I’ve long been a traditionalist when it comes to my medical care. Despite the increasing presence of women physicians in recent years, I’ve stayed the course. I’ve stuck with my male doctors ”“ all of them aging and white. Not that I sought out this cohort, exactly; but when it comes to referrals, many docs refer patients to colleagues like themselves.

All of this came to a head several years ago when my gynecologist moved out West, my primary care doc retired, and my dentist developed an extreme case of denial. First, my dentist stopped working on Fridays; then Mondays vanished from the schedule; and finally, when I needed a filling, he was available only a couple of mornings. When it appeared that he was working a total of 12 hours a week, I gently asked whether he was in the process of retiring.

“No!” he said so emphatically that the word contradicted itself.

It was clearly time to rethink my medical care. Referrals from my two departing physicians got the ball rolling. Each recommended a woman doc, one of whom was young enough to be my daughter. She also wore a nose stud, which happened to look great. Old white men, these were not.

Next came the dentist quandary. When a friend spoke glowingly of her long-standing dentist whose office was near me, I decided to give him a try. When, during my initial visit, he asked if I had any questions, I said that I had an unusual concern. I told him that my doctors all seemed to be retiring or moving, and I wondered whether either was on his near-term radar. He laughed and assured me that he had no such plans.

With this addition, my roster of old, white guys had again taken a hit: my new dentist, 50-ish, Asian, proved to be an excellent choice.

Nor does the list end there. Other of my specialists have started to cut back their hours, or otherwise signal that an end is near. My allergist of 20-plus years is now in his 70s, my ophthalmologist nearing 80.

“It’s been a year since your last appointment,” said the recent notice from my eye doctor. Yet within weeks, he, too, was retiring, and the search for his replacement would begin.

Hardly a day passes without some news of our changing national health care policy. Yet for many of us, the changes are less global, more personal. Years ago, I probably wouldn’t have considered a young female doc with a nose stud. Her age and jewelry may have been deal-breakers. As it turns out, she’s whip-smart and attentive, possibly better than the older male doc who recommended her. His retirement, which first seemed problematic, has proved to be an opportunity and an eye-opener.

— Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews. This column originally appeared in The Maine Sunday Telegram.



        filed under: