Learning to be Okay with Asking

Here at PNWU, one of our classes sends us on required events where we learn about various fields associated with health care. One that has definitely changed the way I will practice medicine is Sundown Ranch, a rehabilitation facility for recovering addicts. 

Image via  Sundown M Ranch

Image via Sundown M Ranch

The ranch did a great job taking care of people, and I was lucky enough to sit in on a group therapy session where 6 women told their often-heartbreaking life stories about what led them to reliance on drugs. I was truly able to connect with these women and relate to a lot of their stories.  

Drug addiction is a very taboo subject. People don’t like to talk about it. Even physicians often shy away from asking their patients about recreational drug use. This silence is dangerous. 

If a person seems to be in okay health, or look a certain way, or make a certain amount of money, we just assume that there is no chance they could possibly be struggling with drugs. This could not be any further from the truth. We all know people who are successful, good-looking, and wealthy that struggle with alcohol use or party drugs under the guise of “social use.” These people would probably never tell another person about their problem unless they were directly asked. 

At the recovery center, I was given the chance to ask the ladies about their experiences with physicians. Some had negative experiences, some had positive ones, but one woman’s response really stuck with me. 

She said that if he would have asked and given her resources, her life could have gone very differently, and she could have recovered sooner, with less damage to her life than she was now left with.

When asked about her experiences with doctors, she told me that she never had a doctor ask her about her drug use. If they did, she explained, she would have told them, but because they did not, she kept it to herself. She wanted her doctor to ask, but she wasn’t just going to bring it up out of nowhere. She said that if he would have asked and given her resources, her life could have gone very differently, and she could have recovered sooner, with less damage to her life than she was now left with. As a future physician, she urged me to just ask. 

Don’t be afraid of offending people. Drug addiction does not discriminate on the basis of anything. 

Hearing her story made me realize the importance of not being afraid to answer the awkward, hard-hitting questions in medicine. Ask your patients about drug use. Ask them about their sexual history. You never know which one of your patients is sitting there, hoping you notice, and hoping that you can provide help. 



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Cassidy Johnston

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Cassidy Johnston