Obesity and Judgement-Free Care

Caring for an obese patient can be challenging.  I do not mean this is a negative way.  However, it is important to acknowledge there are aspects of care which are more difficult.  Depending on their reason for admission and level of independence, they may require care that is physically demanding for the nurse or specialised equipment that can be difficult to source.  But do we give obese patients the same judgement-free care as that given to those suffering from a disease deemed unavoidable?

Consider the smoker admitted with bronchitis or a diabetic with poor glycaemic control now having complications, or an obese patient suffering a heart attack.  One may argue they could all have taken action to prevent their current ailments.  Their conditions may be viewed as preventable by health care professionals and hence they are deemed responsible for their own poor health.

I believe there is a degree of blame that can creep into our nursing care – the passing thought of “you did this to yourself’.  I base this belief off my personal experiences as a nurse, witnessing how obese patients are treated and talked about.  I also base this off my personal experience as an obese person interacting with healthcare professional as a patient.

I have also seen the opposite.  I have seen obese patients, thankfully more often than not, treated with the utmost respect and care.  I have seen nurses go above and beyond to make sure the right equipment is sourced without the patient being left to feel embarrassed or burdensome.

To ensure we provide this level of care to all our patients it is essential we reflect on our own practice to check we are not unknowingly letting our personal beliefs impact our care.   Furthermore, we must advocate for all patients to be treated with dignity and empathy and speak up when we witness anything less.  We also need to role-model this behaviour, for our colleagues, both within nursing and across all the health disciplines, and our students who absorb so much more than we realise from watching how we practice.

**Laurie is a regular columnist for the Australian College of Nursing “The Hive” Magazine offering her perspective as an early career nurse. This column was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue ***

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