Personal health

My journey to finding the right fit: What I learned when I searched for a physician and found my dream OB-GYN

In The DO’s newest column, digital content specialist Katie Arvia shares her experience finding the right OB-GYN: A DO who fully understood her needs.


What makes a “good” doctor? Is it competence, generosity, adaptability, selflessness? Or is it humility, determination, enthusiasm, optimism? These are all great qualities that help health care professionals provide high-quality care, but if you ask me, there is one trait that truly makes “good” doctors stand out: empathy.

For almost as long as I can remember, I have struggled with my weight and body image. I’ve also had serious issues with my menstrual cycle, often going months without a period and, when one would finally come, I would suffer from uncontrollable heavy bleeding. I was put on birth control at a very young age in an attempt to manage these complications. For a while, the symptoms were under control, and I eventually stopped taking the pills.

When I was a senior in my undergraduate program, I began experiencing heavy bleeding once again. The campus health center provided me with a new birth control prescription and a referral to a local OB-GYN. I followed up as instructed, and, while the doctor was kind, she didn’t write me a new prescription and didn’t perform a physical exam. So that was that.

I’ll admit, at 22 years old, pap smears and pelvic exams weren’t on my list of priorities. As long as I followed up once per year, the campus health center continued to renew my birth control prescription, so I let the physical exam portion fall to the wayside.

Taking charge of my health

Fast forward four years: I’m now 26 … and way overdue.

When I finally made the decision to get checked, I did my research first. I read reviews and watched video interviews of prospective doctors. I even had a trusted friend help me choose. Finally, I found a physician I was confident in and made my appointment.

At my first appointment, I told the nurse that I would like to ask the doctor some questions beforehand and explained that I would prefer not to remove any clothing until I had a chance to speak with the doctor. I ended up waiting close to an hour past my scheduled appointment time. When the doctor finally rushed in, she took one look at me, and without even greeting me, said, “Why are you still dressed?”

I was flustered, but I tried my best to navigate the situation with grace. I could tell she was growing impatient with me and my questions. When she began the exam, things started off smoothly.

As the exam continued, I began feeling pain. I mentioned it and asked her to stop. She said, “I’m almost done, just hang on.” I thought this pain was “normal,” so I didn’t bring it up again.

During a follow-up phone call, I asked about options other than birth control to manage my bleeding. I could tell she was in a crowded room, so when she responded loudly (and harshly), “Well, Katie, your BMI is X, so your only options are to lose weight or stay on the pill forever,” I was left in tears, feeling like I had made no progress. Suffice to say, that was the last time I spoke or interacted with that doctor and her office.

Validation led to peace, but included more complications

The next year, I decided to try again. I came across an online directory of body-positive physicians, which included an OB-GYN about 30 minutes away from my home. I was feeling a little more optimistic at this appointment, but as the minutes kept ticking by, I grew more and more anxious until my anxiety was bordering on a panic attack.

Finally, the new OB-GYN came into my room and got things started. The physical exam went much better than my first experience. It was painless and over before I knew it. I was so relieved! The doctor even reviewed previous ultrasound results and told me that I had a large ovarian cyst, which was likely a contributing factor to my irregular periods. I felt extremely validated in that moment.

However, subsequent visits left me still wanting more. I felt rushed during appointments and the nurses in her office even mocked my anxiety before a pap smear. When I decided to have my ovarian cyst laparoscopically removed, my doctor failed to warn me of all the physical elements that the surgery entailed, despite being aware of my past distressing experiences.

While the surgery went well, and my doctor was able to save my ovary, I felt as though I was a bothersome presence in her office and decided to search once again.

The third OB-GYN I saw had a callous bedside manner and did not truly listen to me. At this point, I felt like giving up. Was it really such a big ask to find someone who was patient and understanding? I resigned myself to the fact that I would never find someone who understood what I needed. I almost went back to the OB-GYN who performed my cystectomy.

But then, I remembered an OB-GYN whom my friend Jessica had mentioned. In fact, this was the physician who delivered her son Nolan last November. Although I had almost lost hope, I tried to stay positive as I made an appointment with this doctor.

Again, I explained to the staff that I just wanted to meet her and establish myself before committing to anything else. I’ll admit, I was a bit defensive and ready to be disappointed again. By the time my appointment ended, I was close to tears again. But this time, they were tears of joy.

Believing in Bieber

I first met Katie Bieber, DO, in April of this year. During our first appointment, she truly embodied that trait I had been looking for: empathy. Not only did she block off a longer time for my appointment, but she truly listened. She didn’t make me feel stupid for my desire to have a “meet and greet,” and she validated how my past experiences were indeed traumatic. She didn’t rush me, pressure me or comment negatively on my weight. She even remembered Jessica and her baby!

A graduate of Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM), Dr. Bieber shared that she has always been interested in obstetrics and gynecology:

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was very young, but I didn’t know what kind [I wanted to be]. I was really interested in watching surgeries on the Discovery channel, and then, in eighth grade, I learned what an OB-GYN was, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that sounds awesome,’” she told me when I interviewed her for this article.

Although my first appointment was not exactly the norm, Dr. Bieber was able to understand my unique needs and situation.

Katie Bieber, DO

“I will fully admit that the first appointment we had is not a typical thing that I have done,” said Dr. Bieber. “But when my medical assistant told me [about your situation], I understood that you were somebody who was putting themselves in a very vulnerable position. After having bad experiences with other OB-GYNs or physicians in the past, you’re coming in here to give it another shot. How could I not give you the time of day?”

I felt so assured with her that I immediately made my follow-up appointment for my annual exam. The day of my next visit, the nurse could tell I was nervous. She brought me some water and offered kind, reassuring words. When Dr. Bieber came in, she first asked how I was feeling. She offered several accommodations to ensure my comfort and let me choose what I felt was best for me. She performed my exam quickly and painlessly and asked for consent before each step of the process. With Dr. Bieber, I felt comfortable, I felt validated and, most importantly, I felt seen.

During our interview, she brought me close to tears again with her kind words.

“I admire what you did,” said Dr. Bieber. “I understand that you needed to know if you felt comfortable with me, especially because you haven’t felt heard and haven’t necessarily been treated well [in the past]. I thought that was amazing.”

Shortly after my annual exam, I was on vacation in Cancún, Mexico, when I received a call from Dr. Bieber. She had the results of my latest pap smear and HPV test. Unfortunately, my pap smear came back abnormal, and I tested positive for HPV. Dr. Bieber recommended a colposcopy; we discussed some different options for pain management, and she offered to complete the procedure while I was under general anesthesia. Based on what I learned from horror stories online, many women in similar situations are not offered options for pain management, let alone anesthesia. The fact that I was offered these options without even having to ask further proves Dr. Bieber’s amazing level of care.

Jessica, her son Nolan, Dr. Bieber and Katie

I was devastated after hearing the news, but strangely calm. I took Dr. Bieber’s advice and decided to take medication to calm my nerves, and she agreed to let Jessica come with me to serve as a support person. Despite those horror stories I’ve read, I wasn’t very nervous about the colposcopy. In fact, I was in a good mood the day of my procedure, laughing and making jokes with Jessica and Dr. Bieber. Thankfully, the colposcopy was nearly painless. I received my results a week or so later, and my biopsy came back benign. The entire situation certainly was more bearable because I knew that I was in good hands. I knew that my needs were being taken into consideration and that I wouldn’t be rushed through anything.

The journey to finding the right OB-GYN can be long

Unfortunately, my story is not a unique one. Dr. Bieber shared that many of her patients have experienced similar situations.

“I don’t know how many times a week I’ll hear, ‘I just feel crazy,’” said Dr. Bieber. “I have so many women coming in and saying the same things.”

When asked how health care professionals can incorporate similar compassionate practices, Dr. Bieber recommends putting yourself in your patient’s shoes.

“Doctors and med students can easily lose sight of how difficult a situation might be,” Dr. Bieber explained. “Going the extra mile to remind patients that they are being heard and exhibiting some empathy can go a long way.”

Dr. Bieber is also a supporter of Planned Parenthood and recently began working on a new health program geared toward pregnant people and new parents called Nue. Founded by one of her fellow sorority sisters, Nue is a program that combines the expertise of Dr. Bieber’s in OB-GYN with a pediatrician, lactation consultant and pelvic floor physical therapist, along with a team of nurses, postpartum doulas and mental health specialists.

“When people trust you, they talk more,” said Dr. Bieber. “You can gain more insight and learn more about a patient.”

While I may have had difficult experiences in the past, I learned to make my health a priority through all of the noise. Dr. Bieber has changed my outlook in many ways; I am so fortunate to have her as a member of my medical team. Dr. Bieber is proof that empathy is what I needed all along.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.
Patients who are searching for a physician can look for DOs near them using the AOA’s online database, Find a DO.

Related reading:

How to provide better care for patients with PMDD

Insights from a rural OB-GYN: A Q&A with Tammie Koehler, DO