Ide Mills Photo courtesy of Ide Mills

Take notes  when you meet with your doctor. Bring someone with you. Use a digital audio recorder. You’ve probably heard these suggestions before about how to prepare for a medical appointment. But another piece of advice can be just as valuable: Know how you learn best.

In other words, do you learn new information by seeing it, hearing it or experiencing it? The answer to that question is important, because you can ask your health care team to provide information about your diagnosis, treatment and care in ways that are most helpful to you.

If you’re not sure of your preferred learning style, read "Identify Your Learning Style" below and then consider some of the following tips the next time you meet with your medical team.

Identify Your Learning Style

Learn what kind of learner you are by analyzing your buying habits.

by Ide Mills

If you are not sure what type of learner you are, it may help to think about how you research and buy a cell phone. 

• Do you prefer to read about each phone and look at pictures of them? (If so, you’re a seeing learner.) 

• Do you understand better by listening to a salesperson explain the benefits of different phones, then repeating to the salesperson what was described to you? (You’re a hearing learner.)

• Do you like to try out a store’s display models on your own? (You’re an experience learner.) 

You may find that you tend to rely on one learning style, but that you use two or three types to understand particularly difficult information or to learn new skills.

Be sure to ask for:

  • drawings, such as an illustration showing the location of the cancer in your body, how blood cells work or where a port will be placed. Some doctors’ offices have models and images to help explain medical concepts, or your health care provider can draw a picture during the meeting.
  • written materials, such as a list of key points, directions, next steps and booklets or patient-friendly websites with more detailed information about your condition.

Be sure to ask for:

  • videos, such as short films about the steps involved in receiving an at-home shot, an explanation of how a medicine works in the body, and interviews with other patients who have had similar therapy;
  • another health care provider to explain the same information; and
  • verbal directions that you can repeat back.

Be sure to ask for:

  • the opportunity to see and feel samples of medical equipment, such as a catheter or syringe, and a demonstration of where they are placed or how a shot is given;
  • an analogy or an example of an everyday experience that explains a complicated idea; and
  • a support group for you to talk with others about their experiences.

As you navigate the vast amount of information related to your cancer, you may find it’s helpful to request resources from your doctor or nurse that are related to more than one learning style.​ Additionally, your partner or other caregivers may benefit from knowing their own learning styles as they interact with your medical team.

Last, keep in mind that learning new information takes time. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, and speak up if you don’t understand! 

Ide Mills, a lung cancer survivor, is a health educator and behavioral strategist who also worked for many years as an oncology social worker.