I recently read a story that was blunt about the contradictions of being an obese health care provider. I don’t consider myself overweight or obese, but maintaining a weight I am happy with is an ongoing challenge. Dr. Nick Yphantides, who says that he lost over 250 pounds, got tired of telling patients, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and realized that he needed to change if he expected patients to take his message to heart.
Nurses are teachers in the most basic sense. We often take advantage of “teachable moments” with our patients on a variety of topics. One of our primary roles is that of educator. As a student, I found myself most drawn to teachers I could relate to—those that “walked their talk.” One of my favorite professors taught my psych rotation both in the classroom and in the clinical setting. She made our rotation interesting, not scary, and was an amazing role model on many levels. I remember her as calm, intelligent, and empathetic. She was also stylish and fit. As a 19-year-old student, I thought she was pretty cool. One of my first positions after the highly recommended but dreaded “year in med-surg” was as a staff nurse in a psychiatric unit. I loved it, and often found myself drawing on past lessons from my admired teacher.
How important, then, is “walking what you talk” when it comes to patient education? We have an obligation to our patients to provide them with accurate information, but can accurate information be effective without proper role modeling? Is receiving antismoking education from an obvious smoker effective? If you are clinically obese and on medication for adult-onset diabetes, how seriously will your post-MI patient consider your discharge teaching on diet and exercise?
These are hard questions. I’m sure you’re fully aware of the heated debate on health care and insurance reform in full swing across our country. Recent research published in Health Affairs shows that health care costs related to obesity have doubled in less than a decade and are estimated at over $140 billion per year.
Maybe, as a part of transforming care at the bedside and beyond, we need to look at ourselves first—like Dr. Yphantides. Each of us plays an active role in determining our collective health care costs. And the education we provide our patients is extremely important to their health. Could we as clinicians be even more effective role models and teachers for our patiets by getting as healthy as possible?