An image of a doctor appears in a woman's eye.

Finding a Doctor: My Best Tips

I was in my early 20s when my eye issues started. Doctors told me to spend less time on my screens, take some eye drops, and come back in a month. Because I was young, I believed them and decided my condition must not be serious. However, when I started having trouble seeing at night, I became concerned.

I went to 5 doctors within the span of one year – and all seemed to agree, your eyes are struggling, take some more steroids, and see if that gets rid of your issues (it didn’t). When I was finally diagnosed with chronic dry eye and given scleral lenses to help my vision, I had seen 18 doctors in 9 years. It’s safe to say that I have some advice for people who are looking for a doctor for long-term conditions.

My tips

Bring your medical records with you

My first bit of advice is practical. Even if you have sent copies ahead, bring the records with you so you can show the doctor and refer to them while explaining your situation. Be prepared for a long process.

Be prepared for a long journey

If you suspect you have chronic dry eye or you have been diagnosed, just know this is a life-long process. You will get discouraged; you will have a more difficult time because your body is more sensitive than other people's. You will see many doctors, some will help, and some will not. Be resilient in your search.

Be assertive

Some of us are more assertive than others, but prepare yourself beforehand that it is okay to disagree with a doctor or insist on another solution. Be ready to discuss your conditions, and do not let a doctor dismiss your concerns. You know your body and eyes better than the doctor across the room. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification and details about the decisions the doctor is making.

Ask for recommendations and referrals

If you do not feel like the doctor is taking your problem seriously, or you feel like maybe you know more about your own condition than they do, it is okay to ask for a referral or recommendation for another doctor.

“Do you know anyone that might specialize in something like this?” or “Are there any other doctors in the area who may have some ideas about alternative treatments?” or “If I wanted to do some research on my own, where would you recommend I start?”

Be okay with walking out

You do not have to stay at a doctor’s office if the staff are treating your poorly. It's okay to walk out and not come back. I have done this after seeing a doctor who was very aggressive toward my story and dismissive of my concerns. I left upset and humiliated, but I left.

There are good doctors out there, but unfortunately, there are some bad ones, too. Do not let the bad ones discourage you. You have permission to leave if you feel you are being mistreated or condescended to.

Find a doctor who believes you

I had many doctors who clearly did not believe that I was trying my best to care for my eyes. “You’re going to be blind if you don’t change something.” Or, “You won’t be a candidate for corneal transplants because you don’t take care of your eyes.” These were all doctors who I did not bother returning to.

Getting the help I needed

The first doctor I found who genuinely listened to my concerns was about 3 years ago. I made an appointment, and he spent an hour in the room with me asking questions and looking at my records, and then at my eyes. He was also the first doctor who told me after three visits that my condition was beyond his abilities and referred me to another doctor. This is the type of behavior that makes a great doctor: willing to put in the time and energy and admit when your condition is beyond their knowledge.

I feel lucky to have found this doctor because of the way he treated me with kindness, respect, and acknowledged his own limitations as an eye doctor. This was something I had not experienced much of until this point. He was able to refer me to the amazing Dr. Chen at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Dr. Chen has been instrumental in helping me see again and live a normal life despite the scarring and vision difficulties I face every day. Without the help of the 17th doctor, I would have never made my way to Dr. Chen, my 18th eye doctor in less than 10 years.

Trial and error

Unfortunately, there is so much trial and error in finding the right doctor – it can feel like a full-time job. But the results are worth it. You must be willing to put in the time, effort, and money to get to a doctor who truly listens, understands, and is able to provide some relief.

Because chronic dry eye is a lifelong struggle, I think you will be so much happier that you did the work to find the best fit for your concerns.

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