Skipping the Gym to Walk with a Doc

In a city where gym memberships run as high as $200 a month (with restrictive hours and the long term commitments), two of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s best qualities really come to a fore: 

  1. Its proximity to 843-acres of green space that makes up Central Park
  2. Student access to an outstanding gym and recreational facility in Aron Hall (which is both free and open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.)

Fitness plays an important role in our lives, and we are grateful and appreciative of Mount Sinai’s location as well as the efforts of the School (specifically Dean Charney—a former college athlete himself) to generously furnish fantastic recreational facilities for the student body. Naturally, we both gravitated towards this mutual interest and one of the first ways we both got involved on campus was signing on to become the Class of 2020’s Athletic Chairs.

For us, the position meant more than just overseeing gym equipment and planning the annual school-wide intramural tournament known as the Dean’s Cup (though these were highlights as well). Our primary mission was to contribute to the health of our peers in any way we could. As medical students, we know firsthand how difficult it can be to eat healthy and exercise through the stress of studying. Needless to say, we recognize that it will only get tougher to balance these priorities when we enter residency, fellowships, or our full-time jobs as Attending’s. We know we want to act now to instill good habits before we get too busy to start them.

At the same time, we also recognize that the U.S. health system, though evolving, has overwhelmingly focused on the treatment of disease rather than its prevention. Our interest in self-care and positive lifestyle modification extends beyond the adage ‘doctor, heal thyself.’ We wanted to work with Mount Sinai faculty, patients, and members of the community (many of whom struggle with the same issues, with the same consequences) to promote a culture of wellness—moving the dial towards health care and away from ‘sick care’. We began to brainstorm ideas.

Eric’s first shadowing experience as an undergraduate was with Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist, who passionately promotes lifestyle modification as a means to reversing and treating cardiac disease. Once a month, he invites his patients to exercise with him at a local park. This was how we first learned of the organization Walk with a Doc.

Dr. Freeman started a chapter at National Jewish Health in Denver (now an affiliate medical center of Mount Sinai) that has become wildly popular and is supported by dozens of physicians and sponsors in the community. The model’s simplicity—and its potential to bring together patients, providers, and students—appealed to us. We were eager to develop our own chapter at Mount Sinai, Dr. Freeman was eager to provide guidance.

We reached out to Dean Charney, who has demonstrated a clear passion for exercise as a resilience tool throughout his personal and professional life. He was excited about the idea and connected us with Dr. Valentin Fuster, Director of Mount Sinai Heart. Dean Charney assured us that Dr. Fuster would be interested in the organization and its mission. As we worked with Dr. Fuster and his team, we developed our mission: to bring together students, faculty, staff, community members, and (perhaps most importantly) patients through walking to help develop support systems, healthy habits, and wellness goals.

Dr. Fuster has done amazing work uniting communities, emphasizing health as a social value. He believes that exercise is the catalyst for other good behaviors and that exercise is a key step in the chain to encouraging people to eat better, control their blood pressure, take medication, and promote wellness. Once we established our model, Dr. Fuster connected us with Dr. Prashant Vaishnava, an attending cardiologist, who became our faculty advisor for the organization. Immediately, we agreed with Dr. Vaishnava that we wanted Dr. Fuster to be as involved with the organization and were elated when he agreed to speak at our first event.

On May 8, we gathered students, faculty, staff, community members, and patients for our inaugural walk (which spanned a 1.6 mile-track around the Jackie Onasis Reservoir in Central Park). Before the walk began, Dr. Fuster kicked-off the event with opening remarks, informing the audience about the important research being done in the field of cardiovascular health—from basic science projects to community-wide initiatives. Painting a comprehensive picture of the current state of cardiovascular research, he said, would ensure that the attendees grasped the importance of our goals.

In the era of media sound bite and online clickbaitwhere science is often misinterpreted and/or intentionally presented in misleading wayswe marveled at the way Dr. Fuster clearly communicated the breadth and depth of his research to the mixed audience. Sure enough, people expressed how interesting and informative the talk was, and, more importantly, how much his words resonated with them. The attendees appreciated that Dr. Fuster’s message extended beyond the trope: ‘Eat better, exercise more.’

Our inaugural event received such positive feedback that we held another on Father’s Day with Dr. Staci Leisman, and have plans to host one each month moving forward—rain, snow, or shine. Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, another leader and expert on fitness and nutrition, lead our latest event on August 19. We’re so excited about the possibilities for Walk with a Doc, and given the abundant fitness and wellness resources here at Mount Sinai, we feel that we’ve found the perfect place to make a difference in people’s’ lives.


The Mount Sinai chapter of Walk with a Doc hosted the Year End Celebration on November 4. The event was the group’s first-ever Walk with a Doc collaboration, and featured Dr. Joan Dorn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Community Health and Social Medicine. Dr. Dorn kicked-off the event with a discussion about the connection between physical activity and the prevention of chronic disease.

For more information related to the national organization Walk with a Doc, including how to start your own chapter, please visit their website. If you’re interested in walking with Mount Sinai students and physicians, please visit their Meet Up page for event dates and information.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Eric Robinson is a second-year MD/MSCR student at the Icahn School of Medicine. Eric spent summer 2017 conducting research in thoracic surgical oncology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. His other interests include medical student wellness, lifestyle modification, and health care delivery.

 

Sean Neifert is a second-year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine, and is passionate about helping patients and classmates through wellness activities. While he can often be found working out in the Aron Hall gym, his other interests include surgical outcomes research, emergency medical systems, and cooking.

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