Now that I have written a book, everyone asks: what is my book about? For 25 years as a Family Physician, I have asked myself, what can I learn from others? What strategies can I apply to sustain wellness in my own life and what can I share with others to promote their well-being? I have come to realize, (despite medical training) that prioritizing my own health is never selfish - it allows me to better care for others and to create a culture of wellness!
A Doctor’s Dozen is stories of real people who struggle with real problems, and who apply real strategies and have taught me about health and life by their challenges and successes. I view all as teachers and in each case you will read of an individual (ten have a connection to health care) and learn about their common health challenge, and observe first hand how they applied health strategies to improve their own health and the well-being of others.
You will benefit from A Doctor’s Dozen if you are dedicated to your own well-being,...
Acceptance Speech Catherine Florio Pipas, MD, MPH
April 29th, 2019 Society of Teachers in Family Medicine (STFM) Annual Meeting Toronto
Thank you, I am so honored to receive the 2019 STFM Humanism in Medicine Award and so grateful to be a member of the STFM Community.
My journey to Create Cultures of Wellness and to Promote Humanism in Medicine has been extremely rewarding because it….
Challenges me everyday to walk the walk…
Provides me the opportunity to learn from all of you and to share what I have learned across the globe
Allows me to participate in the national URGENT campaign to build a business model for promoting personal wellness and changing our learning and practice environments
Promoting Humanism in Medicine can be viewed as overcoming another ISM (racism, sexism, humanism) Our culture of medicine has facilitated the depersonalization of us as health professionals - but no one is calling it dehumanizing.
We actually call it “superhuman” and we often where this badge o...
Negative emotions have the potential to limit our effectiveness. Frustration, disappointment, and fear can paralyze our performance, while resentment, guilt and anger can stifle relationships. When often learn to ignore, deny and mask these feelings. Sometimes we learn this so well, we lose the capability of experiencing them. When we suppress intense negative emotions over long periods of time, we become emotionally exhausted. Flatness settles over us like a veil, masking all feelings. No joy, no hope, no peace. Feeling negative feelings empowers us to more effectively feel positive emotions. Three strategies that can initiate this process include mindfulness, emotional intelligence and cognitive reframing.
Mindfulness is a willingness to observe – even that which is uncomfortable. “How do I feel right now?” is a simple start to the process. Am I Exhausted? Agitated? Furious? Apathetic? Mindfulness demands that we answer honestly- without judgement- no matter what the answer....
Time, that complex entity can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, a concept and even a tool. Over time… the term time is used as a means to slow us down, speed us up, inspire us and cure us, it serves to reward us, shame us and even terminate our existence.
Time is so much more than the movement of hands around the face of a clock. It is a measure of life’s accomplishments, our existence and a “word” with so many meanings:
Something we need more of – “never enough time”
An excuse for what we can’t or won’t do – “sorry, no time”
Pristine is not a typical word I would choose to describe my traditional holidays.
Pristine – natural, unspoiled, untouched.
Pristine – the antithesis of consumerism, materialism and man-made “stuff”.
This phenomenon of pure nature, devoid of human touch, surrounded me this Christmas on Anegada, an island lined by 16+ miles of pure white sand. An island littered in conch shells, sun-bleached coral, and sea urchins.
I was confronted with the contrast between my endless list of “to-do’s” and the harmonious waves ebbing and flowing. Simplicity surrounded me and demanded my attention, forcing me to look at life, time and the meaning of my existence. I found my place somewhere between the aquamarine shade of the shallow flats and the indigo hue of the sunset. I sensed a renewed reason for the season amidst the full moons glow. The plethora of decorations that had overtaken my holidays were washed away by cool salt water. Flamingos, donkeys, cows, goats, cats, crabs and iguanas walked amo...
Stress is our body’s reaction to danger- whether real or perceived. It is a complex chemical response to protect us and keep us from harm’s way.
Each of our bodies are designed to survive! When threatened – for example under attack by a wild animal, in a major accident, or caught in a fire, chemicals like cortisol and epinephrine are turned on and activate the “fight or flight response”. In simple words, this response causes us a feeling of anxiety, agitation, readiness to run and hide, a racing heart, dry mouth, nausea, sweating and an overall unsettled experience.
Stress that turns on certain body functions; it also turns off others. High energy is needed in stressful situations and that is directed to muscle mass and focus. Stress can be valuable in such acute situations, as it increases our ability to focus on one thing and perform under taxing conditions- like preparing for exams, handling emergencies, or preforming on an interview. But while preparing for “fight or fl...
Is it I? My family? My doctor? My employer? The Health Care or Public Health System? All of the above?
What if I am burned out, a doctor, or a burned-out doctor? Who then, is responsible for my health? Is the answer the same? Are doctors alone responsible for their own health? Or is it a systems issue? If the impact of burnout in health professionals extends beyond the individual to the system and to the health of the population then isn’t this a public health crisis- and aren’t we all then responsible to lead change?
This debate is front and center across academic centers and hospital systems nationwide, with strong opinions on both sides. Physicians who place health and wellness above all values are insulted to be accused of not caring for themselves. They maintain that they have the knowledge and skills to promote health and wellness in others, but they push back, stating that self-care in a toxic environment is not humanly possible. Th...
I’ve never been to Walden Pond and have had only subtle glimpses into Thoreau’s message on the therapeutic value of nature. Walking the Coast to Coast trail, with my daughter through Wordsworth’s Grasmere and the Lakes District of England provided me an intensified belief in the power of nature.
Hiking from the west coast of St. Bees to the small town of Kirkby Stephen my focus was on the sights, smells and sounds of 75 mph winds of Hurricane Ali, rain reflecting off Gortex, four boots marching in sync, rivers and waterfalls flooding our paths, and baaaa’s and mooo’s of native British dwellers.
Over 6 days, 88 miles, two national parks, and 4 summits, I observed:
Stillness giving way to harmony
Quiet creating space to think
Calm allowing for creativity, and
Beauty bringing joy and smiles- even when sopping wet
Deep feelings of peacefulness, previously foreign to me, arrived, but not without a battle of internal forces against modern technology. From my first muddy foo...
Are we born happy or do we create our happiness? According to research, happiness is determined more by our actions and reactions to situations than to life’s experiences themselves. In other words, how we perceive and approach life determines a great portion of our satisfaction and wellbeing.
Expect No More; this is Happiness. An expression I read on a napkin at The Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach Florida has stuck with me. Could such a simple statement guide me? Expectations drive satisfaction much more so than reality. This simple statement reminded me that if I believe that what I have and who I am is NOT enough – I am locked into perpetual dissatisfaction, always trying to do and be more. The message is not about lowering expectations, but about appreciating what currently exists.
WHAT if who I am and what I have were enough? What if I didn’t need to change or be better? Better takes energy and perfect is, as I am often reminded, the enemy of good. What if I was content with my w...
Unfortunately, our lives have all been touched by someone who has taken their own life: a beloved celebrity who hanged himself, a colleague who jumped from the 20th floor, a friend who left the car running in the closed garage, a neighbor’s child who overdosed, or a grandfather who shot himself. This loss of life has a devastating and rippling impact across families and communities. Why? We ask ourselves, could anyone feel so desperate? How could they be so alone? What signs did we miss? and when could we have acted to stop the unstoppable?
Unanswered questions live on when life is gone.
Suicide is a major public health issue, across the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports over 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone with increasing rates in nearly every state.
Factors that contribute to the taking of one’s own life are complex - simple solutions do not suffice. Multifaceted efforts to prevent suicide must be addressed by all members of society. Health professiona...
In our efforts to feel good, look good and live a long life, we seek the perfect diet. Many times a day, I am asked and also ask myself, “What should I eat?” Is the best diet low FAT? Low CARB? Low SUGAR? Low CALORIE? The question translates to what foods are the enemy, the nemesis lined up to attack our wellbeing. The concept of identifying and avoiding the antagonist in our diet is analogous to permitting only joy in our emotions and refusing sadness, grief and disappointment. It is not natural and not sustainable.
When you look at the data comparing diets, there is no one winner and the primary reason bariatric surgery has better long-term outcomes is the comprehensive package that addresses eating habits, exercise efforts and emotional connection to food.
A parallel question to “What should I eat?” might be – “How do I handle stress?” If the answer includes “eat” perhaps it doesn't matter what I eat, but WHY I eat. If I am unhappy with myself, or my day or my life, an...
Moderation has long been a not-so-secret, secret to health and happiness. But in today’s world of consumerism and 24/7 online culture, active resistance is necessary to deflect excess. We are led to believe that a surplus of anything is better; more money, more friends, more “likes”, more food, more government, more stuff, more travel, more memberships, more news, more experiences-- spending, titles, awards and activities.
Where did this phenomena start? The Industrial Revolution? The Technological Revolution? Or is it human nature to just want more? As early as 500 BC the teacher, Buddha warned of the need for balance when saying “To much is no better than to little.” More recently in 100 BC, Cicero, the great Roman orator highlights Moderation as one of the top 4 virtues, alongside wisdom, courage and justice. Thoreau, who went to the woods to find peace, is viewed by some as an extremist, but praised by many for his message, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affai...
In hierarchical structures like medicine, business and even within families, those at the top often feel compelled to provide their mentees the impression that they are infallible, invincible and unshakable. This occurs with doctors, executives and even parents who erroneously believe strength comes from denying weakness.
But does our strength as humans not come from experiencing a full spectrum of feelings, facing our daily fears and embracing failure as a lesson learned?
Cultures that trains us to be “powerful” by ignoring our feelings, denying our fears and avoiding failure at all costs- create populations of individuals who try to rise above or more, often fall below the expectations of humanism.
If not human, then what do we become? SUPERHUMAN? Perhaps? Or, maybe SUBHUMAN? Believing ourselves invincible to basic needs, emotional contact and relationships creates unrealistic pressures and limits us to a one-dimensional realm of existence. Believing ourselves unworthy of the time need...
This is often how I measure my degree of attention in the moment. As the winter turns s-l-o-w-l-y to spring in New England, I am reminded of the passage of time by the transition of seasons. Early blooms cause me to stop and consider who and what matter to me.Many share with me their personal goals to be more mindful and their focus on this for 10 minutes everyday at various times in the morning, after work, or before bedtime. I’m often asked if being mindful for 10 minutes a day will actually result in a more mindful life? I believe that my brief look at the crocuses and the color of others eyes are reminders to STOP, to observe and to commit to slowing down the pace of my life; possibly even saying no to one request in order to fully engage in another activity or with a treasured person in my life.I, like many others, thrive on those 10-minute intervals of deep meditation where I am fully focused on the sounds, sights, smells and sensations around me. These moments, I believe direct...