Years ago, soon after finishing medical school, I developed a persistent ache in my upper abdomen. I worried that I had developed a stomach ulcer and sought the help of a gastroenterologist. He took my family medical history, and I dutifully reported that my mother suffered from Crohn’s disease. I wasn’t worried about having it myself, though. My two older brothers were doing fine, and the doctor didn’t seem worried about it either. He recommended and performed an upper endoscopy, putting a scope into my stomach under anesthesia and looking around. When I regained consciousness, I was aware of his sympathetic and vaguely smug smile.

“You don’t have an ulcer. I think this is a case of “medical student syndrome,’” he said. He was telling me that the stress of medical school, coupled with too much knowledge of disease acquired through four years of medical training, had made me a bit paranoid, and that this was causing the pain. I felt better believing that my symptoms were nothing serious, but also a bit foolish that I had sought his evaluation and wasted his valuable time. Unfortunately, his avuncular condescension led me to ignore my symptoms and to years of untreated Crohn’s disease.

I recently came across a book called The Empowered Patient, by Elizabeth Cohen. It’s a must read. I wish this book had been available years ago.  Elizabeth is a CNN medical correspondent, and her book is riveting and instructive.

The Empowered Patient is an easy to read guide about the realities of how to protect yourself in our current healthcare system. For example, the author gives clear instructions about how to prepare for a medical appointment and how to use the Internet (in spite of the possible eye rolling from your doctor). She shows how women are often on the receiving end of gender bias, and teaches that it’s not only OK, but vital to be assertive, persistent and trust your instincts.

The chapters include the following topics:

How to be a “Bad Patient”

How to find Dr. Right (and Fire Dr. Wrong)

Don’t Leave a Doctor’s Appointment Saying “Huh?”

How to Avoid a Misdiagnosis

How to Become an Internet MD (Medical Detective)

You vs. the Insurance Industry

How to Get Good Drugs Cheap

Don’t Fall for Medical Marketing

Don’t Let a Hospital Kill You

The Empowered Patient could help you save your life!