Sometimes becoming an expert leads to a more narrow perspective
I come from a family of doctors so I have the deepest respect for them. I understand the intelligence, diligence, dedication and sacrifice that physicians devote to their careers. When my brother was asking my father, an OB/GYN, for advice on whether he should pursue the medical path, my father advised him to view being a doctor as a social service, given the cost of becoming and being a doctor, decreasing pay, and extraordinary stress (they have people's lives in their hands!). As an OB/GYN (sacrificing much sleep and flexibility in his schedule; and having influence -- and sometimes sole responsibility -- over people's lives and quality of lives), my father — and our family — view his job as a social service.
Given some relatively serious reasons why my husband has spent time in the hospital with doctors over the past few years and given my two pregnancies, only in recent years have I come to develop an even deeper appreciation for medical science and physicians. Loving my family as I do, there is nothing I value more than their health and well-being. So, it is with absolutely the utmost respect that I write this section.
As a patient, it is important to understand your doctor’s perspective.
Reading more about links between nutrition and disease, environmental toxins and health, and vaccines, I find it useful to better appreciate the areas in which doctors do not have training.
Physicians Are Not Required To Study The Relationship Between Nutrition and Health
A couple of years ago, my seemingly healthy husband experienced a carotid artery dissection. We had a group of 15 of the best doctors in the nation on the case, and they did not believe there was anything to change with his diet or lifestyle. I said, "Really?! We drink a fair amount of wine to counteract the extraordinary amount of (work) stress. Many times, our dinner consists of wine and cheese... And he doesn't exercise! There's really nothing he should change to prevent something like this from occurring again?!"
The unanimous response was, "No, this was a random occurrence. Just bad luck."
Until recently, only 7% of all medical schools had a required course on nutrition.
– The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health (2003) by Michio Kushi; page 57
That just didn't make any sense. I needed to be more proactive and try to generate better luck. So I tried to explore further.
“According to a Senate investigation, doctors receive less than three hours of nutritional training in medical school!”
– Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven (2005) by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin; page 68
As I encountered statements like the above, and then asked my brother about the role nutrition played in his medical training, I began to understand why I received the feedback I received from my husband's doctors, who were wonderful in their areas of expertise but specialized in their perspective. I became more aware that they do not have full information to assess causes and related health effects.
Physicians Are Not Required To Have In-Depth Expertise On Vaccines
With a two-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, I read three books on vaccines in 2009 so that I could manage vaccines from a more informed position. (This was around the peak time of the swine flu media frenzy.) I was surprised to learn that physicians are not necessarily as informed on vaccines as I had assumed. Rather, many are advised by governing authorities (such as respective medical boards and the Center for Disease Control) on how to advise their patients. Pharmaceutical companies aggressively market to them as well. But physicians are not necessarily informed enough to challenge what they are being told.
“Doctors, myself included, learn a lot about disease in medical school, but we learn very little about vaccines, other than the fact that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies do extensive research on vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective. We don’t review the research ourselves. We never learn what goes into making vaccines or how their safety is studied. We trust and take it for granted that the proper researchers are doing their jobs. So, when patients want a little more information about shots, all we can really say as doctors is that the diseases are bad and the shots are good. But we don’t know enough to answer all of your detailed questions about vaccines. Nor do we have the time during a regular health checkup to thoroughly discuss and debate the pros and cons of vaccines.”
– “The Vaccine Book” by Robert W. Sears, M.D., F.A.A.P.; October 2007; pages XV – XVI
In 2009, I was pregnant and the baby was expected to be born into the peak of the flu season. After reading that I, as a patient, should review the product inserts for vaccines, I was concerned to read that there have been no long-term studies on the impact of the flu shot on an unborn child. When I asked my OB/GYN, who is great and part of one of the best hospitals in the nation, she did not seem to know what I was talking about. (FYI, after much internal conflict, I chose to get vaccinated for both seasonal flu and swine flu.)
Physicians Are Not Trained To Consider The Possible Impacts of Environmental Toxins On Your Health
I have been lucky, so far, not to have environmental toxins be a known cause of health issues with my loved ones. However, as I have read more about the growing body of evidence that supports a connection between environmental toxins and health, especially in children, I was very upset at times that nobody told me about certain things sooner. For example, why aren't our doctors telling us that flame retardants -- found in such things as conventional mattresses, pajamas, rugs and electronics -- are being found in not only the blood and breast milk of adults, but also in the cord blood of newborns?! (New Zealand has been finding a connection between SIDS and the off-gassing from conventional mattresses. Click on Mattress Revelations: Organic is Worthwhile! to read more.)
Or, even more commonly known now, what about the risks associated with plastic?!
A 2006 study that mailed questionnaires to pediatricians showed that although doctors are aware that many major chronic illnesses today’s children suffer from — including asthma, autism, attention deficit disorders, and even cancer — can be exacerbated by or even directly result from exposure to environmental contaminants, most doctors have no training in environmental health. Furthermore, except for lead, they haven’t been taught to gather information about a child’s environmental history and have little to no ability to talk about threats posed by environmental toxins like mercury, plastics, and pesticides. With 93.5% of the New York State participants reporting that they’ve had a patient harmed by exposure to an environmental toxin, it is no wonder that pediatricians believe environmentally related sicknesses in children are growing.
– The Toxic Sandbox (2007) by Libby McDonald; pages 9 – 10
By nature of being an expert, one must narrow one's study and experience into a specified area. In doing so, it is natural to lose sight of the bigger picture.
See the forest from the trees
As a patient, however, I realized that in taking control of the health of my loved ones, I need to understand what our experts do and do not know. I listen and respect our doctors' opinions, but I also read as much as I can so that I can think critically and ask informed questions; seek additional opinions and expertise when needed; and use common sense and instincts to decide what is best for us.
Also, I continue to work on the attitude: assume nothing (don't assume doctors coordinate all the medications you may be on; don't assume doctors know everything related to health; don't assume the majority opinion is necessarily the best opinion) and that cause and effect exists on every level.
I'm always reminding myself to "know what I don't know" and, as a listener, I'm always wondering, "what does he/she not know." From there, I then have guidance on what to question further.