The Importance of Being Honest About Your Abilities as a Medical Professional

Today, I want to share an eye-opening communication experience I had with a new doctor. Since I am profoundly hard of hearing, I try to communicate with my doctors through email and video. I combine using my hearing aids with reading lips. I tell the doctor offices that I’m deaf, because otherwise they think I can hear and just shout at me which doesn’t help. 

During an exchange with a new doctor’s office to set up a telemedicine visit, I let them know I am hard of hearing/deaf and requested a video visit. They replied to let me know that it was no problem and that the doctor was “well-versed” in sign language. 

I was surprised and excited to meet a doctor that knows sign language 

Eventually the time comes, and we have our appointment. Surprise! When we met, the level of sign language he knew turned out to be baby signs! My jaw dropped. I was trying to keep a good attitude with a tight smile on my face, but he kind of figured that I was doing okay without his baby signs while he was talking to me. 

On the other hand, I think he needed an interpreter because it wasn’t clear that he could understand me with my speech impairment, and he wasn’t asking me questions. As time went by, I could tell he got used to it. I made sure to ask him a few times if he understood me, and when he said no, I would repeat myself. And believe me, some of the things he was saying to me had to be repeated. I am definitely not bashful; I am a pro at asking people to repeat themselves! It’s important to make sure you’re on the same page. 

The lesson that I learned was to ask more questions ahead of time – such as, how long have you known sign language, and at what level? Sometimes, not everyone tells the truth. If you are a medical professional, make sure that you are honest with yourself and your patients about how much you know. Overestimating your ASL skills can cause hardship for the patients that need an interpreter. Communication is very important. Please make sure that you are accommodating people who ask for an interpreter because it is very valuable to their experience and understanding. 

Have you ever over- or under-estimated your abilities? How did it affect your relationships with your patients/doctors?

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A young male doctor with glasses and a stethoscope around his neck is signing Help using ASL. It's important to be honest about your ASL abilities and ask for help when you need it!

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