How to Create a Great Relationship with Your Medical Team

Patient Expert
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Cancer is a very engaging experience.

Obviously, those words don’t carry their usual positive sense when applied to this seriously devastating disease. But going through cancer — particularly through the active treatment phase — means you need to engage with a wide variety of people, from your oncologist to the phlebotomist positioning your chemo needle.

And if you want to finish the whole experience with your very best outcome, it’s important to form solid, positive relationships with every member of your medical team.

How do you accomplish this? Here are six sensible strategies to employ.

1. Put on a happy face

There are lots of times during treatment when you won’t feel like smiling. Being stuck with needles or waiting 45 boring minutes past your appointment time isn’t a feel-good experience. But when dealing face-to-face with one of your providers, make sure you begin the conversation with a smile, no matter how slight. Smiling signals to the other person that we’re calm, relaxed, and ready to connect in a positive way.

2. Walk in their shoes

You feel awful. But maybe it hasn’t been a day at the beach for the radiation tech, either. Understand that you’re not the only one dealing with pain, emotional distress, or just plain having a bad day. If the scheduling nurse distractedly hands you a card with the wrong appointment date, or your surgeon is short with you, take it in stride. It’s not your fault, and later they’ll probably regret their less-than-positive interaction with you.

3. Show respect

You deserve respect. So does the secretary pointing you to the exercise room for PT, and the nurse waking you up at 2 a.m. for an oxygen check. We all want to feel important, like we’re making a positive difference in the world. And showing respect for one another is the best way to validate our mutual importance. So hold onto those sharp words you feel like barking at your doctor when things don’t go your way; they’ll only hurt your relationship, not further it.

4.** Say thank you**

Nothing helps build a positive relationship better than thankfulness: both feeling it, and sharing it with others. There’s no action so small that you can’t say thank you, from the nurse draping you with a warm blanket to the hospital custodian helping you navigate your oxygen tank through the door. “Thank you” translates to “you’ve helped me” — and who doesn’t enjoy feeling helpful?

5. Listen and engag Ask your chemo nurse about her family; really listen to her reply. On your next visit, ask how her daughter’s basketball game went, or if her husband liked his birthday cake. This says “I value you as a person, not just a function of your job.” In return, your provider will see you as a person: not just a name on a chart.

6. Go the extra mile

Send a thank-you card to your oncologist when you finish active treatment. Bake brownies for the nurses in the surgical recovery area. Donate new magazines to the radiation waiting room. When you go above and beyond the usual patient actions, your behavior is noted. And when you’re back at the hospital for follow-up treatment or simply a regular checkup, you’ll be recognized as a positive person, one worthy of an extra-big smile — or exactly the time and date you want for your next appointment!

See More Helpful Articles:

Four Ways to Get the Doctor-Patient Relationship You Want

Oncology Nurses: Who I Thank as a Breast Cancer Survivor

The Line in the Sand: Relationships and Cancer

10 Ways to Make Sure You Have the Right Oncologist

The Courage of Your Convictions: Having Tough Conversations


Breast cancer survivor and award-winning authorPJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.