6 Ways a Medical Appointment Is Like a Job Interview

You’ve probably heard the advice that you should write down questions for your doctor before an appointment but that is usually not enough when you are dealing with a rare or complex disease.  Did you know that doctors are taught a ‘medical interview’ that they use as the framework of your appointment?  By approaching your appointment like you would a job interview, you can learn how to better communicate and collaborate with your doctor, resulting in a stronger relationship and better care for you. 

Let’s look at the way an appointment or ‘medical interview’ is similar to a job interview.

  1. You need to be prepared and ready to answer the questions that are being asked.
    You have probably been asked the typical interview questions like  ‘What are your strengths?’ or ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’  The first time you heard them, you may have stumbled and stammered a semi-intelligible answer.  But, you quickly figured out the game and knew to expect those questions so you prepared ahead of time so you could better answer them.

    The same applies to the ‘medical interview’ in that you can predict and prepare for the questions that will be asked.  ‘What brings you in today?’ is asking you what your major concern or chief complaint is.  Questions about your symptoms will be focused on duration, severity, when it started, what makes it better or worse.  A future blog post will cover the ‘chief complaint’ more thoroughly and give you a more comprehensive list of questions but for now, think about the questions included above.
  2. Your demeanor and approach can make or break it
    Just like in a job interview, your demeanor and approach can make or break a doctor’s appointment.  Being prepared, calm and respectful goes a long way toward developing a collaborative relationship.

    Now, you might be saying but Patti, this doctor was totally dismissive of me and told me it was all in my head.  I understand it’s terribly upsetting and hurtful. Believe me, I do understand because I’ve experienced it too.  But honestly, remaining as calm and confident as possible while thanking them for their time while stating that you don’t think this is a good match is the safest way to handle it. Think of what you’d do in a job interview and work to model your behavior on that. There’s no need to get in a fight or burn your bridges, just remain professional and bow out of the relationship. Remember, just like every job isn’t a good fit, neither is every doctor a good fit for you. 
  3. Presentation and your appearance are an important piece of it.
    In a job interview, you want your appearance and presentation to represent you in relation to the company and job you are applying for. When I interviewed as a programmer, I wore pretty casual clothes but as a project manager, I dressed the part so it was professional dress.

    What does this have to do with an appointment and how you dress?  Like a job interview, you want to present a consistent message that reflects how you feel.  It’s hard to be vulnerable but it is important to be genuine and share how you are doing. Don’t hide your pain, symptoms or challenges coping.  Doctors are trained to observe and factor in non-verbal cues so they are assessing things from the moment they walk in the room including signs of pain and discomfort.

    This can be really hard, especially in a society that doesn’t tolerate illness or disabilities but it is important to find doctors who you can trust and who you can be completely honest with.  If you are exhausted and can barely sit up – go ahead and lie down in the exam room. If you are pain, don’t hide it and let yourself show it. Personally, this took a lot of time and mind work to let myself do this but without doing this, you are missing an important piece of communicating and advocating with your doctor.
  4. With a new doctor you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
    Prior to an interview, it is expected that you will research the company and it’s background. You want to learn enough to figure out if they might be a good fit and develop any questions about them ahead of time. As I spent more time in the workforce, I also learned what was most important to me in a workplace and what things were non-negotiable.  My longest job was in a company with a somewhat dysfunctional upper management but the job allowed me to work with super smart people, in a field I found fascinating (molecular biology software), with a flexible part-time schedule. 

    How does this apply to a doctor’s appointment?  Just like you research a potential new company or employer, it helps to research a potential new doctor. You can look at their profile and research publications to see if they have an interest in your rare disease. There will be a list of training and sometimes even a short video created by the doctor sharing their philosophy on doctor-patient relationships. All of this can give you some hints on whether it might be a good fit or not.

    Understanding the culture of the company or the doctor you are interviewing with is a key component to knowing if they are a good fit.  Observe how things are run in the office, if the employees are happy and are working together.  Are they going to be able to help you with your issues? Do they treat your disease in a way that is in alignment with you, your values and your goals?  Your first appointment is the chance for you to proactively decide if it is a good fit and if not, to part ways before investing more time and energy into a relationship that isn’t going to work out long term. 
  5. It is common that you will need to do the follow-up
    A job search would be so much easier if every company responded in a timely way and let you know the status on your job application. But, we know that it is often up to us follow-up with the company to thank them and check on the status.

    With doctor appointments, it is a similar situation where it would be wonderful if the doctor’s office was timely and proactive with all follow-up for things like testing, referrals or treatments.  In reality, it doesn’t happen that way often due to an overly busy office or due to an oversight.  As a patient, you have more skin in the game so you may need to be the one to do the follow-up.  Follow-up should be respectful, polite and with the right person to optimize getting the response you need. I’ve found that approaching them from a collaborative perspective is the most effective.  For example, I often use phrases like ‘I know this isn’t your normal process but could you help me with….’ or ‘Can I help in any way to get this done?’  Think of how you would interact with a potential company and channel that type of respectful, cooperative communication when working with your doctor’s office.
  6. It takes practice and time to get better at the process but it is worth it
    Think back to your very first job interview. Did you stumble and make mistakes?  If you were anything like me, with each interview you learned more about the process and yourself.  In time, you knew what to expect, prepared ahead of time and did much better presenting yourself in later interviews.

    Preparation, practice and rehearsing will improve your ability to present yourself confidently, accurately and completely while sharing complete information on your issues. Reviewing what went well, what didn’t go well and identifying how to improve for next time will not only improve your appointments and your health care but make the whole process of attending an appointment less stressful and easier for you. 


Are you ready to rock your next appointment or should I say your next ‘medical interview’?  

P.S. If you want help with your next appointment, download your free Rare Disease Appointment Planner here!


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