Advice line - leading by example

Stuart Palma argues that physiotherapy staff are duty-bound to take on a leading role in health promotion

It can be tricky to tackle the public health agenda and even harder if we as healthcare professionals don’t always lead the healthiest of lives.

Does the well-used phrase ‘practice what you preach’ mean that you can’t give advice on healthy lifestyles if you are not leading one yourself?   Do you have to be the perfect role model for your patients?

It’s important to note that as healthcare professionals we have a duty of care to our patients. By avoiding, or not addressing, health promotion we may be at risk of failing to uphold this duty.

For example, imagine that you are working in an outpatient setting and assess a patient with lower back pain.  

During the subjective assessment the patient admits that they lead a sedentary lifestyle and do not take part in any physical activity.

You believe that if they increased their physical activity levels their perception of pain would diminish and also decrease the likelihood that it would flare up again in the future.

But you lead a relatively inactive lifestyle as well, which might give you an opportunity to empathise with the patient.

By acknowledging that we all face challenges when it comes to exercising and adopting healthy lifestyles they might be more likely to take your advice on board.

It may certainly increase your credibility as a health professional and also reassure the patient.

However, learning about behavioural change and health promotion should encourage us to reflect on our own lifestyles and may empower us to change our own behaviours.

By drawing on our skills, knowledge and personal experiences, we can gain confidence in supporting our patients to become more active.

We should all be actively promoting healthy lifestyles.

By doing so, we will play our part in promoting public health and give patients the choice and chance to change.

Physiotherapy staff must take every opportunity to tackle the public health agenda and make every contact count.

For more information, email the CSP public health team at:

Stuart Palma CSP professional adviser

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