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Program aims to train doctors, nurses to keep themselves physically, mentally healthy

Posted at 3:40 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 15:40:35-05

CLEVELAND — A new program powered by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine takes aim at helping doctors and nurses stay healthy.

University Hospitals is one of the first healthcare systems in the country to receive a grant for this continued education. The “Lifestyle Medicine and Food as Medicine Essentials” course bundle provides a foundational, evidence-based introduction to the field of lifestyle medicine for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.

The course consists of three modules, four presentations and 5.5 hours of content.

I think it's our obligation as health care professionals, especially in psychiatry, to help people understand and embrace that and practice it,” said Toby Bourisseau, an advanced practice nurse at UH specializing in child psychiatry.

Bourisseau is one of thousands of UH employees taking part in the new course that’s centered around health and wellness. It focuses on providing proactive well-care that is just as comprehensive as reactive sick-care aimed at treating some of our most chronic diseases.

“We in healthcare, traditionally — we are not good at taking care of ourselves and then we expect our patients to do so,” said Dr. Francoise Adan, Chief Whole Health & Well-Being Officer. “This is something that a lot of us don't learn much about in medical school, which is crazy, because it is so impactful.”

The whole health approach is built on the fact that taking care of others starts with taking care of ourselves. The course combines the power of sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress management to help make lifestyle medicine part of the foundation of a transformed healthcare system.

“Self-care is not a dirty word. It actually is the most important thing that you can do if you want to bring the best parts of yourself into the world,” Adan said.

Adan said the key is to start small and to avoid thinking of it as climbing a mountain. Replacing one small item in your diet can go a long way toward kickstarting healthy changes.

“I think these things seem easy, but when you're used to a lifestyle of eating a certain way and behaving a certain way, it is hard to change habits,” Bourisseau said.

Bourisseau took the course and has now started to use some of what she learned both personally and professionally. Her goal is to help her patients beyond medication and educate them about lifestyle medicine.

“It is scary to think about, like what we do to our bodies,” Bourisseau said. “I think it's exciting to think about how we can reverse that and the opportunity we have just through what we put in our body and that maybe we then we don't need to take certain medication.”

Since food is the fuel for our bodies, Bourisseau has introduced diet changes to her life and specifically for the health of her daughter, who was diagnosed with long-haul COVID.

Migrating to a more whole-food and plant-based diet helps manage some of the symptoms. For Bourisseau, it was all about finding the right alternatives.

Chick-pea pasta replaced traditional pastas and the family now avoids “enriched” in the ingredients of many foods.

“My daughter really likes hot chocolate. One of the things we’ve done is we use cocoa powder, this is organic cocoa powder,” Bourisseau said. “When we make hot chocolate, I’ll put the cocoa powder and we’ll use maple syrup and that’s an alternative.”

It’s a small example of little changes that ultimately make a big difference.

According to the CDC, six in ten American adults have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more. Examples of chronic diseases include heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s estimated that about 80% of chronic diseases are driven by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise.

“The cost of health care has become enormous,” Bourisseau said. “We really want to teach our patients and ourselves and our families, especially younger ages, to live a healthy life and prevent these illnesses that are costing, you know, our patients and our families and our health care system an enormous amount of money.”

This lifestyle medicine initiative is just one of the tools in UH’s journey to excellence in well-care, from illness prevention to chronic disease management, which will benefit individuals, families, and the community as a whole.

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