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Is It Possible to Gross Out Your Doctor? Probably Not

Most health professionals have seen it all, heard it all, and learned to deal with it all.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

When a day at the office means performing 15 rectal exams or caring for patients with raging vaginal infections, one has to ask: How do you cope?

Who hasn't wondered (and worried) about what goes through the mind of doctors while they perform a thorough exam? After all, doctors often peek under the hood at areas of the body most of us work hard to keep hidden.

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Why It's Hard to Shock a Doctor

You can put your anxiety to rest, says Jeff Goldman, MD, a gastroenterologist with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. "Fifteen years into my career and having trained in New York City, it would really take something extraordinary to shock me."

Elizabeth Houser, MD, an Austin, Texas–based urologist in private practice, agrees. "It's part of the job," she says of some of the ickier aspects of her work. "It's like if you're a mechanic and have to clean out a carburetor. It's just what you do."

According to Houser, anyone who has gone through a residency program has seen worse than whatever might cross a doctor's exam table in private practice. Case in point: As a third-year medical student, Goldman was sent to treat someone who hadn't had a bowel movement in nearly two weeks.

"I had to use my finger and manually 'disimpact' the patient," he explains."I got over my squeamishness of doing a rectal exam that day."

Sometimes such incidents leave new doctors unsteady on their feet, says Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at New York University's School of Medicine. But a quick recovery is typical. "Passing out is usually a first-time phenomenon."

Still, no amount of experience can desensitize a doctor to everything, Rajapaksa explains. "Just because you're used to the gross things within your field of medicine doesn't mean you don't get grossed out about other things."

Why It's Hard to Shock a Doctor

It’s common to feel anxious when visiting the doctor for an invasive exam. Best way to cope? Try to relax and remember to:

Laugh it off. A sense of humor during an exam can lighten the mood and make it go more smoothly. “It helps to put me at ease so I feel like I can do a more thorough exam if needed because I’m not forcing anything or making [the patient] feel like I’m being invasive into their body,” Goldman says.

Stay focused. Remember that the test or exam you’re undergoing is being done because you need it. Remain focused on your health and how your treatment contributes to it.

Seek comfort. Find a physician who makes you feel comfortable. If you’re not at ease with your doctor, discuss it with that physician or find someone new.

Reviewed on April 22, 2010

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