Apr 8, 2010

Role Models

The job of the physician is to promote health. Whether it be in treatment of disease, palliative care, mental well-being, or health promotion advice, patients look to doctors for answers. They really want to know how they can become or remain healthy. Part of the unspoken advice to the patient is in the physician's own appearance, the choices they enact in their own lives. After all, they are the ones with the wealth of knowledge; they beyond all others are enabled to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I was in the hospital cafeteria the other day, chatting with a group of local physicians. Here's what I observed:
The cardiologist was holding a plate of fried beef chimichangas, french fries, and ranch dip
The pulmonologist was smoking
The gastroenterologist was eating meats loaded with nitrites
The internist was morbidly obese

Looking at this group of well-educated people, I sarcastically wondered where the dermatologist was? In the tanning bed? I mean, come on. Not only were these poor choices for anybody, but the infraction was directly related to the physician's line of work! Of all specialists, the pulmonologist knows the detrimental effects of smoking, the internist sees the ramifications of obesity, and so on.

I think physicians have a higher obligation to care for ourselves, not only for our own health but as an example to the patients we care for. The "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy is a contradictory and ineffective message to patients. After all, if doctors are making these choices with the knowledge and resources they have been afforded, why should a patient be motivated to make a change? The first line in the Hippocratic Oath is "first, do no harm." But being a poor example of health not only harms physicians, it has the potential to harm patients as well. Making lifestyle changes is hard. It's even more difficult with the professional demands of physicianship. However, I see this as an opportunity to serve patients; a demonstration that healthy choices can be made despite long hours, mentally-draining work, and personal obligations. The physician can be a role model in not only their treatments and advice, but in their own life.


  1. This is a very interesting topic. As many health issues are at least in part the consequence of our day to day lives, how to live healthfully is one of the greatest pieces of knowledge a doctor can share. I don't see a doctor all that often so I can't say as a patient how much my doctor's lifestyle has influenced my own choices. However, I can say that for me health role models have played a huge part of my life. As you know, my mom and dad are very healthy in their food consumption and their exercise. They show me that making good day-to-day choices is neither out of reach nor intensely complicated. However, if an overweight doctor advised me to lose weight, I'm sure it would seem like an insurmountable challenge. Health must seem accessible, as it certainly is, or else people give up before putting in a good faith effort.

  2. good thoughts!! you are right- if the physician, who perceivably holds all health knowledge, is unable to make health changes, what is the hope for the average person? thanks for the comment.

  3. I agree! Just like I can't stand it when my sister in-law, the police officer, speeds! Even worse, she gets off every time when she gets pulled over because she hands over her badge with her license. Boo! If you're going to talk the talk, you should walk the walk!

  4. Amen, and pass the cheese whiz.

  5. I absolutely agree. Being an exemplary role model extends to other professions as well, and in some cases is necessary to survive in a competitive market. For instance, I'd be hard pressed to find an obese personal trainer. That being said, I've always found that one of the great paradoxes in life is that hospitals - a place that heals promotes good health - can so readily carry such foods as fried chimichangas, french fries, and other heavily processed foods in their cafeterias. But I guess that deserves an entirely new post of its own.