Should Doctors and Nurses be Healthy Role Models for their Patients?

People look up to Health Care professionals as this ancient and totally non-pc and wrong pic is testament. Does this mean we have a responsibility to act accordingly?

People look up to Health Care professionals as this ancient and outrageous advert is testament. But, does this mean we have a responsibility to act accordingly?

I was at a conference recently and after one lecture on the therapeutic effects of a certain herbal medicine on cognition, one member of the audience, a Doctor, asked the presenter whether or not he took the herb himself. There was no problem that I could see in someone genuinely wanting to know whether a fellow health care professional practised what he preached.  Here was someone who had researched a herbal medication and knew of it’s therapeutic benefits, you would almost expect that he did use the drug, right? The presenter answered in the affirmative, that yes, he did take the herb for improved mental pep occasionally, the audience sat back and nodded, this was the answer they were expecting.

But before that lecture, there  had been one on Dementia Prevention. It was an exciting and highly informative lecture and ultimately, I thought, really inspiring: How we can start preventing dementia right now, in our children and throughout our lives. One of the key factors that are proven to help prevent the onset of Dementia is…can you guess?

Exercise.

Exercise cropped up into almost every lecture that day as being crucial for the maintenance of health and wellbeing and for the treatment of mental illness.

Now, when a medical professional so strongly advocates a practice that will help to prevent a serious illness, a practice that is applicable to everyone at every point in their lives, my question is: Why didn’t anyone raise their hand and ask ‘Do you exercise?’

OK, you may be able to come up with a handful of reasons why a room full of doctors and nurses wouldn’t want to embarrass their colleague by asking them this as it would reflect on the presenters own self-discipline and motivation. But theoretically speaking, is there any difference between the question above and this one?

This leads me to my point. If Doctors and Nurses are advocating particular practices to their patients, practises that are evidence based, PROVEN to help members of the community and their patients stay healthy and well, should they be role models and modify their own health behaviours as a means of demonstration? Doctors and Nurses actually study how to motivate their patients to modify and change their lifestyle so that better health may ensue, but it is ‘study’ that is needed? Or would role-modelling be more effective? That would make an interesting study!

Scenarios

Imagine I was a mother worried about vaccinating my children after having read a load of anti-vaccine hype online. Imagine I go to my GP, and he says that I should vaccinate my children, but what if I find out that he chooses not to vaccinate his own children. How might I feel then?

Imagine I am in my mid 40’s, I go to my GP for a check up. He finds I am overweight and pre-hypertensive, that is to say I am in danger of developing high blood pressure. He advises me to change my diet and lifestyle and encourages me to exercise everyday for one hour at a time. What if my GP is heavily overweight and doesn’t look as if he has done a day of exercise in his life? How might I feel then? I should be able to separate my GP’s health concerns from my own, and undertake his advice and go about making dietary and lifestyle changes.

But what about if my GP was in his mid 50s, competed in weekend sport, trained everyday and ate a wholesome diet. He wouldn’t need to be a Brad Pitt, by the way, just fit. Perhaps his healthy, active lifestyle is often talking point in his consultations as his patients like to ask about certain racing shots or finishers medals he has on his desk.  I think, that in this scenario, I would be much more encouraged to undertake a lifestyle change, I believe I would be inspired by this older man who has managed to stay/become so fit.

Are we Hypocrites?

Why do health care professionals encourage patients to change their lifestyle to improve their overall health and fitness in the first place? Doctors and nurses don’t advocate trim figures in order get their patients ready for a Bondi Beach Bikini  or Speedo Parade. The truth is, healthier patients reduce the burden of disease on society. I know this may sound rather impersonal and mercenary, but at the end of the day isn’t it about saving money? Unhealthy bodies are expensive. When a health care professional urges patients to loose weight, eat better and so on (so that the disease burden is reduced) and they themselves are not doing their ‘bit’ to reduce the disease burden, are they being hypocritical?

So I’ll end on that rather confronting thought of my own, but I’d be interested in hearing yours. Would you be more inspired to change your lifestyle if your doctor or nurse was a great example of healthy living? 

UPDATE: I drafted this post two weeks ago then received an email on Monday this week with this study in the Journal of Primary Health Care claiming that Patients saw their GP’s health advice as more credible if they appeared healthy, leading researchers to conclude: “The personal health behaviours of GPs are likely to influence the rate of preventive health counselling and subsequent uptake of healthy behaviours by patients,”), so does this mean we should start talking about ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’? 🙂 

Note on Image source: This image was floating around in my Facebook feed, shared many times. If I am violating someone’s copyright or if you know the original source of it please let me know and I’ll either remove it or credit it, 🙂 

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