A Layman’s Guide to Choosing a Doctor

Cartoon by by grand daughter Lana.
Cartoon by by grand daughter Lana.

I’ve mentioned before that with a serious disease I think we need to become active in the treatment of that disease.  This is because not all doctors are created equal.

There are doctors that graduate at the top of the class and those that graduate at the bottom.  And then there are those doctors no matter how smart they are scholastically will never make a good doctor.

Money makes a difference. Private Health insurance in Australia allows a choice of doctors.  But let’s put money aside for the time being.  What sort of doctor do you want when you have a serious disease?

1. You want the best doctor in their field. Those on the cutting edge of current technology and up with the latest techniques.  You would think all doctors keep abreast of their chosen profession but this is not always the case.  They can get lazy or simply not want to change what they have been doing for a lifetime in their profession.

Soon after I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer I saw four or five different urologists to try and work out what treatment to undertake.  When I asked one of them about some of the new techniques in prostate surgery he told me “I don’t even look at anything unless it has been in practice for at least 10 years”.  He was ticked off my list.

Also a doctor’s reputation can be an indication of his skill, and the internet is a good place to start.  But I also found that support groups can be enlightening in this regard.  While most support groups are not suppose to recommend different doctors, one on one conversations with patients attending such groups can yield all sorts of information about different medical specialists.

2.You want someone who is experienced in the procedure you are going to be doing. Just like any skill, surgeons and radiologists get better with a procedure the more times they perform it.  It was recommended to me that don’t look at a doctor for any procedure unless he has performed it at least 200 times.

What goes along with this is how successful those procedures are.  This can be difficult information to get.  You can ask the doctor for percentages of his or her successes but also ask around.  If you know another doctor you respect in a different field ask him “If you had to have this procedure, which doctor would you choose”?  Once again support groups for the particular disease is good for this also.

3.You want someone who is open. Open to letting you choose a doctor for a second or third opinion and open to being asked lots of questions.

All doctors will say they don’t object to you getting a second opinion. But many doctors like to direct you to who they recommend for that opinion.  Often one of their friends who they may or may not have shared their thoughts about you already.

Early on when I said to my specialist that I planned to go to another city for another opinion, he reaction was “Of course that is your right, but if you end up getting treated by that doctor, and it goes badly, don’t expected doctors here to treat you then!  I found out that I was not the only one who had been told that by that specialist.

4.You want someone you can relate to. It could (hopefully) be a long relationship.  You want someone who you can work with.  Who does not discourage questions (I use to bring a list of questions with me to the consultations to make sure I covered them all).  And someone who, once you are in consultation gives you as much time as you need.

5.And for me I want someone who does not treat me as a child, I hate being lied to about my prospects. The cartoon above happened to me, I don’t like being condescended to and told “Do not worry, everything will be OK.”Just tell me the percentages of what can happen from here.  Treat me like a person, not like someone who cannot deal with what I need to deal with.

Of course many people do not have the luxury of choosing their doctor.  Well, you can still ask all those questions from whoever you get allocated in the public sector;  their experience, their treatment record, their percentages of success,  and you can gauge their willingness to talk with you about questions, and gauge their ability to interact with you.

I always would start the first consultation; “Hi I’m Charles, you mind if I call you Arthur (whatever their Christian name is)”?  Don’t be afraid to challenge them to be a ‘good’ doctor!

Good luck

Charles Robinson



  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with doctors and your recommendations. Starting your first consultation on a first name basis lays the foundation for a more equal relationship I believe. In my nursing I saw a lot of people give their personal power away to medical staff. As you so wisely point out, not all medical staff are “good” at their job. best wishes.

    1. Thanks Karen, yes from my experience if the specialist is any good they will welcome ‘decision sharing’. I imagine making life affecting decisions on a daily basis is stressful for them, and sharing that responsibility in an informed way with the patient has to be a good thing for them. As you say starting off on a first name basis sets the foundation for such a relationship. Best wishes…Charlie

  2. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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