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March 27, 2013 at 8:51 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Should Doctors Demonstrate Good Health Habits?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I live in the community where I practice medicine. Going out for day-to-day activities can be an exercise in my self-conscious tendencies. As my family can attest, I never hit the mall or a restaurant without bumping into a patient or two. Sometimes, I notice my patients' eyes scan my grocery cart or the entree on my plate which I've ordered. I feel their expectations that their doctor should make healthy choices. But should healthcare providers be "ambassadors of health?" Should obesity, smoking, or other unhealthy states be tolerated in a provider charged with guiding you toward better health?

Getting Goals Straight in Healthcare

Healthcare = health care = caring for health. Sure, as a primary care doctor, I treat and manage diseases as they arise, but I truly believe in the sentiment that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most sickness brings suffering, and nobody wants that. I want health in my patients, so, of course I will work to restore health, but everybody wins when I maintain my own. As such, I preach healthy behaviors and work with patients to remain healthy.

Making It Personal 

I detest hypocrisy. I can tell you that, for me, ordering fast food feels hypocritical. Falling off the wagon with exercise feels hypocritical. Am I being too hard on myself? I don't believe so. I believe in practicing what is preached. I have written before that, like preaching, medicine is a calling which embodies more than a just a paycheck.

The Reality

In truth, healthcare providers are not much more healthy than the general population. I see this just based on the eyeball test when I look around at my profession. While data is limited on the lifestyles of physicians, a survey was published reporting lifestyles of 763 doctors from California.  Among their unhealthy behaviors, 6% screened positive for alcohol abuse, 5% for gambling problems, 4% used marijuana regularly, 27% did not eat a morning meal and 35% reported that they never exercise. The survey was relatively small and only covered one region, but it sends the message that doctors are not necessarily more healthy than the general population.

In Conclusion...

Doctors are people too, prone to faults, and this is also true with me. The catch here, however, is that we who practice medicine took an oath to promote health. This includes our own health, and an excellent way to promote health is to exhibit health. It does not mean that we need to be perfect. Heaven knows that I am not, but I try hard, sharing my successes and struggles openly with my patients, working hard to be a good example.

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1 Comment

  • YAY for you Dr. VanWingen! I seen, not too long ago, a Cardiology intern that weighed every bit of 400 pounds...and thought to myself "how can she promote health of ones heart when she obviously doesn't care for her own heart?"

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