You’re sick. You want to feel better. You want your doctor to see you, and all you get from the answering service is that the doctor is not in and someone will call you in a little while. Or the secretary tells you that the next available appointment is in four weeks.

Where is the doctor? He must be playing golf. Certainly your doctor should be in the office seeing patients and you should be able to just walk in and be seen as well.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Maybe in the “old days” that’s the way it worked. Many patients remember the old days and think they were better days for medical care.

In some ways they were. The doctor was always available, or at least more available. But remember, in the old days there was less that he could do. In the old days there were few, if any, women practicing medicine.

Even so, I know it’s very frustrating for the patient and although I will try to explain why, you still may not like it.

This is going to be a shock: Doctors are human. They have the same needs as everyone else and they have the same habits, hobbies and goals as most of their patients.

I was an avid Houston Oilers football fan. I added the schedule of games to my calendar. I missed a home game only for extraordinary reasons, and I watched the away games on TV. When they left, I took up golf.  

Physicians all have something like this going for them, and some have several. These methods of relaxation are not only important to the physician, they are also important to the patient. The patient has a right to the highest quality care by a doctor who is in the best possible mental and physical health to provide that care.

Would you take the advice to stop smoking from a doctor who smoked like a chimney right in front of you? I doubt it. You certainly don’t want your medical care provided by a doctor who is so physically and mentally exhausted that he or she can’t think clearly about your problem.  

Let your doctor have some free time and let him or her rejuvenate by whatever means they can. You will be better for it.

Now there are other things besides rejuvenating that your doctor does during the day that takes time from seeing patients.

One of the biggest is paperwork. Every group from the federal government to the insurance companies to the Internal Revenue Service requires a huge amount of paperwork to be completed.

Then there is continuing education. Medical information and new discoveries are increasing at a tremendous rate and your doctor will quickly become out of date unless he or she spends considerable time learning about what is new.

Your doctor also has to pay bills, both professional and personal, maintain his or her house and automobiles, get occasional haircuts, new clothes, eat meals and all the other daily activities that we all do without thinking about but still take time. Believe me, there are some things that you just have to do yourself.

So, be a little tolerant when you can’t find your doctor. On the other hand, sooner or later your, doctor has to do some work and should eventually be available for your needs. And, of course, if you have an urgent or emergency problem, see alternative help immediately.

It’s Your Health

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at

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