How Doctors Can Benefit from Being Patients

Dr. Adrian Pujayana

OUR culture is filled with professionals from all sorts of industries. Whether from finance, engineering, law or medicine, every person in every industry lives by the same gravitational laws and moral laws, and is not exempt from the human condition … mainly that of suffering.

When it comes to my own profession, being a professional healthcare provider and a strength coach might afford many benefits, such as experience in training progressions, self-care and availability of a facility. But despite the seminars, workshops and lectures, the greatest learning I’ve acquired has been through my vulnerabilities as a patient.

This is not to say that every professional has to personally experience the lows of their industry in order to be good at what they do. But personal experiences cultivate empathy and an understanding of others that is difficult to acquire by lecture or by books.

Think of the TV series “House, MD,” about a brilliant yet emotionally distant and cold doctor in a prestigious hospital. Though he did save lives, an essential criteria for his job, you find that through his pain and suffering, he became a better, more relatable doctor. His persona grew as he connected with his patients, even with the unborn, which helped him to use his procedures wisely to care for others and save lives.

Remember “Doogie Howser, MD,” the child prodigy medical doctor? Doogie was a fictional teenager with big responsibilities who at times had to care for patients who were also friends and family. As a young person, his new life experiences made him a better doctor, not the other way around. Doogie’s predicament was this — he was a capable individual whose wisdom was continually cultivated by life experiences, loss, and risk.

In healthcare and medicine, connecting while exercising a skill set are essential components in the care for others. It makes the work of healing a more palatable experience for the recipient, and perhaps gives the patient an opportunity to learn about his or her own body … a priceless moment in self-discovery and personal growth. Both the doctor and patient benefit, one from the healing process and the other from gaining valuable experience even when situations are considered routine.

I’ve often explained to my patients that I’ve been treated for many of the conditions that we are treating others for, such as torn ligaments, fracture, disc flare-ups, post ER and ICU episodes, hospitalizations and getting off medications, among others. Here’s a summary from some big lessons over the last 20 years:

1. Each person has their own timeline, and that’s OK: We might have expectations as to when someone might reach a certain target in rehab or healing, but each of us has a unique history and responsiveness to care.

2. We respond differently to therapies and exercise, and that’s OK, too: If I assign a fixed volume of exercise to two different individuals, you can expect that one might have better results than the other. Why is that? It’s not the exercise that caused a change, but the individual who caused the change. The exercise is just the stimulus, and each person has a certain tolerance as to how much stimulus is needed to trigger the best change.

3. Our bodies respond uniquely to supplements and medication: Each of our bodies metabolize and assimilate compounds uniquely, partly based on genetics, current state of health, age and various factors. Nutritional supplements, for example, are intended to influence reactions inside our body, and it is important to ask, why isn’t it working for me? The effectiveness of a supplement may be inhibited by other factors such as lack of sleep, high stress or counteracting foods. What’s right for others maybe isn’t right for you at this time.

4. What’s the rush? When it comes to returning to play in sports, is the risk for early return a greater threat to the individual? Will that person be subject to other injuries or compound the one they have currently? I’m in favor of the least amount of downtime, but not at the expense of risk exposure, especially to the young athlete in need of proper recovery.

I could go on, but in summary, I’ve learned that knowledge isn’t always power. Knowledge exercised with wisdom and discipline, on the other hand, can be powerful. So here’s to being a patient … hopefully not too often, but thankful for the opportunity.

Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care. For comments or questions, email him at