Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mailbag: Smelly doctor

Sometimes I get emails from readers asking me questions.  This was one that the reader asked if I could post, so here it goes:

Dear Fizzy,

I was hoping I could get advice from your readers on a problem I'm having!

My problem is, quite simply, one of the doctors I work with smells really bad.  I'm not talking about coffee breath either.  I'm talking about a stink that's noticeable from three or four feet away.  If I see her charting in a room, I will try to leave the room.  When we have a conversation, I breathe through my mouth.

I'm not the only person who notices this.  I've heard other people comment, "Do you think Dr. K knows about her BO?"

Unfortunately, Dr. K is a pretty important person at our hospital.  She's been working there much, much longer than I have.  Furthermore, she's a consultant who is not employed by the hospital, so she doesn't answer to our HR.

I don't know what to do, if anything!  I can't tell her she smells!  But I feel like someone should do something, right?  If I smelled bad, I'd want to know about it.

Thanks in advance!


  1. Why not write it in a letter? Leave it in an envelope with her name on it. Something as nice as possible like, 'Hi XXX, I really don't mean to be rude, but I think you have a problem with BO. I am raising it like this because I don't want to put you on the spot, and you may not be aware of the issue. I am afraid it is making the working environment difficult. Could you try to address this?' and maybe make reference to the shower blocks, any laundry services at the hospital if this person has long shifts.

  2. It has been my experience that most people, over the age of 19, are aware of their odor problem. It is likely that this colleague suffers from a condition like bromhidrosis. Often times they feel helpless in their condition and anonymous notes only make them feel worse about it. In my opinion, the best thing a person could do is speak directly to the person, in private, about it to determine whether or not this is medical issue. Although many people might take offense to discussing their embarrassing conditions to people, so.... as a British bred gentleman I would persevere and carry on as if nothing is wrong.

  3. While she isn't employed at the hospital she can be looked into by medical staff. There should be some professionalism P&P that it might fall under.

  4. Spray yourself with perfume excessively right before you see her. She will step back to avoid the perfume smell, thus relieving you of her odor.

  5. Definitely a serious plea for help...:) Many of my neighbors are pig farmers and of their wives require them to disrobe, leave their clothes in a attached room to the house and shower before they enter the main residence.

  6. I had this issue at work once. I worked as a CPA in audit and my team and I would be working in small conference rooms for weeks on end. One time we had a guy on our team that had the worst BO. It was purely because he would wear this fake leather jacket and get super sweaty and I also think he just didn't wash his clothes and didn't wear deoderant. Anyway, a bunch of us got sick of it and we begged our manager to talk to him about it. He did but it did NOT go over well with BO guy. He was so offended and angry, he demanded that the manager tell him who complained about him because HE wanted to report them to HR for harassment! So the manager dropped it and we had to just deal with it. Luckily for me I got pregnant and left on maternity leave and when I came back I was assigned to a different audit group so didn't have to be around him anymore.

  7. J.S.Keystone MD FRCPCJanuary 27, 2018 at 8:27 AM

    As a physician , I have had to deal with this problem concerning colleagues on more than one occasion.I spoke directly with my colleague starting the conversation as follows : "I want to you to know that I really like you which is why I need to talk to you about an embarrassing situation.You have a problem with body odour that has the potential to affect you colleagues and patients.I am not trying to hurt you, but to help you because I really care about you".
    Both of these colleagues were very thankful for my intervention ,although embarrassing , and really appreciated my caring attitude and approach.This is all about the art of medicine.