Heal Thyself

by Rich Wolferz, MD

Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν

Physician, heal thyself.

Remember looking at your friends during medical school graduation and saying, “Wow, I never thought I could be this healthy – sleeping eight hours every night, eating such nutritious food, feeling so socially connected, hey even getting outside for 150 minutes of physical activity each week!”

Me neither. Because it never happened. It never happens.

We spend four years of our lives learning everything we can about the hallowed field of medicine under the auspices of making our patients healthier, but during that time we slowly gain a cognitive dissidence that allows us to perceive our patients’ health as different from our own. Now yes, often our patients have not graduated medical school and probably cannot describe which ribosomal subunit is affected by macrolides – but honestly neither can most of us even a week after taking Step 1 (for the record it’s the 50S subunit, if you were curious). What I am getting at here is that we, as physicians, are humans too, just like our patients, and just because our brains are chocked full of medical information, we still have the same needs for optimal health. And you may say well yes that’s obvious, but I want to challenge you that if that is such an obvious point than why don’t most of physicians treat ourselves that way?

When I first heard about the field of lifestyle medicine during the first month of M1 year, I felt awoken. As someone who was drawn to medicine in a big part due to my interest in personal health and wellness, it was so refreshing to hear doctors who talked about changes and transformations in their own lives alongside their patients. Doctors who weren’t afraid to agree that our healthcare system is broken but also reflect that we, the healthcare workers, are being broken in the process; that the answer is not for us to just work harder and take more pills to numb the effects. I went to conferences where the food being served was designed to be nutritious and promote health, where attendees arrived early for yoga classes or a group run, where doctors were talked about as people with health needs just like our patients. This was the field of medicine I wanted to join.

So how do I envision us getting there? A simple buzzword these days – community. I don’t see this happening without peer support and a change in shared mindset. Community is what I experienced in attending lifestyle medicine conferences, a group of health care professionals who wanted to think differently and who finally found others who thought similarly to support them. That is what I want to see more of, supporting each other as doctors, nurses, administration to make the healthier choices for ourselves the easier ones. Recognizing each other as having human needs and findings ways to meet those within the constraints of our vast healthcare behemoth.

Imagine if hospitals and clinics were designed to promote the health of the patients, visitors, and workers. Reduce the temptation by taking the donuts out of the breakrooms and instead having nutritious food options available around the clock like fresh, local produce and flavor-packed grain bowls. Make ‘taking the stairs’ the most convenient and aesthetically pleasing way to view the hospital. Offer lunchtime fitness and mindfulness groups onsite – with protected time each week that employees can attend. Brag about who got a full eight hours of sleep the night before and asking those who didn’t how the team can support them to do so tonight. This may all sound like some unsustainable utopia but look around at the status quo and I’d argue the current dystopia is truly unsustainable.

Dr. Wolferz is from Asbury, New Jersey. He completed his undergraduate degree in biology and neurobiology at the University of Connecticut. After a year volunteering and working in a community hospital, he completed a medical degree at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ. His medical interests include plant-based nutrition, exercise as medicine, public health, and community outreach. When outside the clinic, he enjoys marathon running, hiking, and cooking for friends and family. He chose the University of Utah for its distinctive blend of community and university clinical training with extensive academic opportunities situated in the outdoor-adventure capital of the country.

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