We trust many different people to help us get through our daily grind. We trust our colleagues to help us in the workplace, our friends to help us enjoy life, our families to support us unconditionally. We even trust our barista to make the perfect latte and our Uber driver to get us safely from point A to point B. So why should taking care of our physical bodies be any different?
We all need someone we can trust when it comes to our health, but this can often seem intimidating. Millennials like to joke that even after graduating from college and securing an awesome job, we still count on Mom to make our doctor’s appointments for us. In the spirit of becoming self-sufficient, here’s a guide to help you decide what kind of doctors you need to see in your twenties, and when.
Primary Care Physician (PCP)
Think of this doctor as your body’s BFF. This is the person you’ll go to whether you have a cold, a weird rash, or the flu. Seeing a primary care doctor on a regular basis is probably the most important and the wisest thing you can do for your health. Having an up to date medical record will help in the unlikely event that you become seriously ill, and can help detect sneaky illnesses that can only be discovered by your doctor’s detection of slight fluctuations in your health status. When you visit your PCP, you should discuss your blood pressure, your weight, your lifestyle, and any changes in your mood or stress level. Your PCP is your safety net, and will be able to provide yearly services such as cholesterol monitoring, blood glucose monitoring, and CBC (Complete Blood Count). Vaccinations are an important part of your visit to your PCP, and he or she will make sure you are caught up, provided that you bring your previous vaccination record. If your insurance requires it, your PCP will also give you referrals to other specialists when needed.
If your PCP was your body’s BFF, think of your gynecologist as the BFF to your lady parts. All kidding aside, seeing your gynecologist for a well woman exam is one of the most crucial parts of your healthcare, and can help save you from many illnesses that have a tendency to get out of control, fast. While most women dread nothing more than a trip to the gyno, rest assured that he or she is never judging you, no matter what information you tell him or her. These doctors genuinely have your best interest in mind, and there is nothing you can tell them that they haven’t heard many times before. That being said, it is important to be honest with your doctor about the number of sexual partners you have, the type of birth control you use (if any) and how often, and your sexual habits such as the type of sex you have and with whom (sex with men, women, or both). Your gynecologist has no interest in this information for any purpose other than medical relevance.
Although you should see your gyno every year, you only need a PAP smear every 3 years if you’re between the ages of 21-30 and as long as you have had normal PAPs in the past. However, your gynecologist should perform a clinical breast exam every year. Additional tests you should consider asking for are STD screens for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, as well as HIV and Hepatitis C testing. If you have slipped up on condom use lately, or are experiencing some odd symptoms down there, your doctor will be more than happy to order some tests to rule out any illnesses you could have come down with.
If your insurance will cover it, a trip to the dermatologist can be life-saving! If you have fair skin and burn easily in the sun, you should go to the dermatologist for a skin check. If you tan easily and love spending time in the sun, you should get a skin check. Everyone should get a skin check! Skin cancer affects people of all races and ages, not just older, fair skinned individuals who often get sunburns. The dermatologist can also help with that nagging acne, or weird body hair growth that you didn’t notice there before. This is a potential life-changing visit, where you can walk out knowing that you’re cancer-free and have that dewy glow you’ve always dreamed of.
Our emotional selves need help too! If you’ve been feeling down lately, or feel like you need someone to talk to outside of your friends or family, talk to your PCP about getting in touch with a therapist or a psychiatrist for your emotional well-being. This is so very often overlooked, but can literally be the difference between life or death. Make sure that all parts of your body are taken care of, including your mind.
Last but not least, take care of those eyes and teeth! If you already wear glasses, you know that visits to the optometrist are essential. If not, get your eyes checked every few years just to make sure that you aren’t missing changes in your vision that may sneak up on you.
Seeing the dentist on a biannual basis is ideal, but make sure you try to go at least once a year. You’ll need your teeth for the rest of your life, so make sure they are in great shape. In addition to brushing every day, try to floss more regularly, and add a fluoride mouthwash into your routine to prevent cavities from forming in between dentist visits.
Seeing all of these physicians can be overwhelming, so start from the bottom! Make an appointment with a family medicine doctor (or Primary Care Physician, PCP) and talk to him or her to see what he or she recommends. Then try to find a good time to fit these visits in, whether you get them all done in the same week or spread them throughout the year. Establishing a regimen of whole body care will be a tremendous step forward in maintaining your health and building a better, happier you. So schedule those appointments! Your body (and your mom) will thank you.