A headline like this is not meant to be harsh or provocative but rather thought-provoking. Do not misunderstand the headline. It is not meant to suggest that you should fire your healthcare providers if they happen to be sick or unhealthy due to circumstances beyond their control. This may include an accident, genetic defect etc. However, if they are sick or unhealthy due to their own ignorance or willful neglect, it may be time to give them the pink slip! Let me ask you this: if you were struggling to quit an alcoholic addition would you want to waste your time and money being counseled by a healthcare professional who also struggled to overcome it? Would you keep listening to a pastor who was not living what he was preaching? The obvious answer to these questions is no. So why do we pay doctors and nurses to check our health and help us either recover or maintain our good health if those same doctors and nurses are not healthy themselves?
Healthy healthcare providers?
It can be difficult to determine the health of your healthcare provider just by looking at them especially if there are no obvious signs of obesity among other things. It is true that not every person who appears to be “big-boned” is unhealthy. It also true that not every slim person is healthy because of how their body may appear. This is where communication between you as the patient and your healthcare provider is imperative. They expect you to be open and honest about the lifestyle choices you make that contribute to your health or lack thereof; it should be reciprocal. Your relationship with your healthcare provider regarding your health should be a two-way street. If they recommend you to become and stay as healthy as possible, is it too much to see the same from them, since after all, you are paying them, they aren’t paying you? Healthcare professionals should be setting a good example for their patients. When you go for a check-up, they are essentially interviewing you, so to hold them accountable to you (their customer) it would be helpful if you also conducted your own interview.
It is important for patients to know their healthcare provider’s state of health. An online Times of Malta article entitled Doctors and Nurses Don’t Always Have Healthy Habits referring to a US study reported in Mayo Clinic Proceedings explained that, along with the general public, many medical professionals in the U.S. lead unhealthy diets and lifestyles which in turn can induce illnesses. A report on Time.com entitled What to do about Docs who Smoke, Drink, and Tan said “It’s unrealistic to expect that knowledge should prompt physicians to avoid unhealthy behaviors… Just like everybody else, they have a low-risk perception with regard to their health”. To reinforce the idea that it would be good to hold our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals accountable to us as their patients the article also stated that, “physicians and nurses have the same level of obesity as the general population. Our caregivers are human too and can succumb to same behaviors that everyone else can.” Be assured that this article is not meant to tear down our healthcare providers by any means, but rather to build them up because a healthy society needs healthy healthcare providers. This information is a resource to encourage those in the healthcare profession to reach a higher standard of health excellence. Not only for their own lives but for the lives of their patients as well.
An article on Amednews.com, entitled Overweight Doctors Lose Credibility on Health Advice states, “To help strengthen physician-patient relationships, overweight or obese physicians should discuss their weight during office visits with new patients or when discussing health behaviors such as diet and exercise, said Phyllis A. Guze, MD, a Los Angeles internist and infectious diseases specialist.” This same article also stated, “Dr. Guze urges overweight physicians to heed the diet and exercise advice they often give their patients, including eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.” The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the healthcare providers are not entirely to blame. It is the broken education and medical establishment that is the greatest concern. When we factor in the long and stressful work environment and abundance of fast food/processed foods (low in nutritional value) at many hospitals, is it that hard to see why healthcare providers could fail to be the examples of health they should be?
Hippocrates, known as the “father of western medicine”, inspired the creation of the “Hippocratic Oath”. This is still invoked by physicians swearing to practice medicine where the patient’s health needs come first. However, as the phrase, “charity begins at home” goes, in this case refers to the notion that healthcare providers should be able to properly manage their own health before they can consistently advise it to their patients. As Dr. George Malkmus’ Health News Tip put it, “Today’s medical schools do not train doctors to treat patients’ symptoms with food as Hippocrates so wisely advised. Rather they are trained that for every disease there is a symptom and for every symptom there is a drug. It’s not surprising when one considers that the drug industry invests huge sums of money into the schools that train doctors. Thus these drug companies are able to exert great influence on the curriculum.” Physicians, nurses etc are trained in a medical environment that puts the bottom line before the health of the healthcare providers or their patients.
The American Medical Association has reported that, “health professionals face many of the same challenges as the public in maintaining a healthy weight. Among the key factors that contribute to overweight and obesity among doctors is a lack of work-life balance, insufficient time to eat and exercise properly, stress and too little sleep”. According to the Atlantic Magazine online, students from John Hopkins University (JPU) started the Patient Promise project in order help get patients healthier by first getting clinicians healthier. The website thepatientpromise.org defines this project, “as a unique commitment between healthcare professionals and patients that aims to instill a deep sense of partnership into their relationship and, in the process, change the culture of healthcare. Practitioners and students of medicine, nursing, and related fields can “lead by example” by practicing similar healthy lifestyle behaviors - physical activity, balanced nutrition, stress management - that they ask of their patients”. Nobel Peace Prize-winning physician Albert Schweitzer is quoted by the Atlantic as stating that, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." Following this advice the medical students at JPU that are behind the Patient Promise are looking to promote what their website calls a “Hippocrates not hypocrisy” culture with the healthcare provider community.
Ways you can give them a check up
To reiterate, making an assumption based on physical appearance alone is not the best way to determine the status of someone’s health. It is helpful to ask your healthcare providers good questions. Asking minimal yes or no questions might seem sufficient, but it would be wise to avoid asking too many of these type of questions as they do not provoke thoughtful responses. You need to know some open-ended questions to ask them (either over the phone or in person) to help you know if they too are living what they would prescribe for you. However, when you approach your healthcare provider with your questions it is always good to approach them with humility and respect and not as if you have a chip on your shoulder.
Now here are suggested questions to ask your health care providers. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.
- How much time do you devote to aerobic exercise per week?
- What is your favorite snack food and how often do you eat that?
- Do you own a juicer? If so, how often in a week do you make and consume freshly squeezed (raw/unpasteurized) fruit or vegetable juices?
- Do you believe in fasting? If so, for how long would you fast for? When was the last time you fasted? What kind of fast was it (all water, all juice, or a combination)?
- How much fast food/take-out food do you consume in week?
- How much processed/packaged food do you eat on a daily basis?
- How many hours of sleep do you get per day?
- How many servings of raw/uncooked fruits and vegetables do you typically consume per day?
- How many animal products do you typically consume in a day?
- How often in a day do you consume white (processed) table salt and white (processed) sugar or products that contain them?
- What factors do you consider when you buy a packaged/processed food item?
- How many servings of organic/non-GMO produce do you consume in a week?
- Do you smoke cigars or cigarettes? If one or the other, how often do you smoke in a typical day? How long have you smoked?
- What area of your health would you like to see improved? What are active steps are you consistently taking to meet that goal?
Hopefully, these questions will give you ideas for questions you can come up with on your own. Let’s remember that no health care professional is perfect, so we shouldn’t put them on a pedestal. They are not gods, so it is reasonable that patients should hold the feet of their health-care providers to the fire and expect that what they are preaching in the office, hospital rooms and clinics should be being lived out in their private lives.