Finding a Great Doctor

How do you find a great doctor?

Whether you’re healthy or struggling with a serious illness, finding an answer to that question can make a difference in your quality of life. Just ask Debbie Madlener.

Madlener, a Wilmette mother-turned-patient-advocate whose lifelong battle with a kidney ailment has led her to cycle through a handful of different doctors, three pancreases, two kidney transplants and a case of meningitis, knows from experience.

“If the doctor is committed to the patient, then I strongly believe that the patient will be more committed to his or her own health care,” Madlener says.

If you’re searching for a great doctor, here’s advice from experienced patients such as Madlener, as well as representatives from the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association.

Trust, but verify
Don’t stop with word of mouth recommendations, Madlener says. “I talked to as many people as I could and got their recommendations, and then I researched,” Madlener says of her effort to find an internist. “I tried to educate myself as much as possible.”

A great research aid is the American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder tool available on their website, The database offers professional information on over 814,000 licensed physicians across the U.S. You can search by name, geographical location or specialty.

Set up a first date
No, we don’t mean a date date. But if you’re willing to take the time to try on a new pair of jeans or test drive a new car, isn’t it even more important to put the person tasked with keeping you healthy through the proper paces?

Many practices are willing to help patients set up initial meetings with their doctors, says Ginnie Flynn, vice president of communications with the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians. “You don’t want a patient to come into a practice and find out it’s not a right fit and then have to transition them elsewhere,” she says. “It’s almost in a practice’s interest to know that a patient will do well.”

If at first you don’t succeed …
Finding a great doctor is a process—sometimes, a lengthy one. Julia Berkowitz, who went through four different doctors in the last 10 years, kept searching and it finally paid off.

When she moved back to her native northern suburbs from Connecticut, she needed to find a specialist to help her manage her polycystic kidney disease. She saw a doctor whom an acquaintance recommended, but he turned out to be a researcher with inconsistent office hours. Her next doctor didn’t have the best bedside manner. “Every time I went in to see her, I would leave the office crying,” she recalls.

Eventually, she landed with a great doctor who is responsive and sensitive. Her advice? “If you don’t feel comfortable with a doctor, regardless of what your best friend tells you, don’t go back to that doctor—switch,” she says.

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