Imagine you’re a middle-aged patient. You have a few extra pounds around the middle. Your cholesterol is high; you have early stage diabetes. You like macaroni and cheese, sweet tea, beer and fried chicken on game day. Your only exercise is walking to and from your car.
Like you, your family doctor is overweight. You think you catch a whiff of smoke when she enters the exam room. She writes a couple of prescriptions to bring down your blood pressure and control your diabetes.
Years pass. You pack on more pounds, become more sedentary. You’ve been hospitalized a few times and have had to take an increasing number of sick days off from work. Your doctor prescribes new medications. The cost of your prescriptions is upsetting.
This scenario is the norm not the exception in America. All too often, doctors are unaware of the alternatives to prescription writing for the prevention and treatment of disease, and they have the power to be lifestyle medicine leaders for their patients. This needs to change. We need to spearhead the cultural shift and reverse the frightening explosion of chronic disease and the associated health care costs by transforming the way medical students are taught about medicine, and ultimately how they will live their lives and practice medicine.
Next Monday and Tuesday, the USC School of Medicine Greenville and Harvard Medical School’s Institute of Lifestyle Medicine are hosting the first national Lifestyle Medicine Think Tank at the Greenville Health System’s Health Sciences Education Building. Funded by a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, the purpose of the event is to begin a much-needed overhaul of America’s medical education that teaches future physicians to walk the talk of wellness and instill in them the knowledge and skills required to get patients to make better choices about diet, exercise, stress, and alcohol and tobacco use.
Why change what medical schools teach and why now? According to the World Health Organization, by 2020 two-thirds of all disease worldwide will be the result of poor lifestyle choices. The world simply cannot afford the human suffering or the financial cost of preventable diseases. We, the USC School of Medicine Greenville and Harvard, want to make lifestyle medicine a formal part of U.S. medical school curricula and eventually, a standard of practice for patient interactions.
There are roadblocks. Medical schools are pressed for time; there’s little room for new content. National board exams and accrediting standards will have to be modified. Nonbelievers will have to be converted. All of this will take time.
Fortunately, no convincing is necessary at the USC School of Medicine Greenville. As part of our vision to transform medical education and how health care is delivered, we have already incorporated exercise physiology across our curriculum. Our medical students are learning how to use exercise to prevent and manage disease in classrooms and labs, as well as in a culture that promotes walking, cycling, running and strength training as pathways to health and well-being.
Change is never easy. But we’ve reached the tipping point. The human and financial costs of chronic disease are unsustainable. Next week’s Lifestyle Medicine Think Thank has the power to begin the revolution of our nation’s medical school curricula and get future physicians walking the talk.
That is our vision. The reality starts Monday in Greenville. Are you ready?
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville