When I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), I don’t remember being anything but scared.

I tried to be strong because I didn’t want to upset my family any more than they already were. I was 17 years old, constantly sick, and now faced with a life-changing, chronic disease. I continued to see the same physician who diagnosed me during my weeklong stay at the local children’s hospital, but because he specialized in pediatric gastroenterology, I could no longer be seen by his practice once I turned 19.

Years passed, and while I always intended to find another specialist, I continued to procrastinate. I pushed off finding another physician until my body wouldn’t allow me to push it off any longer.

My life already seemed like a never-ending flare, but my health took a turn for the worse in 2014. My manager insisted I speak with our physician on-site, and although I dreaded the thought, I reluctantly saw her anyway. She was shocked by how fast my health was declining and sent me to an emergency room, even offering an ambulance. I told her I was OK to drive, but promised to head straight there.

Before I left, she provided one more referral: the name and number of a local gastroenterologist (GI). She said he was a friend and spoke very highly of his work. I scheduled an appointment with his office, and have seen him regularly ever since.

Here are some of the reasons my GI is the best — so you can know what to look for in your own.

If my GI doesn’t know the answer, I am confident that he’ll find it. There have been a few occasions during our time together when things didn’t go as planned.

But whether it was a failed treatment or a question he wasn’t sure how to answer, my GI has always taken action. From consulting a surgeon to consulting his superior, my physician has never been afraid to admit when he needed a second opinion or to do more research on a topic. There has never been a time when he didn’t return with some kind of solution.

Personally, I’d rather have a doctor who’s an expert before a friend. While we have built a relationship, I love that my GI doesn’t allow outside factors to impact his opinions and ability to treat.

My goal has always been to be healthy enough to live a somewhat decent lifestyle where UC isn’t in control. My GI understands this. I can’t always be strong, so I need a physician who can remain calm and focused through the highs and lows of my condition. My GI does just that.

When I see my GI, I feel like a human, not a number or just another patient. When he walks into the room, I don’t feel pressured or rushed. We start the visit by simply having a discussion. I love that I don’t have to leave a visit feeling as if I didn’t have enough time or wasn’t able to get the attention I needed.

I love that my doctor isn’t threatened by another’s expertise. As mentioned earlier, my GI doesn’t mind consulting other physicians when he needs a second opinion.

He also always takes my own opinions and research into consideration. We make decisions together; my healthcare isn’t just one person prescribing and the other picking up the medications. We are partners with one common goal.

Every patients’ needs and preferences will be different. There is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to healthcare, and a fitting physician can be hard to find. But in my case, I feel so lucky to have such an amazing GI and team in my corner.

Shawntel Bethea was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 17 years old. Now 25, she is a blogger and patient advocate who works to normalize and destigmatize conversations pertaining to inflammatory bowel disease and mental health. You can find more of Shawntel’s work at ChronicallyStrong.com.