How often are you able to be a true partner in your health?

In his new book, The Citizen Solution, Harry Boyte includes a chapter on citizen professionals. "Citizen professionals," he says, "are proud of their knowledge and the craft of their discipline, but they also know their limits...They recognize that solving complex problems requires many sources and kinds of knowledge."

Recently, I scheduled an appointment with the University of Minnesota's Allergy and Asthma clinic. I wanted to determine the causes of a sharp increase in breathing problems related to the asthma I've had since childhood.

All of my previous experiences with doctors have followed the same general pattern. The doctor does an examination, asks a few questions, and writes a prescription for either medication or a course of action. Most appointments last fifteen to twenty minutes at most.

I therefore walked into the Allergy and Asthma clinic expecting to hear the doctor - the expert - solve my problem. But this appointment was different.

The doctor spoke to me as a peer, not as a client. She pushed me to think about possible causes, instead of guessing at the causes herself. Rather than "dumbing down" her language, she used appropriate medical terminology, patiently explaining to me those things that I didn't understand. She gave me frequent opportunities to ask questions, and I was surprised at how many questions, given the opportunities, I actually had. We were equals, working together to solve the problem of my asthma. The appointment lasted an hour and a half.

I had never been asked to be a partner in my own health. The result? I felt empowered like never before.

While Dr. McSherry may not yet be engaged in public work, she already holds many of the skills necessary to be a true citizen professional. As a citizen professional, she could participate in, or encourage the convening of, groups of asthma and allergy sufferers. These groups would be empowered to take citizen action to address the underlying causes of asthma in our communities.

The doctor helped me to uncover the realization that when it comes to health, we are the most obvious sources of knowledge. We are the experts.

So let's do something about it.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs