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How It Felt When a Nurse Practitioner Disregarded My Mental Health Diagnoses

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I love to read stories on The Mighty. One type of story always makes me mad: individuals who are treated poorly by doctors or nurses.

I am a junior in college enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, so stories about nurses and doctors acting unprofessionally hits close to home. Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath in which they pledge “to do no harm.” Nurses do not take this oath, but we have values that we pledge to follow, one of which is “non-maleficence,” or “do no harm.” If you ask a premed student or a nursing student why they chose this profession, most will respond it is because they wanted to help others. I do not understand how the desire to help others transforms into treating patients poorly.

Until now, I had been fortunate enough to say I had never been treated poorly by a medical professional. That is, until getting my mental health diagnosis and seeing a doctor who was not my primary doctor. Today, I had to get a physical for a summer nursing externship. I had an appointment at 8 a.m. at the hospital’s employee health department. I arrived with my paperwork filled out. I had reviewed the paperwork a few weeks prior to the appointment. The paperwork included basic questions including a list of medical questions which you were supposed to check, and a space for you to list what medications you were taking. As I was filling out the paperwork, I questioned the need for my employer to know my mental health diagnoses (anxiety, depression, ADHD and insomnia), and considered excluding them.  However, I knew when I listed my medications it would become apparent that I had mental health diagnoses. I decided to list my diagnoses, the medications I was on, completed the paperwork and forgot about it, until today.

Everything with my physical went smoothly until I met with the nurse practitioner. She walked in, sat down and looked at the paperwork. The conversation went as follows:

“Who diagnosed you with anxiety and depression?” The nurse asked.

“College health services,” I said.

“You didn’t get diagnosed by a doctor?” She rolled her eyes.

“Yes, I did, I saw a doctor through health services.” (As a note, the doctors at my university are employed through the hospital I was receiving my physical from. It is common knowledge that the doctors at my university also work at this hospital.)

“But you didn’t get diagnosed by your primary care physician?” She asked.

“Yes, I got diagnosed through my doctor at health services.”

“Never mind.” She sighed and flipped the page over. “I see you’re on medication. Who prescribed you that?”

“My doctor at health services.”

“They prescribed you this medication? Why?” She looked me up and down.

“Yes, and for my ADHD.”

She mumbled something under her breath.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you. What did you say?” I asked. It was a genuine question.

“I said you don’t need it. You don’t need the other medication either. You don’t have ADHD, and you obviously don’t have depression. You’re just another college student looking for drugs. If you would have seen a real doctor they wouldn’t have given you any of that.”

“OK, thank you.”  I said.

She rolled her eyes again.

After that conversation, she performed her physical assessment, told me I was done and the nurse would be back with any forms, and left. During the conversation, I was just annoyed. I was in a hurry, had a train to catch and didn’t have time for her questions. On the train, I started thinking.

I was diagnosed with medical conditions by a medical doctor. A doctor who works as the same hospital as the nurse practitioner I saw. My doctor has seen me since October of 2014. Not only does he communicate with my counselor to see what she thinks, he talks to me. He gets to know me. He asks me questions about my classes, my family, my friends and how I am doing. He knows me and based his diagnoses on communicating with me. He talked with me about the advantages and disadvantages of starting medication. He provided me with options, and let me choose which option I wanted. We mutually decided medication was the best route for me to go. He continually meets with me to see how the medication is working. He is the type of doctor that I as a nurse hope to be working with someday.

Dear Nurse Practitioner,

You don’t know me, and you didn’t care to get to know me before making judgments. I am more than a piece of paper. I am more than my diagnoses and my medications. I am a human being. I can not be summed up by a diagnosis or a pill. Mental health doesn’t discriminate. You don’t have to look a certain way to be depressed or to have ADHD. So yes I need medication. Yes, I have ADHD and depression. Also, I see a real doctor. He’s pretty awesome, too. He took the time to get to know me. To any individual who has also had the unfortunate experience of being treated with disrespect by a medical professional, I am sorry. Nurses and doctors are supposed to be there to help and care for people. We promise to do no harm and some medical professionals seem to have forgotten that. Please do not let them discourage you. Your feelings, symptoms and experiences are valid. You deserve to be treated with respect. Please keep fighting to get the treatment you deserve.


A Future Nurse

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Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing.

Originally published: May 25, 2017
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