they knew everything, my MS might be cured. I need them to know more than I do, which, so far, hasn’t been a problem.

I’m as desperate for a cure as anyone else with a chronic disease, but I don’t want my doctor to feel that way. Wait — yes, I do. But I also need my doctor to be realistic. I depend on it.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Adrian Sohn avatar

Adrian Sohn

Thanks Benjamin
That was a great article
I'm a retired family physician ( x 5 years retired) I didn't want to but my neurologist recommended it and I thought it wasn't wise to go against his advice
I wanted to follow you but my MS brain just can't figure out how???

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Dr. Sohn! I don't know how to follow me either. I know you can set up a Google alert for keywords but I'll have to look into that. Sorry for your unplanned retirement, but glad to hear that you have a trusting relationship with your neurologist. That's more important than a lot of people realize.

Ben

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STEPHEN SWETECH, DO avatar

STEPHEN SWETECH, DO

Caveat emptor! Anyone who believes that any physician knows it all should be careful. We physicians learn during our practice, using the tools we obtained from our medical school, post graduate training, discussions with our colleagues, discussing difficult cases with our specialty friends, and referring patients to specialists. This article spells it out nicely. A physician may not know it all but can usually find more information looking in the right places. The MS patients I have treated and assisted in treatment prove to be quite complicated and need assurances as well as compassion. Leaving on a humorous note I remember a lecturer state: "Specialists are unique individuals, who learn more and more about less and lees until they know everything about nothing. While administrators are unique medical personnel who learn many details about many things and as time goes on administrators learn less and about more and more till they know every thing about nothing. With my associations with specialists and administrators I feel I really don't know anything about anything." Remember ask and you shall receive. Wishing you health, wealth and happiness.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thank you for the comment Dr. Swetech!
You stated the key item I learned from many of the professionals I worked under. You don’t have to know everything, but you do need to know how to find everything (available). Sometimes that means sending the pt to someone else.

It was the infectious disease specialist (treating me for Q-fever) who noticed my abnormal reflexes and sent me to a neurologist. That neurologist diagnosed the multiple sclerosis but told me (and I've always been grateful) that he was a headache specialist and referred me to another neurologist who specializes in MS.

Ben

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Catherine Helm avatar

Catherine Helm

Such a great article, thank you.

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

You are so welcome Catherine. Thank you for reading it!

Ben

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MADELINE NEWTON avatar

MADELINE NEWTON

this is a great article for it is true and wish more would realize this ...there are some out there that do think they know everything and that we don't know anything that they are the doctor and we are no help to them when we try to tell them something or just want to discuss it ...than you for a great article about your expeience ...

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Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Madeline! I depend on my healthcare team to tell me when I'm overthinking or over-reacting. (I know I do) I just want to be told why. I don't want to be in the way, but it's my healthcare and I want to be involved.

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