The Gut Feeling: A Good Tool In and Out of Your Practice

August 2, 2011

So often, experts tell us what to do and how to do it. But much of the time we already know what the right thing is because we feel it, we sense it.

One of the challenges of parenting is knowing when to listen to your gut and when to listen to the experts. As an “expert,” I strongly caution my new moms about co-sleeping, discussing unsafe co-sleeping as a risk factor for SIDS. As a parent, however, I co-slept at least part of the time with three of my four kids (the last refused). It was pragmatic for me - it was the only way I got any sleep some nights.

Right now, we’re struggling with sleep issues with our youngest. My husband’s approach is to let him cry it out. Unless I’m physically removed from the house, I can’t do that. In order to justify my response, which is to run upstairs and rescue him, I scoured the Internet looking for the expert’s opinion that most closely matched what I wanted to do anyway.

As a physician, I look at my colleagues as the experts. I mean they know a lot, often more than I do. So when a patient comes in telling me something’s just not right, even though they’ve been extensively evaluated elsewhere, I have a choice to make. Do I listen to the “experts” or do I listen to the patient?

In his book titled “How Doctors Think,” Dr. Jerome Groopman explores this trait physicians have of accepting the initial diagnosis that they make (or the one that is documented in the chart) to the exclusion of evidence to the contrary. I’ve seen that in myself and my colleagues over and over again. I almost did it again today.

A patient came in, the third time in less than a week, with a fever. He was diagnosed by a colleague in our clinic, then by the emergency room physician. They both agreed on what the underlying problem was. However, he wasn’t convinced. His gut told him otherwise. I almost sent him home, concurring with the previous two physicians. Fortunately, I only almost did it. I listened to my patient’s gut and ended up making a very different diagnosis, thanks to help from a more experienced colleague. I am humbled once again to learn from my patient who is, after all, the expert on his own body.

So often in the work-life balance arena, experts tell us what to do and how to do it. It could be colleagues, parents, even spouses. But often we already know what the right thing is because we feel it, we sense it. Do the hard thing this week and go with your gut. 

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