Walk with a Doc
Date of Publication April 20, 2018
In preparation for the Provider Burnout and Professional Resiliency Conference, IMS staff had the opportunity to speak with Cheryl True, MD, Family Medicine/Lifestyle Medicine, Davenport, in length about burnout and Lifestyle Medicine. One of the key components of Lifestyle Medicine is regular physical activity. During conversations with Dr. True, she expressed her involvement in the Walk with a Doc (WWAD) program.
Walk with a Doc is a program where a physician and/or other healthcare professionals provide a brief presentation on a health topic and then lead a walk. There are currently six registered WWAD programs in Iowa: Ames, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Grundy Center, and Sioux City.
Stress is one of the 10 World Health Organization social determinants of health, and physical activity is a key ingredient in stress management. The WWAD program is not only beneficial to patients but to the physicians involved. Staff sat down with Dr. True for an interview regarding the WWAD program.
How did you get involved with the Walk with a Doc program?
A few years ago I saw some information on WWAD and thought it would be a fun way to promote healthy activity and lifestyle education in a casual setting. It looked like a perfect fit for Lifestyle Medicine — allowing physicians to practice what they preach, become role models to their patients, and allow interactions during the walks with various healthcare providers in a very nonthreatening setting.
It is a very simple idea — Just Walk! — and brings you into an existing program that is ready to go right out of the box! I emailed them with the thought of a collaborative chapter with my veterinarians, and they were so accommodating to help us set up our program.
You’ve partnered with a group
a veterinarians in the Quad Cities. How did that partnership
I have had a good relationship with my veterinary clinic for many years and was aware that animals suffered from many of the same chronic diseases as people. I was also aware of research showing the health benefits associated with having pets.
It occurred to me that perhaps we could encourage people to walk more by prescribing walking for the pets — and benefit both of them! The Animal Family Veterinary Care Center in Bettendorf was very excited by the possibilities, and we all really liked the ability to reach multiple audiences with our message.
Can you describe what a “typical” walk is like for the participants?
It is a very simple format. There is a sign-in sheet and waiver for new participants. At the start, we give a brief health topic talk — which we do from both the human medicine perspective and the veterinary perspective. For example, we might talk about diabetes and how exercise can improve control of the disease. After this we head out along our paved trail, where we have an “out-and-back” course that totals three miles. Participants can do as much or as little as they like at their own pace. We identify any healthcare professionals who would like to chat with walkers along the way.
This is the fun part, because we are not limited by a short appointment, and there are no computers, clocks, white coats, or stethoscopes! There is time for easy conversation about topics that people are interested in but do not have time to ask about during an office visit.
It is also fun for the providers. We can go into detail about topics we enjoy but do not have time for prolonged discussions about during clinics. We also have a chance for people to meet other walkers and form relationships.
Have you referred any patients to this program? What is their initial reaction to it?
We actually have a WWAD prescription pad we can use to “prescribe” the walks! And yes, we have had referrals, although most of our participants have come because they were invited by a friend or they saw an advertisement for it.
People enjoy the walks — and so do the pets! It is very informal and relaxed and gives people motivation to get out, a monthly schedule with reminders about the walk, and a social activity as well as a physical one. It is also free! And it allows people to get to know healthcare providers outside of the clinic setting, so it is refreshing in that aspect as well.
Addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) has become a focus of physicians, particularly primary care physicians. A sedentary lifestyle is typically top of the list of SDOH to address. Have you witnessed examples of where participants have expanded their exercise routines or have addressed other SDOHs because of their participation in this program?
This is an area of interest to the WWAD founders as well, and they provide an overview of the benefits the participants have seen. We have not tracked this officially in our chapter, but we hear about our participants being active between walks.
Our chapter is proud to have been a part of two additional partnerships that we found important in the past two years. We were one of eight chapters who were a part of a CDC-funded grant last year that partnered WWAD and National Recreation and Parks. We brought in our local WWAD chapter, our local Park & Rec, and they had facilitators trained for an Arthritis Foundation program called Walk with Ease. We then copromoted our programs and saw participants cross over and take part in both activities.
We also were thrilled to have St. Ambrose University Occupational Therapy & Physician Assistant students participate in a Service Learning project with us for a semester. The students were able to see a community program in action and participate as future healthcare providers. They even brought some of their patients to the walks.
What suggestions or recommendations would you give a physician who wants to start a Walk with a Doc program within their community?
I think WWAD is a wonderful opportunity for any physician. It allow us to get out of the clinic and meet people where they are, be a role model, and even change up our routines to combat the physician burnout we are seeing at epidemic levels across the country.
This can be an opportunity for a new physician to get out and meet the community or a way for a clinic to offer additional options for their patients who need to make those “lifestyle changes.”
There are so many ways a practice can work this into their clinic, and it can be a way to engage both patients and staff in an easy, low-key, healthy activity. Contact the wonderful staff at WWAD headquarters — they are truly a great group supporting founder Dr. Sabgir’s dream. (And there is an entertaining newsletter to boot.) This is something that makes medicine fun! We are invigorated after each event.
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