How women can become their own best advocate in healthcare


Have you ever been called a hypochondriac? I have. If, like me, you were made to feel diminished, dismissed, and downright downtrodden when you spoke up about a health concern you were legitimately experiencing, this article is for you.

I remember it well. I was still in primary school, about 10 or 11 years old, sprinting around the sports oval during an early morning Phys. Ed. class. Suddenly, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was tired. Exhausted, even. In an instant, I went from running to barely being able to stand. On my P.E. teachers’ instruction, I sat myself down on a nearby bench and rested my head on my knees. My world was spinning. 

Yes, I was an overachiever as a child. Piano lessons, dance classes, swimming squad – I did it all, on top of getting high grades at school. Surely, something had to give? And all of a sudden, it did. The next few years of my life were riddled with doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, blood tests, urine tests – you name it. But no one could find what was wrong. Until that is, I saw a naturopath who – with her unconventional methods – uncovered that I was experiencing severe chronic fatigue. My unorthodox treatments – intravenous drips, exorbitant doses of vitamins, coupled with a great deal of bed rest – and my resultant recovery to full health, were all thanks to being my own best healthcare advocate. I didn’t take no for an answer, even when all of the traditional medical practitioners insisted that nothing was wrong. 

As women, we must push for this healthcare self-advocacy, even in the face of dismissal.  

Here’s how to do it. 

1. Fostering Positive Relationships with Your Doctors

When consulting with your medical team, you need to know you can trust them. 

Yes, of course, your doctors and nurses must have obtained the requisite medical qualifications, such as the relevant degrees in medicine, or nursing courses such as online accelerated BSN programs

But this is only the beginning. Positive relationships with your treating doctors need to be built on mutual respect. Do you and your medical team share the same concern for your well-being? Do you have shared goals in terms of your treatment and care? And perhaps most importantly, does it feel like they’re listening? When it comes to healthcare self-advocacy as a woman, you need to make your voice heard. If your doctors are not listening to your concerns, they are unlikely to be acting in your best interests. 

2. Knowing When Something is Amiss & When You Need to Push for a Solution

Chances are, you’re not a hypochondriac. That niggling pain in your abdomen? It could well be a serious infection. And even if it’s not, it’s always best to get it checked out. The best part about doing this? Even if your symptoms turn out not to mean anything, you can rest assured that you trusted yourself enough to follow them up. Even better? If there does turn out to be something wrong, you may have the opportunity to intercept the issue before it gets more severe.

That is why you always need to trust yourself. You know your own body better than anyone, and if it feels like something is wrong, you need to advocate for a solution. Be assertive when it comes to your health. After all, it’s the most important element of your well-being. 

3. Ignorance is Most Certainly Not Bliss

Improving your health literacy is key to becoming the best self-advocate for your health you possibly can. But what does this mean, exactly?

Essentially, health literacy refers to knowing how to navigate and access the healthcare treatments that are available to us. It also means being able to understand how medical treatments work and enables us to make the best decisions in terms of our treatment and care when we are unwell.

Most importantly, having a solid degree of health literacy can enable us to better advocate for ourselves and our health. This is because the self-advocacy will be coming from an informed position, and a place of knowledge.

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