The importance of taking care of ourselves…first.

I just had my annual physical (and want to remind you to schedule one if you haven’t already had one this year), and for the first time, answered “yes” to some of those routine questions and reported that my physical activity level had decreased over the past year. While I knew that I had been sacrificing some gym time for classes, meetings, or simply down time on the couch, it didn’t dawn on me how much stress had taken a toll on my body. My medical history had always been squeaky clean. My doctor looked up from the computer (that she had been using for electronic medical records) and said to me, “What happened to you this year?”

I’ve really just been going, and going, and going. Granted, I’ve accomplished more in these past 10 months than I ever have in the past. But, I finally realize it’s time for me to reclaim some work/school/life balance. I need to get more organized with my time, beyond entering assignment deadlines and meetings into my calendar. I also have to schedule in grocery (with lots of veggies) shopping, cooking, exercising and meditating – these things are important enough to get their own timeslots too!

In an earlier blog post, I quoted Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin saying that public health professionals should “put your own face mask on yourself before helping others” (like on an airplane.) In other words, public health professionals need to take care of themselves…first. The Patient Promise, developed by two medical students at Johns Hopkins University, takes this idea a step further by promoting a partnership between healthcare providers and their patients with the aim of changing the culture of healthcare. Read more about the Patient Promise in Doctors, Practice What You Preach in the June 12th Atlantic, and look for the checklist at the end of the article.

My hope is that more healthcare providers will start making healthier lifestyle choices and improve their own health status, creating a ripple effect that extends to their patients. As more providers experience the struggles patients encounter in trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, they will be better able to develop empathy. As an added bonus for the public health field, healthcare providers will also become more aware of the barriers the built environment and food environment often present, and join us in advocating for more comprehensive public health policies!

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