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Physician Hypocrisy

In cardiology we know that there are several risk factors for developing cardiac heart disease: (1) Age (2) Gender (3) Family History (4) Hypertension (5) Smoking (6) Hypertension (7) Diabetes (8) Dyslipidemia. Age, Gender and Family History are non-modifiable risk factors, things we cannot change. The rest we can do something about.

As someone who knows of this risk, we encourage our patients to live healthier lifestyles. We tell them to eat less salt, drink more water, get enough sleep each night. Eat more vegetables, cut back high cholesterol foods and exercise for at least 30 minutes three to four times a week. We often expect a lot out of our patients because we know the potential benefits of these interventions. However, despite all this knowledge, physicians often don’t look after their own health.

It might be from the demanding schedules and responsibilities set before us. Being on call and not sleeping at night becomes a regular occurrence. Skipping lunch to finish seeing patients in a clinic that is running behind. Eating fast junk food because you might not know when you’ll be able to eat next. And who can blame them for lack of exercise when their basic needs of eating, sleeping and going to washroom have not been met.

It might be from the pride and God-complexes some doctors have developed. That they are better than the populace, that their invincible body and mind are not subject to common illnesses. That they are too smarter than the regular commoner because of their knowledge, that they can outsmart the diseases of mankind.

Whatever the reason, I too am guilty for not looking after my own health.

The question I have is, “Does this make me less of an advocate for my patients’ health?” If I can’t set an example on how to live a healthy life, would patients take what I say as seriously?

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  1. Joshua
    Joshua May 12, 2011

    If people could look at things completely objectively, we would be able to see that the qualities of the messenger should not affect the truth or validity of the statements or advice they provide. The reality, however, is that it is natural for us to look at the messenger and the message as a whole. Some patients will consider their physicians role models in some ways, and seeing your physician do the opposite of what they advocate can subconsciously influence how convincing their message will be to us. If my doctor can’t even follow his/her advice, what makes me think I can?

    Does this mean physicians are obligated to also do unto themselves what they advise to patients? It’s hard to say and where to draw a line is a bit challenging. I think the most we can reasonable expect is for physicians to be self-aware of how patients view this issue and be open minded about adjusting to it.

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