Consent Counts, Even at the Doctor's Office

This pediatrician is on a mission to make kids more comfortable during visits by letting them stay in their own clothes. Here's how you can advocate for your child.

Girl wearing a cloth gown at the doctor's office

Phynart Studio / Getty Images

If you have a child who doesn't like being examined, poked, or prodded by the pediatrician, many kids will very clearly (and loudly!) let you and the doctor know. But there are some kids who won't say anything because they are afraid to speak up.

No matter what type of child you have, one pediatrician is on a mission to make kids more comfortable during doctor visits. Phil Boucher, M.D., a pediatrician and father of six with a huge Instagram following, says it starts with allowing his patients to stay in their own clothing, rather than having to switch out into an itchy, uncomfortable (and sometimes skimpy!) medical gown.

Dr. Boucher frequently posts videos on the topic of body autonomy and consent in the medical setting. He says in the ten years that he's been in practice, he has never once made a patient change into a gown.

"I've never had a problem examining the patient without them being in a gown and I don't want my patients to feel like they have to give up their control or autonomy so that I have more comfort with being able to examine them more quickly," Dr. Boucher says in the video.

What the Evidence Says About Kids and Consent

Major medical organizations like the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) argue that teaching your child body safety and body autonomy should be a basic tenant of parenting, and is also one of the best ways to protect children from sexual abuse. Dr. Boucher says this type of consent should also happen when your child visits their doctor.

"I want kids to feel like they have control over their body, they have control over who touches them, who looks at them, what they do, and that they can always say, 'No I don't want you to examine me. I don't want to change into a gown,'" Dr. Boucher comments in the video.

Dr. Boucher cites a few research studies to back up his claims, including one study published in The Lancet that found making patients change into medical gowns causes them to embody the "sick role," and forces them to surrender control to medical professionals. This in turn can make them feel more emotionally and physically vulnerable.

He also cited a second study—published in The British Journal of Health Psychology—that shows making patients change into hospital gowns can cause them to feel exposed, insecure, embarrassed, and disempowered—not to mention cold!

How To Bring Up the Topic of Consent With Your Child’s Pediatrician

Speaking with Parents, Dr. Boucher says this video was actually inspired by a patient. "A parent that just joined my practice was surprised that we didn't make the kids wear gowns and it took me by surprise that there were practices out there still doing it," he says. "It inspired me to review the research, and reflect on a nearby incident where a very well-respected and beloved pediatrician was secretly filming children in the exam room."

Dr. Boucher also posted the video because he wanted parents to feel empowered to speak up for their children during doctor visits. "Often, medicine remains very patriarchal and stuck in old ways," he says. "But I encourage parents to feel comfortable pushing back when they aren't sure why or don't feel included in the conversation."

And it's not just in the realm of hospital gowns. "There are many things that need updating, from the gowns to unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions to discussions around weight and body image," he says.

The challenge for many parents is how to bring these topics up with their pediatrician. Dr. Boucher says that having a "script" in mind before visiting the pediatrician can help a lot. When it comes to the topic of gowns, you can say something like, "'Would it be okay if we don't use the gown today? We've talked about how to help our doctor see whatever they need to see without having to put the gown on,'" Dr. Boucher suggests.

What if that doesn't go well? Dr. Boucher gives parents permission to advocate for what they think is right for their kids. "You can feel free to be a little bit more spirited, but I think any reasonable office will honor such a minor request," he says.

The Bottom Line

You know your kids best and as much as getting proper medical care for our kids is important, it shouldn't come at the expense of consent and body autonomy.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Exploring the effect of the hospital gown on wellbeing: a mixed methods study. The Lancet. 2019

  2. Baring All: The Impact of the Hospital Gown on Patient Well-Being. The British Psychological Society. 2020

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