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A Female Physician Shares Her Shocking Gaslighting Experience with the Healthcare Industry

Wellcore Advisor Dr. Jenell Decker Discusses Her Personal Experience in Hopes of Empowering Women.

Mia West
December 12, 2023
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

Society has become increasingly aware of the pervasive and potentially hazardous issue of gaslighting within the healthcare industry and its alarming impact on women's health. Gaslighting, where medical professionals overtly dismiss symptoms, leaving crucial health issues untreated, has led to women on average being diagnosed with diseases four years later than men.

Shockingly, even celebrities aren't immune. Joining the ranks of the nearly three-quarters of women who have experienced medical gaslighting is actress Selma Blair. Her battle with undiagnosed Multiple Sclerosis (MS) underscores the dangerous consequences when doctors attribute women's symptoms to more trivial concerns, such as premenstrual symptoms (PMS) which is what happened to Blair. However, what's perhaps even more startling is that this can happen to a female doctor — a reality that, unfortunately, is not uncommon.

Dr. Jenell Decker, a Board-Certified Family Medicine doctor and Wellcore Physician, discloses her disconcerting experiences of gaslighting within the healthcare industry. Her personal journey sheds light on the prevalence of this phenomenon, urging women to be vigilant advocates for their health.

What is Gaslighting in the Healthcare Industry?

Gaslighting, in the context of healthcare, refers to the act of a medical professional downplaying or dismissing a patient's symptoms. This is often done by attributing the symptoms to factors like weight, age, or psychological issues, rather than investigating them further.

"Women and minorities are more likely to experience gaslighting in a healthcare setting," Dr. Decker explains. “As women age, we are much more likely to be told that our symptoms are a part of aging and menopause.”

Research has shown that bias continues to exist in healthcare for women of color. Medical mistrust and gaslighting pose heightened concerns for women of color, especially Black women. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences disclosed that half of surveyed medical trainees subscribed to myths about Black patients, perpetuating stereotypes about pain tolerance. This bias extends to clinical documentation, as revealed in a study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, where notes on Black patients were more likely to include judgmental language compared to those of white patients.

Dr. Decker’s Story

"As long as I can remember I have been interested in medicine," Dr. Decker says. "When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian, but when the time came I chose medicine. I have always loved helping others."

However, Dr. Decker's own experiences as a female patient navigating the healthcare system have been disheartening. She has faced both weight and gender bias, encountering situations where her concerns were dismissed or minimized by other medical professionals.

She vividly recalls a time when she was experiencing symptoms of cervical myelopathy, a serious condition affecting the spinal cord. "No one was listening to me," she says. "I knew my body and knew what I was capable of. I knew that what was happening wasn’t in my head."

Despite the debilitating pain she was experiencing, her concerns were dismissed by a sports medicine doctor who told her ‘I have 20 football players whose necks are much worse than yours’. 

This delay in diagnosis led to additional pain and suffering for Dr. Decker. "It delayed care," she says. "Because of how much pain I was in I gained more weight. It affected work because I could no longer do simple procedures such as remove a mole because I would drop utensils. I was miserable and very depressed because no one would listen to me. Eventually I had surgery and all those symptoms went away."

How to Handle a Gaslighting Situation

Gaslighting can have a devastating impact on patients' well-being and mental health. It can lead to delayed diagnosis and proper treatment, erode trust in medical professionals, and discourage women from seeking care altogether.

Dr. Decker highlights specific language patterns and behaviors that might signal gaslighting, such as attributing symptoms to aging, menopause, weight, or psychological issues. "This is a big one: ‘It’s just part of the aging process. It's related to menopause. If you would lose weight you wouldn’t have this problem. I think this is a psychological problem.’"

Her advice for female patients facing potential gaslighting - trust your gut, seek second opinions, and advocate for yourself. "Trust in yourself," Dr. Decker emphasizes. "Find a new medical provider or get a second opinion. Take someone with you who can validate what you are saying. Write down questions. Keep a log of your symptoms. These are some of the things I did personally."

Dr. Decker also suggests specific communication strategies, such as asking clarifying questions and expressing concerns directly, to ensure that their voices are heard and validated. She also recommends asking friends to share if they have a doctor they trust and be sure to ask why. "Remember your medical provider works for you and not the insurance companies out there," Dr. Decker says. “You can write a letter to the medical director explaining what is going on and that you think it is something else so it can also be added to your chart.”

Improvements Needed in the Medical Profession

Dr. Decker calls for systemic changes in the medical profession, including addressing physician burnout, providing more time for patient interactions, and implementing implicit bias training for healthcare professionals. Additionally, she believes there’s a need for increased research on women's health and inclusion of more women in clinical studies.

"Medical profession burnout is a national crisis and brings about apathy in physicians," Dr. Decker says. "I would love to see a system that supports more time with patients instead of more time with paperwork. Obviously, there is more training about the different types of bias out there. The medical provider may not even know they are being biased—known as implicit bias."

A Path to Change

Dr. Decker's impassioned call for change and empowerment serves as a guiding light for women facing dismissive medical practices. She urges all women to navigate their healthcare journeys with unwavering self-advocacy and an insistence on the respect and care they rightfully deserve. She asserts one final time, "Learn to advocate for yourself." 

About Dr. Jenell Decker, MD

Dr. Jenell Decker, MD, is a Board-Certified Family Medicine doctor with a focus on wellness, bioidentical hormone optimization, and medical aesthetics treatments with her practice, Le Papillon Wellness & Aesthetics. A graduate of the Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, WV, Dr. Decker's personal encounter with Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) became a defining moment in her medical journey. Overcoming lifelong weight loss struggles, she found BHRT pivotal in addressing a plateau during perimenopause, sparking a passion to share this positive change with others—both women and men. Certified in Advanced Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy by Worldlink Medical and licensed in 40 states, she remains committed to staying at the forefront of her field.

As a working mother who has faced gender and weight healthcare bias, Dr. Decker intimately understands the everyday stressors impacting self-care and overall well-being. Prioritizing a compassionate and supportive environment, she ensures patients feel comfortable expressing concerns openly, tailoring treatment plans to individual needs.

Motivated by the scarcity of expertise in wellness and aesthetic medicine in the Palouse region, Dr. Decker pursued additional education in health, wellness, and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. A member of esteemed organizations such as the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Academy of Preventive and Innovative Medicine, AmSpa, Empire Medical Training, and the AAFP, she remains dedicated to providing the best care for her patients.

Dr. Decker firmly believes in the power of laughter as the best medicine and advocates for enjoying life to the fullest. Residing in the Palouse region of Washington state,, she brings both professional expertise and a genuine understanding of modern life complexities to her practice, passionately helping others live their best lives. You can learn more about her by following her on Facebook and Instagram.


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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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