Being able to advocate for yourself is important for everyone. It’s especially important for black women who face the combined injustices that are medical racism and sexism. Knowing how to advocate for yourself and having people around you who can do that for you when you’re unable can be the difference between life and death. Knowing how to advocate for yourself and your loved ones can help protect your health and well-being, mitigating the effects of these injustices.
Research and learn
Keeping your gender, age, race and family history in mind, find out what health screenings and checks you need and at what point. Learn about your family’s medical history and the potential risk factors you’re potentially dealing with. Another area you should research and familiarize yourself with is your health insurance policy (as much as one can understand their deliberately dense writing).
Before going in to see the doctor, don’t let snide comments about ‘Dr. Google’ keep you from doing your own research and looking into your symptoms. One patient tells the story of her doctor refusing to order a mammogram for her and only acquiescing when she insisted. The mammogram results led to her diagnosis -positive for breast cancer. Doing your research beforehand can make you feel confident about any tests you firmly request. Look at trusted sources, primarily sites with .gov, .edu, and .org domains.
Learn to explain how you feel
One of the best ways to advocate for yourself is to simply get comfortable with speaking up, and sharing how you’re feeling, as well as your concerns, hesitations, and questions. If you’re the kind of person for whom this is intimidating, you can write it all down before you go in. Your symptoms in particular can help a good doctor correctly diagnose you. This can also help if you get a doctor who questions or doubts your account of things. Ask as many questions as you want. A good doctor will not be intimidated by this. Also, bring a pen and paper to write down the doctor’s responses to your key questions and concerns.
Related to being able to communicate what’s going on in your body is learning to listen to your body and not dismissing it as other people may. If something doesn’t feel right say it. Women often stay silent because of socialization around not being difficult. One patient tells the story of her port for chemo infusions not feeling right even though she was told it should be hassle-free. To avoid being a difficult patient, she kept quiet, later it became clear that the needle was wrongly inserted when it tore up her skin and she developed a serious, painful infection.
Talk to other doctors if you want
Get a second, third and fifth opinion if you want. You have the right to discuss your symptoms, diagnosis and treatment with another doctor. You can do it to get other views on your medical condition, as well as for access to more research and specialization or simply to feel more comfortable if there’s medical consensus.
Look around for a doctor
Because of these unique vulnerabilities faced by black women, it could be beneficial to look around for a doctor. In an emergency, you don’t have a choice but for a long-term general practitioner, you have a chance to search. Three things to keep in mind when searching are the three c’s, they are compassionate, competent, and confident. They should be someone who listens to you and lets you leave feeling your concerns have been fully addressed. They should also be your biggest advocate and be willing to answer questions and explain their positions.
They should also be the kind of person who is not intimidated by your independent research. They received medical training for years and may have garnered years of experience to boot, a few hours spent with ‘Dr. Google’ should be something they understand not catch feelings over.
Know your normal
To advocate for yourself, you need to know your normal. Knowing what your normal is like helps you know when something is off. What is the normal colour of your urine? What does your breast tissue usually feel like? How frequent are your bowel movements? When do you tend to have headaches? Knowing your usual state including numbers like weight, blood pressure and heart rate can make it easier to articulate changes and help in diagnosis.
Keep a record
Keeping a record of your medical history, including any previous diagnoses, medications, and treatments. This can help you communicate more effectively with your healthcare provider, ensuring you receive appropriate care.
Don’t ignore pain and discomfort
Pain and discomfort are your body telling you something. Don’t ignore them.
Other general tips
- Lean on your support system and if you wish to, bring someone to the appointment with you
- Don’t settle for treatment you’re not comfortable with
- Request accommodations before your appointment, for example, if you have an addiction to painkillers or triggers, disclose them to a doctor in advance so they don’t misstep. It can also show you which doctors listen and honour your requests.
- File a formal complaint in you feel you’ve been mistreated or discriminated against in any way
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