A few years ago I tracked down my medical school interviewer to thank him for giving me the opportunity to do what I felt I was called to do. I was surprised that, after 15 years, he actually remembered me and remembered details like walking to the courtyard to meet my father who’d driven me to the interview.
Sharing my gratitude and letting him know I was happy felt important to me.
Choosing to practice family medicine has a lot to do with why I am happy in my career today.
One of my frustrations with health care had been its emphasis on treatment of sickness, rather than a broader one that incorporated prevention of sickness. During my third year of medical school, I was following a family and sports medicine faculty member who was focusing on aspects of lifestyle medicine to help a patient remain active and age gracefully. Seeing opportunities to practice preventative medicine in family medicine made me realize the specialty was the perfect fit for me.
Food as medicine
While participating in rotations I also realized you can find a subspecialty within family medicine.
During my fourth year of medical school, I followed an attending who was seeing a patient for hypertension, prediabetes and hypercholesterolemia. The attending told the patient to eat “healthier,” gave her a handout, and scheduled a follow up appointment for 6 months later.
My thoughts were: “That’s it? That’s how we counsel patients to improve their dietary habits?”
As the patient was leaving the exam room, I asked her what type of oil she cooked with, and I proceeded to share culinary tips from my mother – who was a self-taught and early adopter of the food-as-medicine movement.
Once I started my residency, I knew I’d want to incorporate lifestyle and dietary approaches at many of my patient visits.
I scheduled patients every month to monitor their weight, follow up on chronic conditions, but more importantly, to engage them in their health and empower them to make small lifestyle changes each month and report their efforts. I felt like I was their health coach and cheerleader.
My career in family medicine
Entering the job market allowed me to form my philosophy of treating patients with a mind, body, and spirit approach. I chose to practice value-based care, which aligns with my lifestyle and preventative medicine approach .
I currently practice in a small family medicine–only clinic that is part of a larger multispecialty system. Primary care specialties in my organization are valued, respected and central to a patient’s well being and care. We are encouraged to spend time with patients, assess barriers to care and work collaboratively with our healthcare team, so that preventative medicine approaches take the lead in a patient’s health. This supportive culture and environment is one where my passion for food as medicine has thrived.
One day I forgot to pack a lunch and instead brought a grocery bag of items to make a salad. When I realized I made too much, I sent an email to my staff to get some “free salad in my office.” This serendipitous moment started an informal office “salad club” each week. Continued support from my staff and leadership, allowed me to consider further extending this teaching to my patients and my colleagues.
Three years ago, I helped adopt a sustainable plant-forward menu for our physician meetings, complete with a recipe from the menu for physicians to replicate at home or give to their patients.
I also pursued adoption of shared medical appointments for our medical group. These appointments apply the “see one, do one, teach one” model in medicine, but with culinary medicine as the focus.
Knowing that my patients are all connected to their families through food, I sought this as an opportunity to dive in further with wellness opportunities at their next meal. After almost 2 years of working on this project, I was able to host my first shared medical appointment with a group of patients on March 12, 2020. The next day schools closed, lockdowns occurred, and the world changed.