A Letter To Every ‘Checked Out’ Healthcare Provider

Over the last couple of months I’ve been lucky to be home to help a couple of family members deal with health issues.  I’ve visited several doctors (and hospitals) and while some have been great (especially the nurses), some have been difficult and, at times, downright rude. 

This morning, while reflecting on my last unpleasant visit to a doctor, I wrote a letter in my journal as a way to work through my frustration.

Ok, anger.

When I finished, I decided to share it here.  I know there are many healthcare providers who read this blog, and chances are you’re not in need of these suggestions.  

But just in case you know someone who is… 

Dear Healthcare Provider,

Thank you for choosing to be a caregiver.  I can only imagine how challenging it must be.  I have such empathy for the fact that today’s medical system makes it nearly impossible to do the job you originally signed up for – help people heal. 

While I know you have limited time and resources, here are a few things that will actually make your job easier – and contribute to the healing of your patients so you don’t keep seeing the same faces with the same illnesses over and over again.

First, if you’re running late, please have someone visit the room to let the patient know what’s going on.  Waiting for a doctor is one of the most stressful parts of the experience.  And an anxious patient makes for a bad start to an appointment.

When you enter the room, please look him or her in the eye and smile.  Your smile will go a long way in making the patient feel safe and comfortable. 

Before you say anything about their problem, please let the patient know you’re there to help.  Ask him or her to tell you what’s happening.  Then, listen for longer than you think you should and when the patient stops, ask: Is there more?  

People start to heal the moment they feel heard.

Please be mindful of the fact that this person is feeling vulnerable and scared (regardless of their age or stature or what they say).  As a matter of fact, you’re most likely dealing with a child in an adult’s body.  

When people are scared they often regress to five or ten years old, for instance. This means they’ll most likely have a hard time understanding big words and they’ll feel helpless to deal with threatening news.

Which brings me to the next point…

Please, please know that every word that comes out of your mouth will most likely be branded into the patient’s psyche for a long time.  Every word.

This means when you say things like:

This could be serious…
You may have a disease…
This is what happens, as you get older…
Here’s what could happen to you…

Followed by a horror story about a previous patient who ended up seriously ill (or dead).  

Every word you utter has the power to hurt or to heal. 

Contrary to what most people think, scaring someone in the hopes that they’ll change their behavior doesn’t work.  

Fear doesn’t inspire healthy action, compassion does.

When patients leave your office feeling frightened, they often do the opposite of what you’d like them to do.  They engage in behaviors that contributed to their health problems in the first place.

Behaviors like…

Light up a cigarette the moment they leave your office
Stop at McDonalds for a Happy Meal on the way home
Stop at a bar or liquor store for a drink
Ruminate about every possible thing that could go wrong
Sit in front of a television for hours at a time to numb out

These behaviors provide a false sense of comfort because they help patients calm their anxious feelings.  Numbness is an attractive destination for a sick person who feels hopeless and helpless. 

If you want to inspire positive change, try asking two questions at the end of the appointment…

What’s one thing you think you can do to improve your health?

Who do you trust to support you with this action?

While I know every health issue is different and often complex, you can begin the healing process, regardless of the issue, by empowering the patient to choose their next step.  

And, by enlisting the support of someone who will gently and lovingly hold them accountable, you have a better chance of the patient doing something that will get them moving in the right direction.

I can’t imagine how busy you must be and I’m sure you’re as frustrated as we are by the system.  And honestly, I imagine it’s annoying to deal with patients who don’t do what will help them heal.

I’m sure you’d much rather be a healer than a machine. 

These simple actions might just help get the system moving in the right direction, too. 


A Caring Family Member

P. S. – If you haven’t seen this video, please take four minutes out of your day to watch it now.  It may just change everything. You can watch it here.


Conni99 16th October 2014 8:28 pm

Dear Cheryl,

This article hit home, especially since October 17th is the 10th anniversary of my dad's passing. He was in hospice, and most of the staff was wonderful, EXCEPT the doctor.

My dad passed in the early afternoon, and the doctor was doing his rounds. I found him and wanted to tell him that my dad had died, but when I approached him, he gave me an icy stare and said, "WHAT"? I couldn't say anything and walked away. I was in shock, shock at my dad's death, and shock at how I was treated. He was a young doctor and must have been new to everything; but that's no excuse for being rude. When he found out my dad died, he did apologize for his horrible behavior. I guess a part of me is still angry at him. I guess I have some forgiving to do.

Love to you all,


moonmajic2007 17th October 2014 6:47 am

Thank you so much for this article. I'm a healthcare provider and while I DO try to approach patients with caring and DO listen...this was a EXCELLENT reminder and gives really good helpful hints. I've seen other providers use scare tactics, or seem rushed which gives the perception that the patient doesn't matter, and although it's not that they don't care, they are so caught up in the system that they don't realize how they are perceived. Healing the person through genuine caring and addressing each one as a unique individual with their own story can be so much more effective than handing out a pill, which is certainly where healthcare today has gone. I am going to print this off and hang it in our office. I'm also going to share it with my colleagues. Thank you again. It isn't harsh at all...it is the total truth!

rachelsnyder 17th October 2014 8:33 am

Thank you, Cheryl. I appreciate your sentiments.

May I add another note to this important conversation? I do not work in the healthcare field, though I hold great empathy for the intensity that envelops those who do.

In support of caregivers of all stripes, I offer up The Caregiver's Promise, which speaks to the need for striking a balance between caring for others and caring for self. The Wounded Healer archetype is very real.



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Cheryl Richardson

Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including, Take Time for Your LifeLife MakeoversStand Up for Your LifeThe Unmistakable Touch of GraceThe Art of Extreme Self Care, You Can Create an Exceptional Life with Louise Hay, and her new book, Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife.

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