Healthcare News & Insights

Paging Dr. Joker: No fat jokes about patients

It may have seemed like a good idea to mock obese patients in print, but one surgeon-turned-comedian discovered the joke was on him.

John D. Kelly IV is an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania. He also writes a humor column for Outpatient Surgery Magazine, in addition to do doing stand-up comedy in his free time. He even has a web page devoted to the issue of “healing through laughter.”

Recently, those two worlds got a little too close for comfort.

Under deadline pressure, Kelly says he quickly assembled a bunch of one-liners for his August humor column. Many of the jokes were retreads from Rodney Dangerfield and other well-known comedians. Kelly referred to obese patients as “behemoths.” And under the premise of warning doctors that performing surgery on obese patients might be dangerous, Kelly used such comedy “classics” as: “You should worry about performing surgery on the super-sized if … there is a comma in your patient’s body weight… a patient wears his wristwatch on his finger…[or] has more chins than a Chinese phone book.”


Also: Cruel and unprofessional!

In a totally unsurprising turn of events, Kelly and the magazine received criticism from sources far and wide, including patients, patient and health advocates, bloggers and the subscribers to the magazine. (The article was eventually pulled from the magazine’s web site.)

Kelly has since issued an apology in the magazine and has been in touch with bloggers who reported on the dust-up. “I blew it. I was not respecting the dignity of my patients. I didn’t recognize that this is a different audience than the comedy clubs. Of course, I will revamp my comedy routines now that I know the potential hurt some jokes can inflict,” was part of the apology he sent to a blogger at FormerFatDudes, a blog about gastric bypass surgery and related topics.

Officials at Penn also issued a statement saying Kelly’s statements don’t reflect the consensus view of the health system.

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