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Should I Change My Oncologist?

As a cancer patient, one must be comfortable and confident in your oncologist. I recently spoke with a cancer survivor about her concerns with her physician. The patient seemed anxious as she discussed her feelings about her interactions with her physician. Upon further questioning, she shared that she feels her oncologist really does not listen to her. She would like more detailed explanations and feels that the physician does not take her concerns seriously.

What makes for a strong patient-physician relationship?

A cancer survivor requires ongoing medical care with a caring and competent oncologist. This physician must be open to questions and able to give simple explanations of possible treatments, diagnostics, and any concerns verbalized by the patient. The important skill of listening is the key to a therapeutic and meaningful physician-patient relationship. The patient must feel comfortable sharing his or her concerns without fear of being judged or ridiculed. Having cancer is stressful enough. The patient should not feel intimidated or uncomfortable when discussing his/her disease and necessary treatment.

Study shines light of traits of great physicians

After speaking with this cancer survivor, I began to wonder what the most important characteristics of a physician are. In a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2006, patients were interviewed to describe their best and worst experiences with their physicians.1 The following positive traits and descriptions were reported by the patients:


Patients stated they felt more confident when the physician displayed confidence.


The physician needs to try to understand what the patient is feeling and experiencing.


The patient wants to see the physician as caring, kind and compassionate.


The physician must be interested in the patient as an individual not just a patient.


The patient is told in plain language what they need to know.


The physician takes what the patient says seriously and works together.


The physician is conscientious and persistent.

What traits lead to a negative experience?

The patients in the study identified physician traits that were not positive. These include being timid, uncaring, misleading, cold, callous, disrespectful or hurried.

In order to provide quality healthcare, there must be a therapeutic relationship with the oncologist. This includes the entire healthcare team and staff. The cancer survivor mentioned above stated that the office staff barely says hello, it is difficult to arrange appointments, and she does not receive any answers to her questions.

The relationship with our physician matters

The relationship between a cancer patient and the oncologist is a very personal and important one. The patient must feel comfortable to share his/her true feelings and trust the physician as an advocate. While it might feel uncomfortable to consider changing your physician, it is important to put your needs first. A second opinion can be a helpful way to see another healthcare team’s approach and style.

It is my hope that by discussing the ideal characteristics of a physician, we can promote a strong physician-patient relationship.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Rayburn et al. Patients' Perspectives on Ideal Physician Behaviors. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 81, Issue 3, 338 - 344. Available at


  • Ann Harper moderator
    4 weeks ago

    @cmccue I feel very lucky that my doctors are knowledgeable. One is more personable while the other is more direct. I’m very happy with both of them, but I am still thinking about getting a second opinion. It never hurts to get a second look or hear about a different approach.

  • Carole McCue author
    4 weeks ago

    Knowledge is power. I firmly believe that a competent physician will never be offended by a patient request for a second opinion.
    Good luck with your second opinion🤗

  • Susan Gonsalves moderator
    1 week ago

    It’s so important to be able to ask questions and communicate with your doctor. Too often I hear people say they feel afraid to tell their oncologist about symptoms, side effects, etc. They are a crucial part of your journey and if one doesn’t work, try to find someone else.

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