Doctors Refuse To Treat Fat Women. Excuse Me?

Yes. You read that title right. It’s heartbreakingly true. According to this article, 15 OB/GYN practices in South Florida have set a weight limit and will not accept obstetrics or gynecology patients who weigh more.

“People don’t realize the risk we’re taking by taking care of these patients,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted Dr. Albert Triana of South Miami as saying. “There’s more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies].”

Why You Should Be Pissed At These Docs

My tweeps are already all a-Twitter about this news, and I’m livid right along with them. Who are these doctors to determine who can and can’t get care? And how dare they discriminate against a woman just because she’s overweight? You can guarantee that the overweight woman probably beats herself enough for her obesity, and the last thing she needs is to be rejected by her doctor when she’s pregnant or in need of gynecologic care. Way to kick a girl when she’s down.

It’s easy to get your blood boiling if you imagine that these misogynistic docs are sitting around the doctor’s lounge, making fat jokes and scheming up ways to discriminate against overweight women. You can just see them fighting over the weight limit and getting their jollies on by trying to define “fat.” You can imagine that these gynecologists only want pretty patients to do Pap smears on and they’d prefer not to deliver babies amidst rolls of vulva.

And if you feel that way and it pisses you off, you have every reason to feel that way. I certainly would, if I wasn’t an OB/GYN myself.

Why The Problem Goes Deeper Than These Docs

I’d be tempted to unleash one of my signature rants on the doctors in these 15 practices if I wasn’t a doctor myself. But let me go out on a limb for a minute and play devil’s advocate, just to shine a light on the other side so you can have a balanced understanding of this issue and choose how you feel with both sides illuminated.

Overweight women are at significantly greater risk of complications, especially in pregnancy and during surgery. Pregnant women are more likely to hemorrhage, have birth traumas, get C-sections, suffer from preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and wind up with infected surgical wounds. They’re more likely to have emergencies that put their babies at risk and land the baby in the neonatal ICU. Overweight women who undergo gynecologic surgery are more likely to wind up getting their bowel injured, getting their ureter accidentally cut, hemorrhaging, or getting a wound infection. They’re all at greater risk of suffering rare complications like pulmonary embolism and maternal or infant death.

Blame Our Legal System

And the reality in our litigious society is that when bad things happen, people sue. And Florida gets hit harder than almost anyone these days. My father was a doctor in Florida and lost a lawsuit that led to the demise of his career. He also spent his entire career paying big bucks of his salary into what they call the “bad baby” fund. In other words, lawsuits against obstetricians in Florida wind up with such HUGE payouts to those who have bad outcomes that all doctors must help cover the malpractice insurance of Florida obstetricians. Otherwise, Florida would have no obstetricians.

Why is Florida in such bad shape when it comes to malpractice? Unlike California, they have no tort reform. A runaway jury can decide to payout 100 million dollars if they feel sorry for someone who suffered a bad outcome, even if nobody was really at fault (because sometimes, in hospitals and doctor’s offices, bad things just happen and nobody’s to blame).

So although I think what these doctors are doing is despicable, I understand it. Most likely, they’re not total misogynists plotting against overweight women. Most likely, they’ve been sued and they’re looking at their statistics, and they’re realizing that most of their lawsuits come from overweight women, and they’re scared into doing the wrong thing.

I get why they’re scared. And I see the rationale behind their decision. And it’s not illegal to discriminate in this way (although I think it should be).

So yes, we should be implementing malpractice reform if we’re going to vilify these doctors.

They Should Be Ashamed

But that’s all I’m going to say to defend these doctors because I think the whole thing is disgusting, and it makes me sick to my stomach. Even if I understand it, I still think it’s just plain wrong. When you sign up to be a doctor, you sign up to serve whoever walks in your door. Or, sadly, at least whoever’s insurance you accept. It’s a violation of civil rights to pick and choose which patients you prefer to help, in my opinion.

What if all doctors in South Florida were to ban obese women from their practices? Would those women have to move? And what if other doctors did the same thing? What if overweight women couldn’t find a surgeon when they have breast cancer or a primary care doctor to help with their diabetes or a gastroenterologist when they have ulcers?

It’s horrible. And even though I get it, those doctors should be ashamed of themselves. Although what they’re doing may be legal, it’s clearly unethical. Those doctors all swore by the Hippocratic Oath, which clearly states, “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”

Discriminating against women because of their weight does immeasurable harm and fails to do good.

Shame on you, doctors. Shame on you.

What do you think of this nonsense? What should we do about it? How does this make you feel?

Feeling sad about how broken my profession is,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.



Dale Overall

One should not be forced to sign any waiver stating that you cannot sue a hospital/doctor if one is overweight as suggested in a comment below. What happens if the doctor is guilty of malpractice?

Denying patients because they have more of a risk factor is ridiculous. Why even become a doctor? What next, denying cancer patients treatment because they have more of a chance of dying than someone with a broken leg?

Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

how on earth is this legal?!

Victoria M.
Victoria M.6 years ago

oh hell no! like the bigger lady is any less important than the little lady. We're all ladies and beutiful regardless of size and all deserve the same treatment. It ahould be as illegal as racism

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M6 years ago

Oh yep I have heard about this too. Mind you perhaps there might be an insurance legality in amongst the issue b/c lots of people sue for blinking.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

So if a baby dies from lack of care, because the doctors refused to treat the pregnant mother in labor, can she sue the doctors that let her lie on the floor?

I don't know if this is a state or a federal law, but I just know around here, if a doctor is going to refuse to treat you, that doctor HAS to refer the patient to someone else who may be able to help. And the referrals continue until a practitioner is found that will treat the patient.

So lets blame these doctors for insurance being so expensive, health care prices being driven sky high, co-pays & deductibles being unaffordable... The refusal to treat is to refuse to do no harm.

Ann P.
A P6 years ago

There should be balance in the system. There are doctors out there who should not be practicing, but tstill have their licenses. Doctors seem to want to protect their own. It is not easy to sue. I know of someone who died because the staples didn't fire correctly. There was massive hemorrhaging, a panic that caused more damage and terrible cascade that cost a life. No one would take the lawsuit. Nurses don't want to testify at the risk of their jobs, doctors don't want to alienate other doctors... What's the proper out come? Who's at fault, doctor, medical device manufacturer, both, neither? What is the price of a life?

If there is no cost, or the "cap" is too low, for poor medical treatment, what is the incentive to improve? To decrease mistakes, to reduce infection rates... Particularly if there is a wall of silence.

If there were universal health care then medical expenses wouldn't be an issue. There might be an attempt to retrieve costs as apposed to predict them and pay upfront.

There needs to be balance. The aim should be improved care. And there needs to be a better watchdog system that is geared toward identifying problem doctors, hospitals (nursing homes, etc.) and medical staff. As well as, implementing best practices.

As far as high risk patients, isn't their identification as high risk somewhat protective for anyone treating them? Might there be a benefit to some specializing in that area and becoming more adept at treating them?

The right balanc

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

I think that if a doctor makes a mistake,that is considered malpractice, that is detrimental to someones life or wellbeing then the patient should be able to sue but if it was unavoidable and no-ones fault then the patient shouldn't be able to sue.

Prochi T.
Prochi T6 years ago

Not everyone gets fat by eating too much. diabled people in wheelchairs become big as they cannot exercise. Docs should understand that, i think.

Patricia G.
Patricia G6 years ago

I understand both sides and I think there's a real need for change.