Last week, I attended Philadelphia’s Go Red for Women luncheon whose goal is to raise funds for the American Heart Association and encourage awareness of the issue of women and heart disease. Several speakers shared their personal stories of feeling dismissed by physicians when they reported their symptoms. Whether it’s cardiac symptoms, breast health, or pain, this is a theme our nurses hear often.

To encourage women to take better care of themselves, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health leads National Women’s Health Week (NWHW). This year, NWHW takes place from May 12th to May 18th. This observance aims to highlight women’s health issues and priorities and encourage women of all ages to prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

This issue of The Flame celebrates Women’s Health Week and encourages the almost 170 million women in the U.S. to pay attention to your intuition. Follow your gut. Advocate for yourselves. Because if not you, then who?

— Betty Long, RN, MHA, President/CEO, Guardian Nurses Health Advocates


Why Women Need to Advocate for Themselves

There is no end to the number of health issues that are specific to women — pregnancy, ovarian and uterine cancer, post-partum depression, menopause, irregular menstrual bleeding — the list goes on. And then there are health issues that both women and men tackle—depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, migraines, GERD, irritable bowel, cancer, and of course, chronic pain — to name just a few.

So many of our female patients report to us that prior to having Guardian Nurses on their healthcare team, they did not feel listened to and that despite reporting symptoms that may require more diagnostic testing, their symptoms were minimized or dismissed. A recent patient shared an alarming story of her surgeon using street slang to describe her breasts.

Advocating for yourself in a medical setting is crucial for ensuring you receive the care you need and deserve. Regardless of your gender, consider these suggestions:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn about your symptoms, conditions, and treatment options. Understanding your health empowers you to ask informed questions and make decisions alongside your provider.
  2. Listen to Your Gut: Ever experienced a nagging feeling of unease about a situation or a person? Science suggests that listening to your intuition can be a valuable tool. Pay attention–It might be trying to tell you something!
  3. Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with your patient rights, including the right to informed consent, privacy, and access to your medical records. If you feel your rights are being violated, speak up or seek assistance from a patient advocacy organization.
  4. Be Assertive: Don’t hesitate to speak up about your concerns or ask questions during appointments. You know your body best, and your input is critical.
    Discuss Concerns About Bias: If you suspect bias or discrimination based on your gender, race, or other factors, express your concern to the provider, the office or the facility. Your healthcare experience should be equitable and respectful.
  5. Keep Records: Even though most providers have on-line portals now, you should still maintain a record of your symptoms, medications, treatments, and any changes in your health. Bringing this information to appointments helps providers understand your health journey.
  6. Ask Questions: If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Medical jargon can be confusing, and it’s essential to ensure you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis and treatment plan.
  7. Seek Second Opinions: If you feel unsure about a diagnosis or treatment plan, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from another qualified healthcare provider.
  8. Express Your Preferences: Share your preferences regarding treatment options, including any concerns you have about side effects, costs, or lifestyle impact. Your provider should consider your preferences when developing a treatment plan.
  9. Follow-Up: If you have ongoing health concerns or symptoms, follow up with your provider as needed. Never assume that ‘no news is good news.’ It’s simply, ‘no news.’ Don’t hesitate to schedule additional appointments or, if necessary, see a specialist.
  10. Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or patient advocates who can offer encouragement and guidance as you navigate your healthcare journey.

And finally, if your provider does not appear to be listening to you, believing what you’re saying, or appropriately treating you, then it is time to find a new provider.


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