The Hypocritical Oath

Taking the Hippocratic Oath is a rite of passage. Before any physician enters Exam Room 1, he recites these words, written by Hippocrates centuries ago. These words are powerful; so powerful that they are treated as more than just words. These words represent a physician’s love and devotion to his patients.

No matter how stressful this field can be, I have always seen physicians set these words—the oath—as their standard. As physicians (or budding physicians, in our case), we tell others to fill their bodies with nourishment and to practice a variety of healthy habits. But, the question remains: do we treat our own bodies the same way?

As a public health major, I’m all about “prevention.” My special interest is the prevention of chronic disease. Whenever I go home, I am the first to scrutinize my parents’ pantry—making sure their ketchup is devoid of high fructose corn syrup and that their fridge is filled with raw food. When I talk to my friends or relatives, I push them to exercise because “it really only takes thirty minutes of your day, and you’ll feel amazing afterwards!”

Basically, I play the pushy health coach. But is this health coach all talk and no walk?

Sadly, I don’t always abide by the values I preach. Even though I know I should be drinking water equivalent to half my body weight in ounces, I generally don’t. Well, why not? Sometimes I don’t make it a priority, and other times I forget. Many patients probably experience a similar scenario. Likewise, I often see my fellow classmates put academics above their health at school. I can be guilty of this too.

When I started thinking about our habits, I was hard on myself and my peers. As healthcare practitioners, our own health should never be placed on the backburner. More importantly, I don’t like the idea of telling my patients to do A, B, and C if I can’t do A or B or C myself. It just doesn’t seem very reasonable. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two ways I can approach this in the future:

  1. Practice what I preach
  2. Preach with empathy

I’ve realized it’s okay to push those I love to be better, even if I’m far from that point myself. But this conversation should be accompanied by a discussion on health barriers. It’s hard to get your limp legs out of a warm bed in the morning, but what will help you rip off the covers and jump on the treadmill? Sleeping with your sports bra on? Placing your alarm farther away from the nightstand? We all know what “healthy” looks like; what we don’t always know is how to achieve it. I want to share my own obstacles with patients while also discussing theirs.

Bottom line: I don’t have to be perfect to offer health advice…I just need to be compassionate.

Featured image:
The road to health by Sarah Joy

Angela Gupta

Angela Gupta is a member of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine Class of 2018. She graduated from Saint Louis University in 2014 with a B.S. in Public Health. Angela is particularly interested in the prevention of chronic disease and the eradication of food desserts—she wants to help those in underserved communities gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In her spare time, she enjoys reading historical fiction, watching psychological thrillers, and running outside (and to the kitchen).

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