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Should Healthcare Professionals Practice What They Preach?

Should Healthcare Professionals Practice What They Preach?

Due to the nature of the job of healthcare professionals, their patients and clients often see them as demigods. Many other people look up to them in society as templates to emulate in various aspects of life. Most healthcare professionals preach against unhealthy eating habits, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and they encourage their patients to live a healthier lifestyle. However, outside of the work setting, these same healthcare professionals can live very unhealthy lifestyles. Quite a few practice unhealthy habits in their personal life and carry the mindset “do as I say and not as I do.” We all know that action speaks louder than words. Many lifestyle habits have been linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure etc. Development of cancers, diabetes, and hypertension are also partly dependent on lifestyle habits. Smoking, alcoholism, obesity, lack of adequate physical activity and unhealthy dietary habits are the predominant disease-causing behaviors. These diseases are the leading causes of death not only in the United States but also globally. Don’t you think that it would increase compliance if your healthcare professional wasn’t a hypocrite?

If as a physical therapist, you encourage exercise and discourage a sedentary lifestyle for an obese patient to achieve weight loss, how will your client agree to do this if you are obese and never exercise? Such client will not be ready to adhere to exercise advice as you are a not a source of motivation for him.

Most physicians will discourage their patients from eating fast foods and refined foods due to high sugar and fat contents. However, due to physicians’ busy schedules, they often end up consuming a lot of junk food. How will a patient feel if he catches his primary care physician eating junk and drinking a 32 oz soda? I can reassure you that the patient would most likely not follow the doctor’s advice of avoiding junk food. The patient would see his physician as a hypocrite, thus, decreasing the effectiveness of the physician’s patient education. Most people are aware that smoking is correlated with cancer and pre-mature death. Also that high alcohol intake is a risk factor for many diseases, still they continue to indulge in these habits. This might not be unconnected to the fact that they are seeing health professionals who also smoke and drink regularly.

In a study on the lifestyle of physicians and their counseling practices, Klein et al. discovered that only 10.8% of the healthcare professionals consume fruits and vegetables as recommended. Less than 50% of them are engaged in moderate exercise for at least 3 days per week. Over 80% of them consume alcohol regularly. When these same physicians were asked do their lifestyle reflect what they teach to their patients, majority of them say that it does not. The study concluded that lifestyle habits of healthcare professionals fall short of recommended standards. This also reflects on how adequate they are able to counsel their patients. Not a surprising finding that health practitioners with poor lifestyle behavior are less likely to adequately counsel their clients. When one doesn’t practice what they preach they are less effective in creating change in their patients life. 1Similar findings were seen in the study of Bakhshi et al. conducted among registered nurses.2

This paradox has a negative influence on patients and often discourage them from adopting a healthier lifestyle. If my healthcare professional cannot or does not eat healthy then why should I? If my doctor is obese, why should I listen to him or her and try to lose weight? Healthcare professionals are supposed to be good examples to their patients. So it’s crucial for healthcare workers to practice what they preach, especially when in the public eye.

Many factors have been associated with the inability of healthcare professionals to follow what they preached. One of these is their busy schedule while in medical school where they may have picked up bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles. Also, healthcare professionals knowing that they aren’t doing what they preaching, so they’re not very convincing in creating change. It’s even harder when what they are preaching is visible. When what they preach are visible such as an obese healthcare professional telling a patient the importance of weight loss. It decreases the effectiveness of the teaching. Now, an obese healthcare professional who goes on and lose weight and start living a healthier lifestyle is correlated with an increase in patient compliance.

Healthcare professionals out to see themselves like a parent being watched by a child, they are like clerics being watched by the congregation. Healthcare professionals must see it as part of their duty and profession to try to live a healthier lifestyle. Be the change that you want to see in your patients and lead by example.

Reference List

1. Klein D, Guenther C, Ross S. Do as I say, not as I do: Lifestyles and counseling practices of physician faculty at the University of Alberta. Canadian Family Physician. 2016;62(7):e393-e399.
2. Bakhshi S, Sun F, Murrells T, et al. Nurses’ health behaviours and physical activity-related health promotion practices. Br. J. Community Nurs. 2015;20:289–296. doi: 10.12968/bjcn.2015.20.6.289
3. http://www.physicianspractice.com/blog/physicians-should-lead-example
4. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-cindy-haines/doctors-fitness_b_874948.html
5. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/doctors-practice-what-you-preach/258379/

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