After last week’s post on why I don’t vaccinate, a lot of interesting thoughts and questions came up. I was asked, among other things, if I distrust doctors and if so, why.
Here’s the thing: I do approach any doctor (mainstream or alternative) with a certain reserve or wariness, if you will. I don’t automatically trust anyone. Having “MD” after your name doesn’t make you an amazing expert, in my opinion (nor do any alternative credentials). Respect and trust have to be earned. Since I got so many questions on why I think this way, I thought I’d answer them here.
Unlike a lot of people I’ve run into, I don’t take the view that all people who have a particular degree or experience are simply to be trusted. (Just like, no, I don’t automatically trust that the government, the FDA, the CDC, nor any other large organization has my family’s best interests at heart. I think they’re looking both at society as a whole, and also at commercial interests and the economy. Sometimes the right choice doesn’t come out ahead. It’s human nature that sometimes people don’t always choose altruistically.)
I also don’t believe that just because parents don’t have a particular degree that they can’t read and evaluate information and make decisions for their own families. When we’re talking about anything that has both risks and benefits (which, let’s face it, everything has both), parents have to make the call for their own children. What to feed them, what car seat to use (and how long to remain rear-facing), what medical care to get them (including whether or not to vaccinate), where they go to school, and so on. There is no justification, in my opinion, for trying to force parents to accept any particular set of risks. Every family is different, their circumstances are different, and no one has the right to tell them what decision they must make. (Try telling a family whose child has died from a vaccine that they have to vaccinate all their other children…or telling a family whose child died from an illness that they can’t.)
With that said, here is why I don’t automatically trust all doctors:
1) Doctors are human — There are good ones and bad ones. I come to trust some doctors after speaking to them, getting to know them, etc. But I don’t just trust someone because they have “MD” after their name. Doctors can make mistakes, they can have their particular causes. One (board-certified pediatrician) we saw thought every child’s symptoms were due to food allergies. Many of the patients she saw did have food allergies (and so did her own children), so she’d come to see most symptoms through that lense. It wasn’t always the right answer, though: we eventually sought other opinions because she couldn’t seem to offer other ideas. And she’s actually one of the preferred doctors in my area, who has helped plenty of families. The point is, doctors simply do not always have the answers.
2) Doctors are cavalier about drug use: Doctors are around drugs so much that they have become desensitized to their use, and often downplay the risks involved. When they prescribe a medication 100 times and patients do well, they forget that the 101st person may have a poor reaction. They become overconfident. I know many doctors who don’t hesitate to recommend Tylenol, for example, for a variety of circumstances (pre-vaccine, post-vaccine, any time a child has a low fever or any pain, etc.). The message is, Tylenol is very safe with little to no risk. Yet, it’s the leading cause of liver failure in this country; it is simply not without risk. But doctors forget to relay this message to their patients, who do not know this. They also don’t hesitate to prescribe medication “just in case.” Certainly there are doctors who take a much more cautious approach (and I trust these doctors far more), but many are simply too “medication happy.”
The same goes for vaccines, by the way. I know many parents who were never even given the package insert before a vaccine was administered (obviously some are given this). They’re not told of potential side effects beyond “low fever and pain at the injection site.” If they call with concerns about a vaccine reaction, they’re dismissed — “That doesn’t happen.” They’re so trained to not think that these things can ever happen that they brush off the risks. But of course, the risks are real and even if they’re one in a million…they will happen to someone.
3) If “traditional” medicine fails, doctors don’t know what to do: I know three people in my own life, people I am very close to, for whom doctors could not find the answer. I know many, many more through my site. There are excellent doctors who have helped these people find part of the answers, but not all doctors are excellent. In one case, a woman was suffering from such severe hypothyroidism that the doctor felt the solution was simply to remove her thyroid entirely and put her on Synthroid for life. She sought alternative treatment and her thyroid is now healing on its own. In another case, a woman was told her PCOS was so severe she’d never get a period on her own. She sought alternative treatment and within weeks had her period naturally. In yet another, a man suffered chronic pain that specialists, repeated antibiotics, etc. could not figure out or treat. Alternative treatment got rid of the pain. This is why more younger doctors are starting to embrace alternative medicine: they know it can hold part of the solution sometimes for patients. I don’t trust any doctor who out-of-hand dismisses all alternative treatments in all cases. It’s just arrogant.
4) Doctors can be arrogant: Give me a doctor who sits down, asks me questions, and explains things to me well, who treats me like an intelligent person and works with me as a partner in my health care and I trust him (or her). Give me a doctor who talks to me like I’m an idiot, assumes with little information that s/he knows my body (or my child’s) better than I do, and completely ignores anything I say and I don’t trust him (or her) at all. I may not have medical training, but I can report my own symptoms and lifestyle best so that hopefully, a doctor could get a full history, an accurate picture, and work with me to find a solution. Doctors who are arrogant miss the big picture and definitely don’t earn my respect. Having an MD doesn’t mean you know everything better than I do.
5) Doctors don’t all agree: Some of the people who left comments on my vaccine post acted like certain questions are simply settled, and that everyone in the medical community agrees on a particular issue. It’s just not true. I know plenty of doctors (both MD and alternative) who have questions or disagree with the mainstream view on this and other issues. There is a mainstream “line” but there is no consensus. It’s why I like to talk to different doctors and see if they can explain to me why they believe whatever they believe — do they have research and reasons to back them up, or are they saying it because the APA told them it’s the official position? This is really important to understand.
So when it comes down to it, I evaluate each and every doctor — alternative or mainstream — by these conditions. I’ll dismiss any individuals I feel I cannot trust. When it comes to doctors on the internet, as I do not know them, I automatically take anything they say with a grain of salt, until I can read enough of their material to come to a consensus about their beliefs, experience, situation, etc. Fancy letters alone don’t impress me.
Do you trust all doctors, or do you approach them the way I do?
Top image by aeu04117