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No. 3 – Find a Rheumatologist You Trust

This is the third of ten things I’d like to go back and tell my newly diagnosed self about living with RA.

One of the first things that happened soon after I was diagnosed was that I changed doctors. The doctor that I first went to is a highly esteemed clinician. However, it was apparent that he and his staff didn’t really respect the patients. His new-patient appointments were scheduled between 4:00 am and 7:00 am (yes, in the morning), and the third time I had an 11:00 am appointment and didn’t get into to see the doctor until after 4:00 in the afternoon, I gave up and switched doctors. They actually had a sign in the lobby that said that if you are unable to wait for your appointment, perhaps you should find a new doctor, so I did.

To me, them not caring about my time meant that they didn’t care about me as a person.

I know that some doctors might see me as a difficult patient. I have “failed” on every biologic except one. Even though I might have visibly swollen joints, my labs always come back blazingly normal. I believe in being an informed patient who voices an opinion on my healthcare. So it takes a special physician to work with me and my situation.

A good relationship with your doctor is key

In my opinion, your relationship with your doctor should be a lot like the relationship with a spouse. You not only need to find the right partner, you need to be the right partner. It takes both of you to be successful.

What makes it work for me, and I recommend this for everyone, is to be honest with your doctor. My doctor believes me when I tell her that I’m not doing well because I also tell her when I’m doing better. I come to my appointments prepared with questions and concerns so that we can use the time to best advantage. By being a true partner with my doctor we’ve built a level of trust that is invaluable in managing a long-term chronic condition.

Granted, finding the right doctor may not be as easy as it seems. I live in a large metropolitan area with a number of really great rheumatologists who take my insurance. People who live in a more rural area, who have limited in-network doctors or get their health care through provided care such as the Veterans’ Administration may have more limited choices. But build as good of a relationship as you can with your doctor because it’s to your benefit over the long run.

Searching for a good doctor

A good place to start your search is with a doctor you already have and like, such as your primary care physician. Have them refer you. If you know someone who goes to a rheumatologist, ask their input about the doctor and staff. Finally, check with your insurance company. They will have a listing of in-network doctors. From there you can often find additional information about the doctor online.

There are a lot of ways to view your rheumatologist. I have a lot of respect, personally and professionally, for mine. But in many ways I see RA as a journey and my doctor as my travel agent. I need someone who cares if I show up at the right destination with my luggage.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • TeamPokey
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much for this post. Your metaphor for your rheumatologist being like a travel agent is spot-on!

    I’ve been dealing with joint issues (which is suspect is early RA) for eight months now and my last doctor never listened to me. I’ve been taking detailed notes for months about all the changes in my health but when I mentioned this do you think he wanted to know about it? Not in the slightest. At our last meeting he told me that it might be Fibromyalgia, even though I’ve told him REPEATEDLY that I have absolutely no muscle pain. It seemed to me that because I wasn’t seropositive and the inflammation in my hand that I’d initially came in with seven months earlier had subsided that he didn’t know what to make of me. So instead of discussing how to manage my symptoms as is, without any medication, he just brushed me off and made me feel crazy, like my concerns were all in my mind. When I was at his office last, I asked him what I needed to do in order to get a diagnosis for what is going on with me and he verbatim told me ” there’s nothing to diagnose”.

    Needless to say, I’m done with him and my family physician has been kind enough to refer me to a big-city arthritis facility. Here’s hoping the doctors there can help me.

  • Carla Kienast author
    2 years ago

    I am so, so sorry. I wish I could say yours is an isolated incident, but there are similar stories out there. The old adage about kissing frogs before you get a prince is sometimes true in finding the right doctor. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Good luck on your journey!

  • LP
    2 years ago

    I am seeing a rheumatologist in Dallas, TX that is retiring. I believe it is the same doctor that the author of this article went to and decided to change to another rheumatologist. I would love to know who the rheumatologist is that she goes to now. If she doesn’t want to put her name on here I would be glad to privately send my contact information. I feel so completely lost. I need some direction. Thanks so much. lp

  • Carla Kienast author
    2 years ago

    Hi LP: I heard that Dr. Cheatum was retiring this month (June) so, yes, I suspect that we’re talking about the same doctor. I left his practice within a few months of being diagnosed and have been with Dr. Pooja Banerjee since that time. She’s a truly caring doctor who treats you as a whole patient. She also practices at Presby in professional building #2. Her website is here.
    I have recommended her to others and don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate her as a doctor. (I occasionally have some issues with her staff, but it’s a small aggravation for the great care I get.) Good luck!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    Here is the one requirement I make. I insist that the doctor laughs with me or at me, I do not care so much, but I insist they laugh while I am in the room. For me, everything else is secondary. I guess it is a good thing for me medically that Sheryl goes to my doctor visits these days. 🙂

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