When does being overweight become a Professional Issue?

July 6, 2014

This topic has been rolling around in my head for some time, prompted in part by the recent consultation on the Nursing and Midwifery Council  Revalidation . It has also been prompted by my own, up and down, weight issues all my life as a nurse and a midwife.

Whether someone is “fit” to do their job has also become highlighted by the recent UK Firefighters pension debate. How old can you continue to work in a role that is physically demanding proficiently and effectively?


I am now in my fifties and I do realise that some clinical aspects of care are more challenging than they used to be. Staying up all night is not something I do on a regular basis and I have chosen a role where that is rarer than it ever has been.

But having recently lost weight yet again, I am forced to realise that some of the positions I am called to get into, to assist the mother in birth are going to be easier now than they have been in the recent past. Sometimes weight just creeps on without you realising.

At sixteen stone could I really respond to an emergency as fast as was required?  Could I really perform cardiac compressions to the correct competency?  Yes, we are all assessed regularly on these competencies but how stringent is that assessment?

Getting up and down off the floor does get harder as you get older, but extra weight does not assist at all. I did ask the question of a Supervisor of Midwives that if faced with someone who was clearly overweight/obese, whether a conversation about health and competency would not take place.  She said no. In fact she said if her own supervisor talked to her about her weight, that she would find it insulting.

Why is discussion of someone’s weight so controversial?  It is a basic health issue surely. If we cannot talk to each other professional to professional, what hope for the patient in our care?

All I really want to do is open the discussion and the debate. We as nurses and midwives are role models for health after all.  Our NMC Code (2008) states

“We should “work with others to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of those in your care, their families and carers, and the wider community” p2

Section 32  States “You must act without delay if you believe that you, a colleague or anyone else may be putting someone at risk”.


Fitness to Practice is not just about competency in care provision it should be about embodiment of health . “Fitness” surely the hint is in the word.  We are also all practitioners for public health. A recent @WeNurses chat brought this to the surface. How we are in the world as healthy human beings can have a major impact on others health. We should as nursing and midwifery practitioners should be role models.

Medical staff are bound by similar rules to nurses/midwives

“A doctor’s fitness to practise can be impaired pursuant to section 35(C) (2) of

the Medical Act 1983 (as amended) in the following circumstances:

 (2)A person’s fitness to practise shall be regarded as “impaired” for the purposes of this Act by reason only of:

 (a) misconduct;

(b) deficient professional performance;

(c) a criminal conviction or caution in the British Islands for a criminal offence, or a conviction elsewhere for an offence which, if committed in England and Wales, would constitute a criminal offence;

(d) adverse physical or mental health; or

(e) a determination by a body in the United Kingdom a determination by a regulatory body either in the British Isles or overseas

(f) not having the necessary knowledge of english.

GMC (2004)


On the NMC website (2014) it states in regard to Fitness to Practice:-

“Good health is necessary to undertake practice as a nurse or midwife. Good health means that a person must be capable of safe and effective practice without supervision. It does not mean the absence of any disability or health condition. Many disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are able to practise with or without adjustments to support their practice”.


But believe me I am coming at this topic from one of understanding. My weight has been an issue all my life. Working long hours, shifts etc. have probably not helped the issue.  We eat at funny times. We cannot get into regular weekly exercise programs because of erratic shift patterns. So yes even the way nurses and midwives work in the health service actually might pre-dispose us to weight problems.

I am not sure our employers recognise that yet but they certainly should help us deal with the issues on an individual level.  Yes many hospitals have access to gyms on site, to encourage staff fitness, but how hard do Trusts really try to support their staff with obvious weight issues.

Another thing, I believe that people who are called to be nurses and midwives are in the main caring people themselves. They have a gene that put’s others first so they choose a profession where this can be utilised to its best.

Nursing and Midwifery are emotionally, physically and mentally challenging professions. But often these types of people tend to give at home as well as work. They use up all their energy on other folk so that when they do have a minute they please/treat/thank themselves with often the wrong type of foods. Chocolate is my favourite, cake, crisps, alcohol for others.

But there are, slim staff out there. How do they manage to manage their weight and embody good health to their patients? How can we learn from each other on how to work in such a demanding role, without it having a detrimental effect on our own health?  Please if you have any ideas about this topic get back to me.



NMC Code 2008

Midwives Rules 2012

NMC website accessed 6/07/15 Good health

GMC Fitness to Practise Rules 2004  GMC






NMC website accessed 6/07/15 Good health


2 Responses to “When does being overweight become a Professional Issue?”

  1. jennythem Says:

    This is a great post Helen and well done for raising awareness – xx

    • Thanks for reading and support
      I think the issue needed raising. Some don’t like it but we are supposed to be health ambassadors. I am trying to get fitter to fulfil that role. It is not easy.

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