An Introduction to Advocating for Yourself at the Doctor with Dr. Barbara Levy, FACOG, FACS

If you want to talk about inspiring womxn pushing womxn's healthcare in the right direction, look no further than Dr. Barbara Levy. With over 35 years serving womxn in her own clinic and another 8 year as VP of Health Policy for the Association of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. She's the definition of a powerhouse in our books.

Q: What is Diem's community to you?

Dr. Levy: Knowing how much emotional abuse there is in the world today, it’s great to have a community of women to be soundboards. Diem is a platform for sharing experiences and solutions to women's health issues as well as a place to obtain valid and current information on health and wellness. There is such a limited amount of research in many areas of health relating to women – especially underrepresented minorities – I am hoping we can use this platform to understand the experiences and outcomes for a broad group of people to better inform medical advice and literature. I have over 35 years of practicing holistic healthcare for patients. As a doctor, I use the lens of the entire person – not just a “dis-ease” or diagnosis – to help me provide information to help people make decisions for themselves about the best course of action (including doing nothing and letting nature take her course). I hope to be able to validate womxn’s experiences, help them understand their condition, and provide sound information to help them choose their course.

Self Advocacy for Womxn

Q: In your opinion, what should womxn know about advocating for themselves?

Dr Levy: Your pain and your journey is valuable. Womxn have a difficult time being heard. Our voices are like background noise for many professionals. Advocating for ourselves is often challenging. Writing questions and concerns down before an encounter and providing a copy to your health care provider can help to structure the visit and ensure each of the issues is addressed. It also helps to have someone else with you to listen to explanations and advice. It feels vulnerable to be in a health care situation. That feeling often stops us from following up on questions or being sure we’re heard. Having an advocate with us can be helpful.

Q: In your opinion, what are some things womxn need to recognize when seeking care?

Dr. Levy: Womxn need to know that we are buying a service when seeing a healthcare professional. If that office/person/clinic is not meeting our needs – MOVE ON! We are paying for the time and attention. We deserve the full concentration and attention of our provider. Also, recognize that no one teaches doctors or nurses to be great communicators. We tend to speak in a ‘foreign language’ SO – ask questions when you don’t understand something. You did not go to medical school and train for over a decade! Don’t feel bad about insisting on language and explanations that make sense to you.

DIGEST: As womxn, we have a tendency to minimise our pain. Rest assured, it is okay to be helped! It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Next time you go into a situation where you need to be heard, perhaps bring a friend with you, or have someone you trust on standby to give a detailed recall of what’s been happening if you feel you’re not able to. There’s power in numbers and there’s power in your community.

Mental Health & Isolation

Q: How would you encourage womxn to take care of their mental health right now?

A: COVID-19 has stressed all of us worldwide. I suggest we practice mindfulness – finding the beauty in our surroundings – whether it is a bird’s song, a flower, a lovely taste or smell. Actively making ourselves aware of nature and our universe helps put some of this in perspective. We are experiencing a huge disruption in life as we were used to living it. We can use this time to focus on what matters – love, friendship, our environment. Caring and sharing will help us feel more centered and whole. We have to make peace with the notion that we were actually never in control – the pandemic is a vivid reminder of that. We have to learn to accept what we cannot change and use our creativity, ingenuity and love to establish new habits and systems that promote our mental and physical well-being.

Dm DIGEST: If you remember anything, remember this: active behaviour! Go for a walk! Take 10 minutes in the morning to journal down what you’re grateful for. We’ve been doing daily check-ins. It’s like a self assessment, check in with yourself. What are you feeling? What caused you to be feeling this way? We constantly overlook the cognitive aspect of our feelings. By doing this, we can acknowledge and let go, it helps a lot more than bottling your feelings up.

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