How To Survive The Dreaded Doctor’s Visit
It may seem like a major waste of time, but getting checked out—whether it's for a never-ending cold or an annual sports physical—is more important than you think.
As you sit there on top of the exam table, you grab on to the slippery vinyl cushion with sweaty palms. Your feet dangle off the edge, and that barely there paper gown you’re wearing crinkles loudly as you fidget. Thoughts ping-pong through your mind while you wait: Should you mention that itchy rash? What about how you can’t sleep? And oh no—do you need any shots?
Before you know it, the doctor walks in, presses the cold stethoscope to your chest, and the awkwardness level peaks. But instead of zoning out, take a deep breath (and not just because the doctor tells you to). This is your chance to take control of your health! We asked docs to address your biggest fears about visiting their offices, so that you can get past them now—and use your visit to get your questions answered.
The Fear: I dread getting shots.
The Fix: Even if you have the world’s biggest case of needlephobia, you have to admit that getting a quick injection is better than getting a deadly disease. In fact, the best way to survive your vaccinations may be to understand exactly why you’re having them in the first place. The shots you get as a teen protect you from some nasty illnesses, like meningococcal disease—a contagious bacterial infection that can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, and limb amputations. It’s most common in teens, and 1 in 10 people who are infected end up dying from it. (A little pinprick doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?)
If that knowledge still isn’t enough to calm your anxiety, ask the nurse for some ice to numb the spot beforehand, or simply close your eyes and use a tried-and-true distraction technique—anything from popping in your earbuds or squeezing your other fist really hard, to sucking on a lollipop like you did as a kid. (The receptionist won’t look twice if you grab one from her bowl on the way in—promise!)
The Fear: My doc is nosy!
The Fix: “What did you have for breakfast? Do you fight with your mom?” Some topics may seem irrelevant, but before you tell the doc to MYOB, consider this: There’s a reason behind these probing questions! Details like what foods you eat every day or those frequent family arguments are like puzzle pieces, which your doctor uses to solve the mystery of your health ailments. (Headaches, for example, could be caused by anything from a food allergy to stress.)
Your doctor’s inquisitive manner isn’t just a way to diagnose your dilemmas, though—many say they ask questions to get the conversation flowing, so you’ll feel more comfortable opening up. So come armed with your own Qs: Could my acne medication have any side effects? Is it normal to wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry? If you’re properly prepared, your mind won’t blank when the doctor walks in.
The Fear: Mom's right there...
The Fix: We get it. Your mom was the only one who could drive you to the doctor, and you’d rather faceplant in front of the whole school than ask about your puberty problems while she’s in the room. Luckily, by the time you turn 13, your doctor should ask to chat one-on-one. But what if that doesn’t happen? At the end of your visit, say, “Can I e-mail you with any questions I forgot to ask?” (Most docs told us they’re totally open to continuing the conversation that way.).
If you’re apprehensive about confidentiality, bring it up! Your pediatrician will gladly explain that—as long as you don’t share anything that could harm you or someone else—what happens in the doctor’s office stays there. They can’t (and won’t) tell your parents what you’ve discussed.
The Fear: I'm being judged.
The Fix: From the moment you step on the scale, it begins: You’re questioned, measured, touched, tested—and you can’t help but wonder if a lecture is on the way.
But every doctor we talked to wanted us to tell you that they’re not there to judge! In fact, they want you to tap into that awkward feeling and use it to summon all of those “am I normal?” questions that you can’t ask anyone else—whether you’re worried about your weight or sprouting body hair.
They assured us they’ve seen it all before —and most important, that they know how to help you.
• Dr. Angela Diaz, Director of Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center
• Dr. Marjorie Seidenfeld, Medical Director of Barnard College Primary Care Health Service
• Dr. Carol Wilkinson, Pediatrician at UCSF and Medical Director at Kinsights.com
• Dr. Cora Breuner, Professor of Pediatrics at Seattle Children's Hospital