Stigma and Medicine

  • Barbara Kohlenberg


Turning to medicine, it is clear that the values embedded in the Hippocratic Oath involve practicing medicine with honor, competency, and respect. Yet, despite these core values, medical students and physicians still may have thoughts and feelings that are the opposite of these cherished values. These thoughts and feelings may emerge with respect to patient care, and notably, may also involve the care provided for themselves and for their colleagues. For example, with respect to patient care, one may feel that people who are obese are entitled to excellent care and can live a life of worth and integrity, while at the same time, also struggle with thoughts and feelings about that person being a “a slob, weak willed…they did this to themselves…,” and thus, back away from providing effective, compassionate medical care. With respect to physician and medical student self care, one may truly believe that physicians are human and can experience depression and that professional help may be useful, while at the same time, one may also have thoughts about weakness and shame and thus avoid seeking or recommending care.


Shame Stigma Obesity Values clarification Depression Physician suicide Mental illness Compassion 


  1. Chen, E. Y., & Brown, M. (2005). Obesity stigma in sexual relationships. Obesity, 13(8), 1393–1397.Google Scholar
  2. Chiles, J., & Strosahl, K. (2004). Clinical manual for assessment and treatment of suicidal behavior. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Corrigan, P. W. (2005). On the stigma of mental illness: Practical strategies for research and social change. Washington, D.C.: APA.–000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Crisp, A. H., Gelder, M. G., Rix, S., Meltzer, H. I., & Rowlands, O. J. (2000). Stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, 4–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Crocker, J., Cornwell, B., & Major, B. (1993). The stigma of overweight: Affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(1), 60–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Goebert, D., Thompson, D., Takeshita, J., Beach, C., Bryson, P., Ephgrave, K., et al. (2009). Depressive symptoms in medical students and residents: A multischool study. Academic Medicine, I, 236–241. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819391bb.Google Scholar
  7. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  8. Lazare, A. (1997). Shame, humiliation, and stigma in the medical interview. In M. Lansky & A. Morrison (Ed.), The widening scope of shame (pp. 383–396). NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  9. Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2001). Bias, discrimination and obesity. Obesity Research, 9(12), 788–805.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Puel, R., & Heuer, C. A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity, 17, 941–964.Google Scholar
  11. Schwenk, T., Davis, L., & Wimsatt, L. (2010). Depression, stigma, and suicidal ideation in medical students. I, Sep 15;304(11):1181–90. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.1300. Washington, DC, APA,
  12. US Dept of Health and Human Services. (2001). The surgeon general’s call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Rockville: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  13. Vartanian, L. R., Pinkus, R. T., & Smyth, J. M. (2014). The phenomenology of weight stigma in everyday life. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(3), 196–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101, 34–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Wailoo, K. (2006). Stigma, race, and disease in 20th century America. Lancet, 367, 531–533.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RenoUSA

Personalised recommendations