Why Can’t Doctors Be More Like Dogs?

By Peggy Drexler PhD   |  15Comments|

I was sitting in the doctor’s office – 20 minutes early for an appointment that would be a half-hour late, thumbing through a six-month old magazine, when I came across an article on the amazing things being done with service dogs.

As I read about how these fantastic animals are changing and saving lives, it occurred to me that these canine helpers have a lot to teach the medical establishment. At the time, I was not exactly a fan of said establishment. I was waiting to see a third dermatologist about a problem the first two dermatologists couldn’t agree that I had.

I had used a cosmetic scrub — very nice, it smelled like brown sugar. Then I used a sunblock. Then I developed a nasty rash. Then the glands on the side of my neck turned into big, red, itchy lumps. My throat burned, and I had trouble swallowing. Prescription: steroid cream.

After a notable lack of improvement, I went to dermatologist number two, who said the cream, for what I had, was like telling someone with a brain tumor to take two aspirin. Big confidence builder, to say the least. Prescription: continue with the cream, but also add ingestible steroids.

I asked number two if there was any connection between my problem and the sunblock I had used. The rapid-fire response was “No” and “impossible.” My still swollen glands, she said, were simply a consequence of the skin condition.

So, with visions of getting arms like Barry Bonds, I was off to the pharmacy for more steroids, noticing on the way out that the sunblock I had used was for sale in the dermatologist’s office.

Feeling worse by the day, I tried dermatologist number three, who said the sunblock in combination with the scrub could, indeed, cause my reaction. But again, the gland problem was likely a consequence of the skin problem.

By this time, the sides of my neck looked like my body had been invaded by an alien life form. So I went to an internist, who finally and correctly deduced that the gland problem was being caused by a nasty upper respiratory infection. As for the dermatitis, he said, “I can refer you to a dermatologist for that.”

I know doctors save lives. I know articles like this get your face posted in the break rooms of medical offices across the country. But I still can’t help thinking about service dogs.

There are dogs trained to alert the deaf when the phone rings, help unfreeze Parkinson’s victims with the stimulating touch of a paw, turn on lights and pick up dropped objects for the paralyzed.

Some amazing work is being done to train dogs to alert owners to impending health problems. Seizure dogs can recognize a change in body chemistry 15 to 45 minutes before the onset of an epileptic seizure. Dogs are being trained to recognize low blood sugar in diabetics, even awakening from a sound sleep to, in turn, wake the owner. I know of one family where one trained dog shuttles constantly between two diabetic children.

The difference between these dogs and doctors, besides medical school, internships, residencies, proud parents and opposable thumbs, is total and absolute concentration on the patient. For service dogs, it’s what they do, why they’re here, how they’re trained. Their role in life is not about treatments. It’s about outcomes.

I know that is a lot to ask of doctors in a world where medicine is a business and third-party payers make the rules. Still, thinking back on my needless ordeals, these wonderful animals have something to share.

For more by this author, Peggy Drexler, PhD, author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, And The Changing American Family,” visit

Photo credit: green kozi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


15 responses to Why Can’t Doctors Be More Like Dogs?
  1. Honey, you are not well. URI should not cause your glands to swell like that. The fact that your face broke out in a rash represents extreme inflammation. There is an imbalance going on in your body. Not normal.

  2. Not to be an alarmist by my previous post, but I think you are very allergic to SOMETHING.

  3. I totally understand what you mean. I went through countless docs trying to figure out what was wrong with ky daughter. I had narrowed anaphylaxis down to after drinking out of plastic containers, and they told me it was impossible and couldn’t be caused by that. TWO surgeries later, I just took plastic out of our lives (as well as polyester near her face) and she is fine! Healthy! Petroleum allergies DO exist, but no one wanted to listen. BTW, she got URI when exposed to her allergens. Clearly something weakened your body enough to allow it all to happen so quickly. Trust your instincts!

  4. I don’t know- a service dog trains to take care of one person with one condition. I don’t think I’d want a health care provider who only knows how to treat one condition in one person- id want a dermatologist who can treat a rash and assess the moles on my back, not just one or the other. Of course, that means that they’d need to treat multiple people to get that experience, but I couldn’t afford to have my own personal physician, anyway…

  5. mac said on May 15, 2012


    IF doctors were truly interested in a cure for people, then your wish could be a possibility …. but…. as you said, it is a business after all, and the focus isn’t on curing people, but rather keeping up the repeat customers, and never getting to the cause of illness. Sad.

  6. Juli said on May 15, 2012

    you could try PKP to muscle test exactly what the problem/allergy is and what is necessary to take care of it.

  7. Juli said on May 15, 2012

    You could use PKP to muscle test what the allergy/issue is and what are the necessary steps to take care of it.

  8. AK said on May 15, 2012

    I can empathize SO MUCH with this. When you have obscure symptoms or multiple conditions, it seems impossible to get a proper diagnosis. I think that so much of that comes from two things: A) most doctors are too busy to LISTEN B) all specialists have their own hammer, and thus problems look like a certain kind of nail. Go to one you get one diagnosis, go to the next you get something totally different. It’s incredibly frustrating, and can be scary when you feel something is seriously wrong!

  9. As a physician I understand your frustration with having to see multiple providers for your condition. Although I cannot speak for the entire profession, I find it sorely misguided for one to think that doctors are in it for the “business” and “to keep up repeat customers.” That is ludicrous and offensive. Most doctors truly care about the health and welfare of their patients. Unfortunately, patients don’t always present with their crystal ball and and doctors don’t have a magic wand. There is an art as well as a science to medicine. And, it is often a process.

  10. All due respect doctor but let me know where you and your colleges work because with my heart condition it took 10 years to find a doctor who believed me and didn’t prescribe me anxiety medicine and call it a day. It was a hard kind road. I am blessed enough to finally find a Doctor with knowledge and faith and a good heart. It took a long time though.

  11. Oh and by the way, I understand that people do expect Doctors to have a magic wand. People should take care of themselves as well and be proactive. Just want you to know I see your side as well.

  12. DS said on May 16, 2012

    I am a medical student about to graduate that is passionate about holistic health. I understand the frustrations of a lot of people here – in fact I have felt frustrated for you on many occasions. Its just, I can’t help but find this article to be hurtful. How can you say something like “Their role in life is not about treatments. It’s about outcomes.” without knowing what its like to be in our shoes? The system holds us prisoner as much as it does you. If I want to keep my practice afloat and send my kids to college, I will have to spend all of 15 minutes with you because that is all the insurance company and government are paying me for. I read an article in a medical magazine the other day that was advocating for direct pay (no insurance) medicine because it allows you to do “rewarding things like research a patient’s condition.” Its not that we don’t want to help. We can’t. I have tried to show as much empathy as possible in these kinds of circumstances, but patients still get upset and understandably so. I don’t have an issue with you expressing your frustration at how doctors don’t always listen. It’s the part where you imply that, however flawed, however much they can’t always get out of their own heads to see that you need to be listened to, that most doctors don’t have your welfare in mind first and fore-most. I mean, we’re human. Do parents always listen when what kids really need is to be heard? Does that mean that the parents don’t love them? Before I started medical school, I had a lot of bad experiences with doctors and I felt a lot of what you are feeling now. However, in school, I am blown away by just what good people so many of my classmates are. I guess what I’m saying is that while you may have had a bad experience, there are a lot of us that want to give you a good one but can’t, and there are a lot of us that care but aren’t able to show it in 15 minutes. Its why doctors burn out so often. Doctors have one of the highest suicide rates out of all professions. The rates of depression and burn-out are much higher than the general population because the profession is no longer as rewarding as it once was.

  13. I went to doctors trying to find an answer to my constant seizures and headaches. I was tested for illegal drugs and told to take aspirin. Turns out, I had a cancerous brain tumor. Doctors are not to be trusted. Dogs, on the other hand, are always to be trusted.

  14. This conversation makes me glad to be a non-hospital, non-nurse, non-medical system midwife. Homebirth midwives do house calls, sit by a woman’s side for hours and sometimes days on end, sleeping on the floor, holding her hand…just like a service dog. It’s true the power of love and patience helps a woman birth better than anything a hospital can offer in a plastic tube. I have driven 2 1/2 hours the middle of the night in a snowstorm to attend a birth. Good care exists. But you won’t find us in the “preferred provider” guide, and often not in your state’s list of licensed professionals. Only after people drop the expectations of $150K diplomas, halogen lighted offices, 80% insurance coverage and professional licensing and instead look for and be willing to pay for gifted and caring healers will people be able to find good care.