On a cold and crisp December day, hundreds of friends, family and colleagues, myself included, crowded into the small church to pay their last respects to one of the great physicians of our generation.  As I waited in line, looking at the multitude of floral arrangements, awards, photos and letters from an outstanding medical career, I wondered how many doctors take care of their patients better than they take care of their own health.

Physicians are important role models for their patients and peers, which makes their own personal health an influential factor in health promotion and disease prevention.  Doctors who engage in better health behaviors will address these issues with their patients in a more meaningful way.  This has been a focus of the American Medical Association, which holds an annual International Conference on Physician Health

“Maintaining The Balance” is one of the themes of next year’s conference in London.  Physical health, psychological health, spiritual health and career satisfaction need to have the right fit to ensure a long and fulfilling existence.  This is not about state physician health programs, which are important and serve a vital role in helping physicians with behavioral or substance abuse issues.  This is about lifestyle choices, the importance of understanding that good health doesn’t just happen in a physician’s life.  It means eating properly, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, maintaining a regular exercise program and dealing with life, family and career stressors in an appropriate way.  Read more

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself” likely needs to be updated to “Doctor, take care of thyself and your patients.”  The future of health care will emphasize prevention of debilitating disease, and physicians should be on the front lines of this healthy lifestyle transformation.

So how does this fable end?  As I walked past the open casket, seeing the great man with the huge Boston Red Sox World Series ring on the same finger, like always, at peace, I understood that we never have enough time to do it all.  Something has to give, and the choices we make always affect the balance.  I drove back from the church that night to a medical committee meeting, and there was but a single choice on the dinner menu: Chili.  Only the big man and those closest to him could have understood why it was the perfect meal on this day.

Dedicated to the memory of the one and only Dr. Michael T. Foley.

“I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow. Good times never seemed so good…”

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

Stuart J. Glassman, MD

Please send your questions or comments to president@nhms.org or post a comment below.