This is a tricky one. This blog has no intention of causing offence to any of my colleagues, but simply to give my opinion. I have written extensively on the subject of athletes as role models, and I don’t believe that we should hold them on a pedestal or put sport stars in that elevated position. However, doctors should be role models and, in my opinion, they need to look ‘healthy.’ Doctors have a responsibility to their patients to exude an aspirational image of health.
A close friend of mine was very disturbed about the amount of obese and overweight doctors and the amount of doctors who smoke. The first thing that comes to mind is ‘practice what you preach.’ Would you go to a financial advisor who was bankrupt, or to a plumber who’s sink was leaking? How are patients supposed to take advice from a doctor who doesn’t project the image of a healthy lifestyle?
But then again appearances can be deceptive. People come in all shapes and sizes and we know we can’t make snap judgments about overweight physicians; they may practice good habits while many seemingly fit physicians may have very bad habits. So, do we rush to judgement? Dr Regina Benjamin, former US Surgeon General, once said that, ‘what makes a physician credible is whether they practice what they preach and the lifestyle recommendations they propose.’ I can’t help but agree with this sentiment – but judging physicians solely on their outward appearance could be detrimental.
Now the NHS has spoken up on this issue. A recent article in the Telegraph states that overweight doctors and nurses have been told to slim down by the NHS Chief. There are 700,000 NHS staff classed as overweight or obese and they must shed these excessive pounds in order to set a good example to patients according to Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive. My question is: how are they going to implement this? I can understand the NHS’ urgency to address this issue as it emerged recently that obesity and its related health problems, may now account for a third of the 110 billion NHS budget. But is it a feasible task?
Finally, there is another side to the argument. Physicians are still people, and they can be just as imperfect as their patients. Expecting a doctor to always follow recommendations that he or she gives their patients, whilst intuitively logical to expect, is probably not realistic in real-life situations. This is a very interesting debate. I look forward to see whether Stevens’ order will actually change the aesthetics of the NHS.