Health and well-being hypocrisy in the health care industry

by Edward Stevenson

One of the things that drew me towards medicine was the fact that I personally value health and the sense of well being.

I would expect that if I inquired of my colleagues that a similar statements of values would echo this fact. Yet despite this near universal affirmation of value for health and well-being, a considerable amount of hypocrisy exists in the physician community and health care industry, both in individual and systematic forms. I would like to make a polite request that we in health care make a more conscious effort to practice what we preach and to make systematic changes that reflect healthier lifestyles and work conditions.  The following are a few examples and ideas.

It’s not uncommon to encounter health care workers who are obese. There are some obvious challenges in convincing patients to follow a healthy lifestyle when it seems that the practitioner doesn’t adhere to the same advice. Our advice to patients gain a lot of traction when we can personally say that we have been in their shoes and know that it’s possible to lose weight and increase physical activity. Imagine briefly visiting a new doctor’s office, you pass your soon to be medical assistant smoking near the front entry, the front desk person is obese,  and the physician, overweight, is apparently living off of coffee to stay functional.

Contrast that with a staff of another office in which workers are a healthy weight, are overhead talking about their Pilates class. Which office would you feel your health as a patient is being protected? The mere impression of health around you goes a long ways in promoting health and positive attitudes.

Take a look around your hospital cafeteria and you are likely to find several options akin to what might be found at the local fast food restaurants or traditional greasy diner. The cafeteria should not be a promoter of future hospital business. The menu at the hospital should look more like Whole Foods deli and less like Denny’s. While I realize this would probably end up in a riot, we should at mentally least step-back and question why soda (at least the full sugar versions) is even available within a hospital, for any reason other than palliative care. Food prepared for patients should be an example of what they should be eating at home, high in vegetables, and in proportions of what would support a healthy weight. While ideally tasting good enough patients want to continue eating healthy. Imagine a patient asking her nurse for the recipe of the hospital’s quinoa and bell pepper dish.

Study after study has shown the benefits of quality and quantity sleep in maintenance of mental health, healthy body weight, and decreasing risk of chronic and life threatening disease. It’s not uncommon for physicians to suggest to patients that they change their work schedule or job altogether in order to have healthier patterns of sleep.

Yet on the physician side, the schedule, culture, and expectations from medical school onward (even premedical studies) is one of reduced sleep, irregular sleep pattern, and rapidly fluctuating schedules. While there are several factors to be balanced with work hour restrictions, I applaud the fact that some consideration to the health and well-being of practitioners is being considered. I would recommend that we seek greater flexibility in the educational system to allow students/residents work hours that are more consistent so that healthy sleep patterns can be developed.

There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of mid-work naps, It would be excellent to see protected time and space for quiet, stress-relieving meditative practice. 15-30 minutes a day could revitalize provider’s attitudes improving patient communication, increase productivity, sharpen thinking, and reduce errors.

If we are going to tell other to make changes then we should be an example that change can and should be done.

Edward Stevenson is a medical student.

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