Blog | Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do physicians lead in adopting health behaviors?

While in medical school during the 70s, we still had many physicians and students who smoked. I remember a fellow intern who would smoke in the nurse's station with the nursing staff. He did stand out a bit, but he was not alone.

These days very few physicians or medical students smoke. We live and work in a culture that disdains all smoking.

Is the same thing starting with obesity and exercise? My anecdotal observations suggest that an increasing number of physicians are attacking their own weight and increasing their personal exercise. We clearly know that weight control and exercise predict better health. As physicians we see the opposite every day. Perhaps caring for patients makes our cognitive awareness marry an emotional awareness.

We see how personal behaviors impact health. We know that health decisions do not occur simply because we know the facts. Embarking on behavior change requires an emotional drive. As I reflect on my personal journey starting in May 2013, the emotional influence likely trumped my rational understanding.

Physicians can lead the way. We have led the way in decreasing smoking. I hope we can do the same for weight control and exercise.

Behavior change occurs slowly. It is difficult. Sometimes our words trigger an emotional chord and the patient (or friend or colleague) starts down the road to change. We do not really understand it, but we do know that role modeling helps.

We physicians have many flaws. We do not always act properly. As a group we tend to lead in healthy behaviors. And we should.

db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.