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What Doctors Look For in a Doctor

The benefits of finding a doctor you feel at home with can’t be overstated. You’re more likely to follow the advice of a doctor you actually like and trust, which means the doctor-patient relationship itself can play a critical role in well-beingAt the bare minimum, your doctor should know enough to diagnose and treat you. But certain factors, like special interests, personality traits or cultural background, can shape a doctor’s interactions with patients. 

If you’re trying to assess whether your current doctor is right for you, or if you’re searching for a new doc altogether, who better to ask than the experts themselves? We talked to five physicians about the top qualities they seek in their own medical providers. Here’s what they had to say.

Dr. Eva Shelton, resident physician, Harvard Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston

Most doctors are intelligent, and medical training provides them with the knowledge and expertise to do the job. The truly admirable ones really take the time to connect with their patients compassionately, notice the fine details to make challenging diagnoses and learn new things every day.

One of the most important aspects of a physician-patient relationship is trust. If I trust my physician, I’m also more willing to follow the advice they give me. A big part of it is just the intangibles — essentially, looking for someone who is a good fit for me.

We went to medical school because we are curious about the human body, but too often in the rigorous and trying training process, medical students become jaded and forget the reason we chose medicine in the first place. The real gems are those of us who stay grounded and humble. 


What Parents Should Look For in a Doctor

Dr. Laleh Gharahbaghian, emergency medicine physician, Stanford Health Care, Palo Alto, California

As a woman, an immigrant and an emergency medicine physician with a leadership role in our group looking at how care can be optimized, what I look for in my own doctors is actually very similar to what I ask of my colleagues.First is diversity of thought. I bring all of me to a doctor’s appointment. This includes my upbringing, my life experiences, through all milestones in my life, and my physician training. I want my doctor to ask about my experiences, my fears and my thoughts. This is a great way to connect and set expectations. 

I do not want a robot as a doctor; I want someone who has feelings, who cares, who shows emotions. I want someone who’s able to show genuine happiness for me in light of positive news, and sensitivity in light of any bad news. 

If I reach out with a question or a concern, I like to receive a timely and validating response. I want doctors who understand what they’re doing but also understand their own limitations. I respect when a doctor is honest with me when describing a disease — and is clear what they know and don’t know. 

Dr. Adam Elshafei, cosmetic dermatologist, Aesthetica, Chicago

As a doctor, No. 1, I look for someone who is confident in their specialty. As a fellow MD, I can veer toward micromanaging at the beginning of our relationship. But if the physician clearly knows what they are doing and can make me feel relaxed and comfortable, I’m able to let go and let them do their job.

I also look for physicians who have impeccable safety protocols. Although safety protocols vary from one specialty to another, this should be clearly something they take seriously. If you feel they don’t, see someone else.

Also, I ask others in the field for recommendations. Other doctors typically hear and see things the general public doesn’t always get exposed to, so learning what they have to say is important. People can also find a lot just by taking time to look deeper into provider reviews online. 

Dr. Jaclyn Tomsic, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Ohio’s Center for Oral, Facial and Implant Surgery, Highland Heights, Ohio

I usually look for a provider within my hospital system because I want to support my fellow doctors, so that’s No. 1. I also usually look for whether or not the physician is board-certified in their specialty. Any doctor who’s board-certified has taken the time to go through a rigorous board certification process and has passed, so I know that they’re competent in their field. That’s important to me.

Once I know the doctor is board-certified and has a good reputation among my colleagues, it also comes down to convenience. Just like anyone looking for a new doctor, their availability and location really matters, because it means you’re more likely to follow through with treatment. 

Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago

I look for someone who’s personable, accessible and up on the latest screening, chronic care and acute care guidelines. In primary care, this can be a lot. It’s unrealistic to expect a primary care physician to be an expert in everything, but a good general knowledge, an interest in learning and curiosity are a key part of the job. If they don’t know the answer, I’d want to see that they are willing and eager to find out. For specialists, the most important thing is that specialized knowledge, but it’s helpful if they’re also personable and accessible.

Ready to book a doctor’s appointment? Visit Zocdoc.

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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.