What would you say if your doctor asked you to run a 5K race with her? If you’re a patient of Dr. Shirly (Shalu) Ramchandani’s, one of our internists at our Post Office Square location, apparently you say “Yes!”
On June 7, 2014, wearing matching “Team Post Office Square” T-shirts, 5 patients, 5 staff members, Shalu, Ashley Norwood (a wellness coach and facilitator for Post Office Square’s Smart Lifestyle shared medical appointment), and a few friends, arrived at the Boston College Campus at 6:45am in the morning to participate in what was, for most of them, their first road race ever.
How did this come to happen? The will – and willingness – of a doctor to help her patients, not by telling them what to do but by showing them and being there every step of the way.
“I offer a 90-minute shared medical appointment (SMA) for my patients, called Smart Lifestyles, geared towards patients with chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” explains Dr. Ramchandani. “It’s not only about medication management – we also share ideas with one another. We try to identify reasonable lifestyle changes that can work for each patient given their situation and individual goals.”
“The SMA gave me opportunities to show how to make healthier lifestyle choices, like bringing in healthy snack ideas, to share with the group. I wanted to show them that choosing healthier snacks and whole grains can be enjoyable. It was very successful – for example, some of them incorporated quinoa as their grain for meals instead of white rice. I really enjoyed seeing the results of the small changes we made and I realized, ‘Maybe, I can do this with exercise too.’ I believed it would be successful if I exercised with them to show them how exercise can actually be fun.”
Shalu likes to run, so she told her group that one thing that gets her motivated to start running after a dreary winter is setting small goals, something very tangible to work towards, and she suggested that some of them join her. She ruefully admits it was a hard sell, probably made harder still because of the name of the race she picked: The Heartbreak Hill 5K Race!
She shared with them “doable” 5 k training plans such as the couch to 5k. She then recruited some of the staff.
Paula Bobb, one of Dr. Ramchandani’s patients, tries to walk regularly and although she’d never done an organized event before, she felt the 5K length was very doable so she signed up. “I brought along a friend who’s never done anything like this either, and we really enjoyed the beautiful day and the atmosphere and energy of the race.” What did she think when Dr. Ramchandani proposed the race to her patients? “I thought it was great. She really wanted to show us that there are many ways to be physically active without being a ‘serious athlete,’ if you know what I mean.”
The staff in the internal medicine department were also novices to road races, but they described Dr. Ramchandani as a “cheerleader.” “She’s a hard person to say ‘No’ to,” quipped Diane Carter, one of the medical assistants at the practice who participated in her first race.
Diane, Cheryl (Sai) Brown and Margaret Zahlaway had a great time and plan to do it again. They found the entire experience very motivating; in particular, they enjoyed that it “took down the wall” between staff and patients and allowed everyone to support everyone else, just person to person without titles or roles.
Dr. Ramchandani also took the opportunity to make a personal connection with each of her patients at the race. Although the group tried to stay together, everyone was at different levels, so some were walking and some were jogging. Shalu made a point to jog or walk with every patient, and she talked with them about why she enjoyed running and the personal benefits she gets from it, be it stress management, unwinding, or just feeling good about herself.
“My goal was that they experience the energy and they did. They were very thankful, inspired and thrilled that they did it,” she reflects. “One of them even said ‘When are we going to do a 10K?’ and I was so excited and proud at the same time!”
Has this effort made a difference to her patients beyond that single 5K race in June? It does appear that it has. One gentleman was so motivated that he did a race the very next weekend on his own. One of the medical assistants has now entered several races, determined to beat her personal best each time. Dr. Ramchandani hopes to have a much bigger group signed up for their next race.
How could you make a change in your life? Dr. Ramchandani says, “As a PCP, I believe that we are coaches, that’s our job. But I don’t always have the time in a one-on-one visit that I would like to counsel my patients on exercise and diet when I have to do medication adjustments/renewals and physical exam. That motivated me to start offering shared medical appointments, so that I can spend more time with my patients and try and coach them with lifestyle changes that are such an integral part of chronic disease management.”
As of this writing, Dr. Ramchandani, her patients and staff are planning to participate in the Susan Komen Race for the Cure on September 28, 2014 in South Boston.