My first year of medical school has come to a close and it has left me a lot of things to think about. Besides doing a lot of necessary thinking about anatomy, physiology and disease processes, medical school has made me think critically about priorities- my own as well as those of healthcare and the medical education system.
One reason that I’ve continued to race and train over this year is because it has become one of my default priorities. At this point, I’ve been training consistently for so long that it is a routine part of the day. However, I am well aware that this time is a luxury that will become much harder as my clinical responsibilities continue to increase. I see this reflected in many of the students, residents and physicians around me- personal health suffers as time spent in the hospital increases and sleep, exercise and sunlight decline to minimal to none. Honestly, it scares me and I frequently wonder why it has to be like this. Why are the people who are supposedly healing others, so blatantly defying the most basic aspects of health?
This paradox was illustrated in a small group session we had about physical activity and lifestyle counseling. A discussion prompt was, “Should physicians be physically active and practice good lifestyle choices to be a role model for patients?” The reactions from others to this prompt ranged from an obvious yes to significant reservation. The time crunch argument was a big one- how can taking care of yourself be a priority when there are always more patients to see? The Hippocratic Oath does say that the patient comes before yourself but at what point should the line be drawn? Another interesting point was the liberty to separate personal life from professional life- that our own choices should be separate from what we do as a physician. However, this seems like a very grey area because they are difficult philosophies to separate.
Ultimately, nobody is obligated to be a role model but I think that it should be a considered a privilege and something to strive for. Role models can be powerful influences on other people and communities, sometimes without even realizing it. My Athletic Mentors teammates represent a range of occupations but have all earned a great deal of respect as professionals, people, and role models. I think a big contributing factor in this is prioritizing health and devotion to participating in and sharing their sport.
There are no absolute answers to any of these questions. However, to me it is obvious that the culture needs to change somehow. Because as much as physicians and other healthcare professionals are working and sacrificing, it is not currently reflected in better health outcomes- for patients or health professionals. I’m not exactly sure where the changes in healthcare and medicine need to originate, but a workforce full of true role models working to shift the paradigm towards prevention would be a great start.