Doctors dismiss patients’ pain

There is no excuse for medical gaslighting


Graphic created by MacKenzie Conniff

Ignored patients: Medical gaslighting is an ongoing problem in our society, and it needs to be recognized. Affecting women, especially women of color, medical gaslighting is a dangerous act that can cause a patient harm and possibly even death. “Medical gaslighting should not be overlooked,” sophomore Marrianna Shea said.

Often affecting women, more specifically women of color (WOC), and plus-size people, medical gaslighting is a practice in which a doctor dismisses a patient’s symptoms, excusing their pain.

This practice could unnecessarily cost someone their life and participating in a manipulative “technique” as dangerous as medical gaslighting should result in the loss of a medical license.

Doctors are sworn under oath to do no harm towards their patients, yet some doctors allow their judgment to be clouded by a person’s size, skin color and gender. Allowing their sense of discernment to be blinded could be fatal for their patients and possibly result in death–and the only people at fault are the doctors who ignore the symptoms they should have been able to recognize.

“Medical Gaslighting is an ongoing problem in society today, not only is it putting patients in danger, it’s denying patients the right to get treatment that they need,” states sophomore Marrianna Shea.

On March 14, 2022, a Hispanic woman, Maria Garcia, was interviewed about her experience with medical gaslighting by TODAY special anchor, Maria Shriver. For four years, Garcia was experiencing intense back and stomach pain, and during those four years, her pain was dismissed based on her weight.

With time, her condition grew more severe; she began to vomit and lose hair. Doctors continued to dismiss her, and essentially told her to “learn to live with it” if she wasn’t going to lose weight. Garcia decided to visit the emergency room, and the doctors there detected a cancerous tumor growing on one of her ovaries. A cancerous tumor that could have been discovered sooner if her previous doctors didn’t allow Garcia’s weight, ethnicity or gender to cloud their judgment.

Unfortunately, stories like Garcias are not as uncommon as one might believe.

Jenneh Rishe, a Black woman, had an eerily similar experience. Rishe went on runs quite frequently; she was often able to complete a six-mile run in 45 minutes, but on a run back in the spring of 2019, she began to experience pain that she had never felt before. Years prior to this trouble, Rishe had been diagnosed with two congenital heart conditions; however, her doctors told her it wouldn’t affect her daily life.

Despite this fact, her condition began to decline. She experienced intense chest pains and had to conform to the use of a wheelchair due to the amount of times she had passed out. A recommended cardiologist explained to her that “people with these conditions don’t get this sick.” She was sent home with a new heart medication and was told to exercise.

Unsatisfied with the result of her consult, Rishe went to another doctor who ran extensive tests. The results showed that Rishe’s arteries were having spasms due to lack of oxygen, meaning that she had been having mini-heart attacks every time she ran.

If it were not for seeking a second opinion, Rishe could have experienced severe heart/health complications and possibly death.

Research suggests that in every doctor-patient relationship, there is a one-in-seven chance that there will be errors in diagnostics, and women are far more likely to be misdiagnosed than men.

A study conducted by Dr. Karen Spencer, a researcher who studies medical decision making, has shown that women, in contrast to men, are diagnosed much later with fatal conditions such as cancer or heart diseases.

In addition, a women’s weight or supposed mental illness is used as a scapegoat for their physical symptoms. In fact, women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a mental illness when their symptoms correlate with a physical condition.

Sarah Szczypinski endured severe knee pain after giving birth to her son in 2016. When consulting a doctor, she was told that her knee pain corresponded with what is known as postpartum depression, even though her symptoms were physical.

When she came back to the clinic for another visit, a separate doctor told her she needed to lose weight in order for the pain to go away. While both of the doctors she visited blamed her pain on either a psychological illness or her weight, in actuality, she was suffering from hip dysplasia, yet her symptoms were overlooked.

“If this continues to happen, less and less people are going to want to speak up about the problems they are facing in terms of their health,” Shea said.

Women should feel secure when seeking out their doctors’ expertise no matter their weight, ethnicity nor gender. Practicing medical gaslighting should result in the permanent loss of medical license–there is no room for doctors who conceivably put their patients in harm’s way. Use the #MedicalGaslighting to spread awareness of the misdiagnosis and ignored symptoms of women, and remember to be a self advocate. It could save your life.