Concerned guy sitting with doctor

—Gordon N.*, Northern Illinois University
(*Name changed)

Kudos to you for acknowledging that there’s an issue here: your avoidance of seeing health care providers and perhaps getting tested for a health condition. It’s not uncommon for people to be uncomfortable about this. Asking somebody to help interpret your own body is a sensitive, even intimate, thing to do. Moreover, there’s an obvious power imbalance. The provider has knowledge and training that you (probably) lack. They may tell you something that will affect your sense of self.

So let’s take a step back. What do you really have to worry about?

Are you worried the provider might be a paternalistic, patronizing jerk? Check out your student health center.

No one should be made to feel ashamed by a doctor. If that’s the case, ask people you trust for a recommendation for a health care provider who is likely to be a good fit for you. You’re entitled to choose your provider not just on the basis of convenience, but because that person makes you comfortable and because you have reason to trust their sensitivity and expertise.

Student health center providers are usually excellent at making students feel comfortable. They’re very practiced in speaking with and helping students who don’t have much experience being on their own in a health care setting. They are good at discussing anxieties that patients may bring. They may also have systems in place to help mitigate some of these anxieties, such as same-day results for certain testing.

Are you afraid of what you might find out? Talk this through and take control of the timing.

I’ve had a number of patients over the years convinced they have contracted HIV and terrified to get tested. We sometimes spend two or three visits talking it through before actually doing the test. The point I emphasize is that testing doesn’t affect the diagnosis. If you have the condition already, you won’t have it any less by not getting tested. On the other hand, a positive test will start you on the path to treating the condition and potentially helping prevent the transmission of HIV to others. It’s also possible that you don’t have the condition at all and that you’re wasting enormous psychic resources worrying about having a disease you don’t have.

For non-emergency situations, most testing can wait. You may feel more comfortable if you can control the timing of testing while engaging with your health care provider. I suggest you talk with your provider about your discomfort.

Are you still stuck? Consider talking this through with a counselor.

If you remain absolutely unable to act, perhaps because of worries that you might have a particular diagnosis, consider talking this through with a counselor first. The counselors at your campus counseling center will likely have encountered this anxiety before, and can help you figure out ways forward. Good luck.