Hiring and Firing An Oncologist

Op-Ed Guest Blogger: Beth L. Gainer

Oncologist. The word itself sounds scary. So scary that 2001 found me terrified that I had to see one for my breast cancer treatments.

A cancer doctor.

Let’s face it: doctors can be terrifying to us patients. They are the ultimate authority figures. And the oncologist is the ultimate leader of the pack, so his or her word is good as gold, right?


We as patients reserve the right to hire and fire oncologists at will. This doesn’t mean we should make haphazard decisions, but it does mean we have the power to choose who is going to treat our cancer. Each oncologist has a different world view, medical philosophy, and ability to connect with patients. We need to assess these factors when choosing Dr. Right and avoiding Dr. Wrong.

Here are questions to ask yourself when considering whether to hire/fire an oncologist:

* Does the doctor return your calls quickly?
* Does he/she answer your questions completely and satisfactorily?
* Does he/she seem to care about you as a human being, not just as a patient?
* Can he/she answer your questions with confidence and without referring to sources such as the     Internet?
* Do you strongly feel this doctor is the right one for you?

If the answer to all of these is “no” or a less-than-enthusiastic “yes,” it’s time to find another doctor.

The ideal oncologist should be kind, caring, and have your best interest at heart. Some oncologists are seemingly inhumane and unkind, partly because they witness death and suffering so much, that they refuse to connect to the patient.

That’s their problem. You need to find an oncologist who will meet your needs.

My oncologist is wonderful. He is kind, caring, and calls me back the same day I call him. When I was depressed about my chemotherapy regimen causing fatigue and cognitive impairment, he lifted up my spirits by telling me that I was intelligent and going through a really rough time. He always empathizes with my needs and concerns, and he does not regard any of my questions as irrelevant or stupid. He has offered hope and a positive outlook on life.

I have come to regard him as my guardian angel.

But before I decided to use this doctor, I sought a second opinion. And that added clarity to an important decision I was about to make.

The second-opinion doctor came to the appointment with reams of paper from Internet printouts, confused me with dizzying statistics, and finally chose a treatment protocol that I later learned would likely have caused long-term damage to my heart. I also asked him about harvesting my eggs because, despite my dire terror, I was hoping to have a baby after cancer. He said, “You might want to think about how fair it is to bring a child into this world, only to leave it an orphan.” I left that appointment sobbing.

I’m so glad I said “no” to him and “yes” to the first oncologist I had seen. Because now, nine years after that incompetent second-opinion doctor told me I had no future, I am still alive and have adopted a baby girl to share a future with.

Hire the oncologist who is right for you. Remember, you are the driver of your cancer treatments, not a passenger, and a big component of this is hiring the oncologist who best meets your needs.

— Beth L. Gainer

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She has a regular blog column on medical advocacy, “Calling the Shots,” at www.bethlgainer.blogspot.com and a guest post on The World’s Strongest Librarian here. She can be contacted at bethlgainer@gmail.com.

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