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.