How Physicians Can Be Healthy Role Models for Patients
July 02, 2018
play a key role in helping patients develop healthy lifestyles, providing
guidance to stop smoking, lose weight, improve their diet or increase their
activity levels. The challenge is often reflecting these healthy behaviors in
their own life.
serving as healthy role models for their patients is “critical,” said Jo Marie
Reilly, MD, MPH, FAAFP, clinical professor of family medicine and director of
the Primary Care Initiative at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of
Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.
are the first point of contact for patients on their health journey—for things
either they ask about and want help with, or don’t know about and need to be
pointed out to them,’ she said.
Healthy physicians can influence
can provide motivation for people to achieve their health goals. Healthy
physicians can help people become healthier.
“It's not only patients who look
up to physicians as role models,” said Sue Jacques, a professionalism and
civility expert in Canada. “Members of the public do, too. That's why it's
vital for doctors to recognize the influence they have. They can share that
influence by intentionally demonstrating empathy and consistently exhibiting
healthy lifestyle choices and sound decision-making, in both their personal and
other hand, if a regularly exercising physician appears dismissive of patients
who do not follow the advice or a physician’s exercise regimen, it is unlikely
to be helpful, added Thomas L. Schwenk,
MD, dean of School of Medicine at the University of Nevada,
“Self-disclosure has to be used
carefully and for specific reasons,” Schwenk said. “It gets to the broader
issue, if a physician has to experience everything the patients experience to give
What if a physician is not fit
percent of physicians smoke, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
but many physicians, just like their patients, struggle with their weight.
Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2018 found 47 percent of
physicians were trying to lose weight and only 10 percent exercise daily, with
23 percent exercising four to five times weekly. Nearly one-third of the
physicians (32 percent) reported either not exercising at all, or only
exercising once per week.
physicians and health providers have something with our health we struggle
with,” Reilly said. “Those of us most successful are honest about it.”
reasonable amount of disclosure about their own health challenges and successes
could help motivate patients, Reilly reported.
interesting whether you can give someone advice if you do not follow it,” Schwenk said.
explained that health promotion is personal and patients often hold physicians
offering preventive services to that advice. Jacques added that physicians are
viewed as natural leaders in their personal lives and often are held to a
“It's critical for medical
practitioners to be aware of how closely they're being watched,” Jacques said.
“Leading by example through healthy and respectful dietary, fitness, driving,
and communication habits is a choice that sets high standards for others to
Technology aides and health apps
Apple Watches, pedometers and other electronic tools and health apps can be
helpful in achieving health goals. Medical students and physicians are often using
the tools, with some medical groups or facilities encouraging more involvement
with competitions. These challenges may push participants to take the most
steps over a specified period of time, or to achieve other quantifiable goals.
likes tools and things they can have with them,” Reilly said. “Those devices
have been some of the more motivating things to help patients and ourselves
favorite health apps among physicians and medical students include:
apps count food eaten or steps taken, and may include workout suggestions and other
features. Some include community support via social media platforms. Yet, as
accessible as they are for health providers, the cost of the technology may be
a barrier for patients in lower-income settings.
How physicians can make a
recommended using motivational interviewing, identifying a problem and helping
patients find ways to start making healthier choices. She suggested initially
asking patients if it is OK to talk about their weight, and then setting realistic health goals
most effective in helping a patient change habits, particularly around obesity,
when I can give specific advice tailored to them personally,” Reilly said.
information about 5k races and information about staff members’ achievements in
such activities can help start a conversation. Handouts written in a level
patients can understand also should be available.
teaches medical students how to be healthy physicians and how to educate their
patients on the same topic. While doctors have traditionally been trained to treat
diseases, the new emphasis is on learning how to help themselves and their patients
avoid illness through healthy habits and preventive measures.
in training at the Keck School learn about nutrition management, yoga,
mindfulness training and setting health goals. Next year, students will learn
how to tailor an exercise program to a patient’s abilities, even those in a
wheelchair or using a walker.
think the next generation of physicians will be different,” Reilly said.
“Physician wellness has swept the nation.”
Exercise Prescriptions &
Other Tips to Get Patients Moving
Feeling the Burn: Physician
Burnout in America
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