Actions speak louder than words and talk is cheap we are told. If we are going to improve the health of an individual or a population it is essential that physicians and all health care providers lead by example. Exercise is one area the doctors and nurses can better lead by being role models – by being physically active themselves.
Fresh out of training and in my first or second month in practice I learned that physician appearance and/or health affects patient attitudes. I had just started in practice and referred a patient to a cardiologist. Being new to the city I did not know the names of the many cardiologists and relied on the recommendation of one of my partners. Keep in mind I was at a preventive medicine clinic where we hammered patients about exercise and nutrition.
A few weeks later the patient returned and I asked him how his visit went with the cardiologist. His response, “Why in the hell did you send me to see Dr.——–?” I asked what happened. He said, “Have you seen him?” I told him that I had not. He said, “Well, he is over 300 pounds and had a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket.” Apparently this was not the first time our practice had heard this from patients, but the practice continued to use this cardiologist because he was otherwise an outstanding doctor. But, I never did after that experience. I think patients are more likely to engage in healthy practices if they see doctors who practice what they preach. And, research seems to bear that out.
Physically Active Doctors
A recent meta-analysis (a review of several studies) discovered that physically active physicians were five times more likely to talk to their patients about exercise and those who are not physically active. And, they were more likely to remind patients about exercise more frequently
This association with being more physically active and being more likely to discuss the importance of exercise with patients was also true of nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers.
I don’t think this association is surprising, but it should remind healthcare providers that they are role models whether they want to be or not. Do you remember Charles Barkley’s quote about not being a role model? In case you do not, here’s a video. The reality is we all are modeling behavior all the time, and that is particularly true in medicine. If you want to be healthier seek out healthy physicians – physicians who are physically active and walk the walk.
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