Would You Take Health Advice From an Obese Physician?

Should medical pros be visual role models? We debate one doctor's experience

“Hey, hey, hey, it's Fat Albert!”

That was the cruel taunt lobbed at Dr. Joseph Majdan of Thomas Jefferson Medical Center in Philadelphia as he slipped into scrubs during a surgery clerkship years ago. The bully? An attending surgeon.

As an obese medical student, Majdan was asked (by a fellow resident) whether his lab coats were made by Omar the Tentmaker. Then there was the time a fellow cardiologist stopped him on the street to tell him he looked "disgusting" and asked whether he "had no shame."

Back then, Madjan lacked the self-confidence to stand up for himself, today (now slimmer), he has penned "Memoirs of an Obese Physician," a commentary in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine, in which he condemns his profession for tolerating intolerance. "The openness and vitriol that can be displayed is horrible. Weight loss is only accomplished by a positive and empathetic approach. Obese people are not abnormal, they do have a disease. We can’t be judgmental; instead we have to give them tools to choose how to deal with it."

Madjan has been treated with an incredible lack of respect, just as obese people of all professions are every day. But his experience begs a controversial question: Would you take advice from an obese physician?

Well, answer this: Would you get your teeth cleaned by a dentist with visible decay? Would you have your locks cut and colored by a stylist with a cringe-worthy mullet of frazzled hair?

Probably not.

On the other end of the spectrum, would you stop seeing a physician who was diagnosed with kidney cancer or lupus?

Doubtful.

But thanks to a global debate over whether obesity is a choice or a disease, the question at hand is far from cut-and-dried. Some people, like Madjan’s insensitive coworkers, clearly feel obesity is a matter of willpower, that if he’d just exerted a little self-control and eat less/exercise more, he’d have lost weight. But others, like Madjan (and myself), view it more as an interplay between genetics and lifestyle, not always so easily remedied with a few hours on the treadmill.

After the Chicago Tribune covered Madjan's story, reader comments ranged from outraged (“What a crybaby. He's supposedly smart, but can't figure out what to do about his own obesity”) to empathetic (“No one deserves to be treated disrespectfully because of how much they weigh…Yes, this man needs to set a good example for his patients, but that does not give others the right to ridicule him.”)

Regardless of where you fall, the main question appears to be this: Are weight and knowledge mutually exclusive? If a doctor is obese, does that render his education and skill any less relevant? I don’t think so. Besides, you could be treated by a slender physician who eats nothing but junk food; are you going to take advice from her, simply because the excess calories have yet to catch up to her?

Personally, I want a physician with skill, compassion, an empathic bedside manner and a dedication to my healthy. Whether she looks hot in a pair of skinny jeans is absolutely irrelevant.

Would you ever take health advice from an obese physician? Chime in below!

 

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