Dear medical assistant,

Thank you for being friendly. That’s really the only compliment I have for you after our brief encounter last week.

know that I shouldn’t have looked at my weight. As we walked back to the room it was all I could think about. I prayed that you would ask me to list my meds or symptoms or something, anything to distract me. Instead, you asked what my weight was because you had forgotten. I told you, and you immediately said you didn’t believe me. Instead of trusting that I really did pay attention, you walked out to recheck the scale.

You came back and told me what I weighed before (almost 2 years ago now) and the huge difference between then and now. At that point I truly wanted to cry. I didn’t need to be reminded of any of those numbers. I am controlled by numbers like those every single day.

I wish that was the end of the story, but unfortunately, it’s not. I breathed a little sigh of relief as you left, because those were a difficult 10 minutes. I pulled out my phone to distract when I heard you talking in the hallway. Loudly. About my weight. You named the two numbers and mentioned the difference between them. I don’t know who you were sharing this with or why, I just know it wasn’t my doctor.

I’ll admit, part of this problem could have been prevented by me. If I had done the right thing (recovery-wise), the first half could have been avoided. I would instead choose to turn around on the scale and ask to not be told the number because I have a history of an eating disorder. Because that didn’t happen, there was no caution around speaking the weight out loud.

The rest of this is on you, though. I don’t understand how you felt your comments would be helpful. Yes, my weight has changed. Yes, my doctor should know that (btw she did not mention it AT ALL). Did you really need to have that discussion with me? I don’t think so.

What really bothered me about our interaction is that it was just a one-sided conversation. There was no asking about anything that has changed between this visit and last, whether I was aware of the weight shift, etc. It didn’t seem like you wanted to know why my weight was so different. I, like many people with eating disorders, wasn’t about to give that information up unless you actually looked in my chart and asked specifically.

I’m not going to blame you for our private conversation. Yes, things could be better, but I’m used to this by now. Having an eating disorder means that weight will always be one of my least favorite parts of any appointment. I am always terrified of the comments that may come. I’ve had many people handle things worse than you did, and some better. I expect it at this point. It didn’t shake me horribly, but what came after did.

It makes me extremely uncomfortable knowing that any of the doctors or nurses (even patients!) out in the hallway could have heard your comments about my weight. The fact that they may not know my personal information doesn’t make this feel any better.

You shared something highly personal even if it didn’t include identifying information. My weight is not taken so you can provide your opinion about it and share that with the world. It doesn’t matter what the difference is, higher or lower, because making a huge deal about it isn’t okay.

I hope that you will realize that you are projecting your voice significantly when you talk. Maybe you simply don’t notice it, which is understandable. It’s hard to judge how loudly you’re speaking sometimes, I suppose. (That still doesn’t excuse talking about my weight out there in the first place, but moving on…)

I hope that you will aim to approach the topic of weight with some more caution. It’s okay to ask some questions when they are helpful medically. It isn’t bad for every patient to be told their weight (but respecting those who aren’t interested is important too). These type of measurements can be important to overall assessments at times but don’t need to be the focus of your responsibilities.

I hope that you will choose to keep your comments about a patient between you and their care providers. If there was one thing I want to teach you from this, it would be to stop and think. If you are announcing something about a patient, who is the audience? This includes anyone within earshot because they can tune in as well. Who is meant to be the audience? Who needs to know this information? How can you keep the information as confidential as possible? These things are truly HIPAA 1.0. It can be pretty annoying to go through all the training, but these regulations are essential when it comes to patient safety and trust. I honestly do not trust you now, and even finding comfort in the practice is tough. I am now terrified that this could happen again or that another office I go to will do the same thing.

Making a huge deal out of my weight, talking extensively about the changes, using a judgmental tone, and the excessive sharing of it made a simple trip to the doctor a very uncomfortable experience. I hope that if I ever return to this practice you don’t check me in. If it does happen, however, I’ll know what to expect and advocate for myself better than I did this time.

10 thoughts on “Dear medical assistant,

  1. I am so sorry you had to deal with that horrible interaction. That is so inappropriate and honestly just rude and inconsiderate and frankly disgusting of that assistant to share personal information like that. People don’t understand EDs at all and it is so frustrating. Again, I am so sorry you had to deal with this but I am glad that you are processing it. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It’s really hard to understand how she thoughts any of it was okay. The experience just makes me very grateful that I DO have the best doctor/nurses normally and that they totally get what to say/not say since I have an ED. Sometimes these things are truly just common sense though! Why would you mention weight and such if any ED diagnosis is on the chart?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! My primary doctor told me to exercise more right after I got out of treatment. Once I even turned around when they weighed me and they told me my weight anyway. The healthcare field has a long way to go in terms of consideration of EDs and honestly common sense. Luckily people like you and me are working to make that change!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that’s so insensitive. I’ve had the same thing with purposely turning around and still being told my weight. If I’m brave I’ll specifically say not to tell me (even though that can be hard!). They really do. My hope in becoming a nurse is that I’ll be able to treat my patients with respect around weight and have my colleagues do the same. We can truly make a difference!

        Liked by 1 person

    • I want to, but I’m not sure. I have a hard time speaking up for myself in these situations. This is my “primary doctor” who I’ve seen probably twice since starting college. I do have an amazing doctor/office at school thankfully.

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  2. So sorry that happened. How are you doing? It can be tough to maintain forward motion in recovery when things like that happen, so I hope you’re still doing the things you need to do to take care of yourself.
    Having helpful medical professionals is so important. You can absolutely be a part of shifting the weight focused culture working in the medical field, and like you said- that will be significant to those you come in contact with. I work in crisis mental health, and eating disorders aren’t a huge issue we’re predominantly working with in my office but when those cases do arise I actually like to try and assess those individuals because I know I can at least do so with compassion and avoid certain harmful questions.
    It’s interesting- I listen to some great podcasts (primarily Food Psych with Christy Harrison) and she talks about how so much research has been done about weight (in regards to being “overweight” or “obese” actually being such a tiny insignificant indicator of health), yet the medical community as a whole still tends to really hone in on this area and overly focus on weight loss. (I’m not saying that your MA or PCP was recommending weight loss, just an overall comment on the inappropriate focus on weight in medical settings). It’s alarming how many horror stories are out there- so many people’s health concerns are invalidated because of their body weight being higher or being prescribed weight loss as a solution for something irrelevant to weight. I hope there’s more and better education for healthcare providers in the future about this important issue.

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    • I am doing okay. It happened over a week ago now and I was able to process through it some in therapy. Now I’m more angry at the situation than negatively affected, which is definitely a good step forward.

      That’s great that you seek out those with eating disorders. It makes a difference when someone understands and is able to move past ignorance surrounding EDs. I find it really interesting to look at evidence against BMI/weight focus as a high priority. Semi-related is a documentary called The Student Body. It has to do with laws that require BMI testing of children in schools. I definitely recommend to see how ridiculous the BMI can be. I would love to see providers take the health at every size approach and work with people where they’re at individually.

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