The Physician as a Role Model for Good Health

By Nicole Ehnle, Business Development Associate

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with two of our physician leaders, Dr. Elizabeth James and Dr. Darryl Wenner. Dr. James is a busy mother of four and Keystone’s Regional Director of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Wenner balances clinical work with being the ED Medical Director of a rural New York hospital. They both place vital importance on being, and looking, healthy for their patients, but their strategies for maintaining good health are different.

Q: Do you believe it is important for physicians to set a good example for health (i.e., looking healthy, well-rested and reasonably fit)?

Dr. James: Yes. Physicians should ideally be the ultimate role models for patients with regard to health and well-being. An outward appearance of good physical health instills trust with our patients—either consciously or unconsciously. If you go to a beauty salon, you expect that the stylist will be well-groomed. Same for physicians. If we don’t practice the health advice that we preach, we probably appear less credible to our patients. That being said, it can be very hard as a physician to always execute a perfect standard of health. It is a very a hard balance because physicians often work many hours, often overtime, and good diet and exercise can take a lot of time. ED physicians, in particular, work nights, weekends and holidays and have family obligations on top of this. Therefore, meeting the time demands of the profession and personal obligations can sometimes result in us letting our own good health practices slip.

Dr. Wenner: Yes. You’ve got to at least pretend to practice what you preach.

Q: Do you take any steps to achieve a healthy appearance? If so, what are they?

Dr. James: In referencing my last question, with regard to time-saving, I’ve made some changes to help me prioritize healthy eating. I order my groceries online after meal planning for the week. I also bought a pressure cooker. Both of these things help me to save time and plan healthy, well-balanced meals. In my spare time I like to watch nutrition-based documentaries, and I read books regarding healthy living. Here are two I listened to on Audible (to save time): Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan; The Good Gut by Justin Sonnenburg & Erica Sonnenburg. Before I go to work I make sure my scrubs are ironed and I have a clean white coat.

Dr. Wenner: Yes. I play hockey once per week and try to stay as active as I can.

Q: Do you take time on a regular basis to exercise? If so, how do you fit exercise into your busy schedule as an ED physician?

Dr. James: Yes. I recently put in a meditation/yoga room and got an elliptical so I can do a better job with regular exercising. I found that regular gym hours did not work for me. Having a private place at home allows me to fit in work-outs without sacrificing as much time to drive to the gym within specified hours of operation. I also added a television and look forward to streaming exercise classes like Zoomba.

Dr. Wenner: Yes. Squeeze it in when you can. You’ve got to schedule it. If you don’t get into a habit of it, it falls out. I keep exercise equipment in my basement, so it’s easy to run downstairs and get in 20 minutes. Be active on your days off. Figure out some hobbies that you like to do, and make time for those on your days off.

Q: Do you wear a fitbit (or other wearable device)? If so, how many steps would you estimate you get in one shift?

Dr. James: No. But I should. I believe in them.

Dr. Wenner: I used to wear a Fitbit; now I have an Apple Watch. I recommend it for physicians because you can stay highly connected without your phone. I usually get 10-11,000 steps per working day, so maybe about 7,000 during my shift.

Q: How do you think your example affects your patients, whether consciously or unconsciously?

Dr. James: To connect with patients you really need to be taking care of your mental health (in addition to physical health) to make sure you’re relaxed, in a good mood, and can concentrate. I think that maybe affects patients on an unconscious level. You’re able to better connect with your patients. In Emergency Medicine you have about 30 seconds to make that connection.

Dr. Wenner: It absolutely does. Being a fit physician gives you some credibility. When you walk in and you’re well-groomed and in shape, it just carries a presence with you.

Thank you so much to Dr. James & Dr. Wenner for their insight on what it takes to be a model for good health. Of course, everybody’s health strategy is different—what is your approach to achieving good health and being a role model for your patients? Tweet us at @KeystoneHCMGMT!

Editor’s note:  Emergency physicians do not generally have long term relationships with patients. So when we walk into a room, our appearance, our demeanor and our non-verbal signals to the patient can immediately gain or lose their trust. Eye contact, body language and washing your hands as soon as you come into the room all convey competence and concern. Sitting even for a small amount of time so that you are eye-to-eye with the patient adds to this perception. If you convince the patient that you are concerned about his/her health, listen to his/her complaints and give off an air of confidence, not only will you have a better interaction, but probably a better outcome since the patient will be more likely to follow your advice.