An open letter to medical school students, everywhere.

This fall, about 20,000 Americansstudy table mostly young people, fresh out of undergraduate programs, and others with a bit of life experience and families to balance — will begin their first year of medical school.

I remember, clear as a bell, how I felt during my first day at med school.

A blend of emotions — overwhelming, at times. I had deferred admission for a year so that I could do volunteer work in Peru and see the world before jumping back into the whirlwind of education. Nervous. Determined. Panicked. Passionate.

And while it’s been a few years since I tossed my graduation cap in the air and added a couple extra letters behind my name, I remember that feeling, too. Vividly.

Becoming a physician is not easy. Being a physician is not easy, either.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what a doctor’s “lifestyle” looks like. Fun TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs depict a world of romance, intrigue, exotic cocktails with your colleagues to celebrate a successful surgery, celebrity clients, and money flowing easily.

The reality is starkly different.

Sure, most physicians make decent salaries, but I wouldn’t want to calculate the hourly rate. And many young doctors are saddled with crippling student loan debt, some over $250,000.

The hours are long. The patients are sick. The rewards are great, but so are the sacrifices.

But I’m not writing this to complain, or to frighten anyone. My real purpose in writing this open letter to med school students, everywhere, is to honor you.

I honor you for choosing such a demanding, but meaningful career. And I’d like to offer the following advice, which likely applies to most other types of students too.

1.    It’s tough, but you can do it. Doctors are made, not born, and some liken school to a pressure-cooker. For the first time in your life perhaps, there will be so much that you don’t know. You will be confused, as you are learning several new languages at once. You will doubt your intelligence and abilities. But one day at a time, you show up and engage and do the work to the best of your ability, and you will succeed.

2.    Do it your way. Figure out how you best study and process the work flow. Library, coffee shops, lectures, books, highlighters, sticky notes, flow charts…find your own best way. Our entire med class took turns taking notes for lectures, and most of us studied from these. Study groups work for some people, if the other members are focused and efficient. Try not to compare and stress when your colleague has read the microbiology textbook twice. It’s what you retain, not how many words your eyeballs looked at.

3.    Be curious. The first two years are usually book and lecture based, but there is usually one class that introduces you to patient care so that you remember why you enrolled: to help others. Talk to your patients. They say that 90% of the diagnosis comes from clues that patients give you when you ask good questions. Also ask them how it feels to be a patient. You will gain empathy from seeing things through their eyes and learn important communication skills.

One of my favorite patients in medical school was a tiny elderly man who came in with dangerously high blood pressure. He also had low potassium. I learned that he was a retired jockey, and still worked with horses. He also chewed a lot of tobacco, a licorice-flavored brand. It turned out that the licorice flavoring caused his body to lose potassium and this caused his blood pressure to rise. Everyone has interesting life stories, and some impact their reason for needing care. Your job is to learn from these stories, in medicine and in life.

4.    Get to know faculty in your field of interest. Everyone needs to know the basics, but if you already have an idea that you want to deliver babies, or be an orthopedic doctor, or do dermatology, or ENT, seek out extra learning opportunities. You might get to help with a research project or receive invaluable advice for your future career.

5.    Be open. You might think you know what you want to do, but be open to changing your mind. One of my favorite classmates was a 40-year-old man with six kids. He was already a successful dentist, but wanted the MD degree as well to expand his practice to oral surgery. He lived in a dorm during the week and went back home 250 miles away on weekends when he wasn’t on call. Over the course of medical school, he changed his mind, became an OB/Gyn doctor and went on to deliver many babies. As he was a father to six, I thought this was the perfect career choice for him!

6.    Pace yourself. They say that medical school is like trying to take a drink from a fire hose. Try to balance and do some productive study and work each day. Cramming is hard on the brain and not very effective for retention. Create an organized study ritual that sets you up for success.

7.    Be humble. Every good doctor knows that you can learn a lot from an experienced nurse, lab or X-ray tech. It’s a healthcare team, so play with respect and they will likely save you from making mistakes. Everyone wins, especially the patient.

8.    Be assertive and muster up some confidence as best you can. This is no time to be a wallflower. You have to be an active participant in your education. Ask to do procedures. Ask many questions, as attending doctors usually love to teach. Volunteer to answer questions too, and do it with gusto and enthusiasm. Dare to be wrong.  Women struggle with this, and rarely raise their hands unless that are 90% confident but most men will give it a 50/50 shot at the answer.

Enjoy your studies. Work hard. But don’t forget to rest, play, and breathe. You need some medical friends, to share the experiences and stresses of med school, but you also need some friends from the real world.

Remember: in order to be the best doctor you can possibly be, you must take care of your own health and well-being. Plan healthy meals, don’t make caffeine your only beverage, and get some exercise. An exhausted, unhappy, resentful doctor isn’t helpful or inspiring to patients. In fact, you’re more likely to make dangerous mistakes.

Take good care of yourself. Lead by example. And you won’t just be a great physician — you’ll be a great human being and role model, too.

Congratulations! I’m rooting for you.

~ Dr. Sue

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Back to School for Your Brain, Anytime!

Grant goes back to school this week, brainand I doubt I will ever tire of shopping for fresh pencils and pristine notebooks, all ready for new ideas. I always want a few new school supplies myself!

How about you? What are you excited to learn?

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” -Henry Ford

Mr. Ford was onto something, friends. This fall, as the kids in your home or neighborhood are getting revved up for a brand new school year, why not take your own brain “back to school,” too?

It’s been proven that learning something new — especially if it’s mentally challenging, like a musical instrument, a new skill, a foreign language or even a complex video game — is one of the best ways to keep your brain in tip-top shape as you grow older.

Being a “lifelong learner” can improve memory, heighten creative thinking, and even accelerate the speed at which you process information.

As one neuroscientist put it, “Your brain is a learning machine.” And it’s a machine that likes to stay active — not get rusty.

The company Luminosity touts 60 million users paying 15 dollars per month to play neuroscience backed computer games to power up their up their cognitive prowess.

From a health standpoint, it doesn’t matter WHAT you learn, as long as it’s challenging and new!

I asked a few of smart and talented people what they are excited to study, this year.
If you’re wondering, “Hmm, what do I want to learn, anyway?” … I bet this list will inspire you!

Samantha Kundinger.  Director of Bold Giving at Dakota Medical Foundation.

I’m excited to learn… about “design thinking.” I attended the MN Council of Nonprofits’ 2014 Annual Leadership Conference this June and was inspired by a session called, “Design Thinking: Social Innovation Through Empathy.”

The concept of people-focused problem solving takes advantage of learning from and involving the beneficiaries of systems we seek to improve as we develop solutions. Learning from the users of a system is key if we ever hope to improve anything!

Brittany Sickler. Small Business Administration.

I’m excited to learn… about diverse topics such as the sharing economy, how to do home repairs, the importance of community interdependence, and how to steer a canoe.

Cris Linnares. Speaker and Philanthropist. Women’s Impact.

I’m excited to learn… how to make delicious Chia deserts: pudding, chocolate chip cookies, muffins…I want to make to my family sweets that give us pleasure without the guilt!”

Kathryn Helgaas. Marketing and Real Estate Development.

I’m excited to learn… more about how to live with the philosophy less is more: fewer things, meetings, distractions, and technology leaves more time to live with intention.

Alexandra Franzen. Writer.

I’m excited to learn… more about hairstyling!

It has nothing to do with my career as a writer, but I’ve always been fascinated by hair cutting, coloring and styling. I love the way a simple blow-out or bang trim can transform your whole day. I’m going to hire a professional stylist to give me a one-hour crash course, and finally master the basics.

Ellen Fondiler. Career and Business Strategist.

I’m excited to learn… more about blogging! I’ve been an entrepreneur practically my entire life, running multiple businesses, but the “blogosphere” is uncharted territory for me.

Now that my very first blog is up and running, I’m excited to absorb everything I possibly can about what it takes to run a sensational blog that my readers will love.

Brandon Weeks. Pastry chef at The Painted Lady Restaurant near Portland, Oregon.

I’m excited to learn… more about tiny houses! For years, I have fantasized about designing + building a “tiny house” — a pint-sized, eco-friendly home that’s built on wheels, so that it can roam!

I just watched a documentary called Tiny, and I’m going to a “tiny house mixer” to meet fellow tiny-house-enthusiasts. After that? I’m setting up a consult with a design firm to learn even more.

Shanna Lee. Fashionista and Proprietess of Shanna Lee.

I am excited to learn… Portuguese so that I can speak with my new mother-in-law on the phone and my new family when we go to Europe to visit!

As for me? I’m excited to learn more about…

: Writing. I love writing, and I always feel like I never have quite enough time to do it as much as I’d like. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to learn!

: Crazy Horse. We just returned from the Black Hills and I went to the Crazy Horse Memorial for the first time. I want to learn more about the man and the monument that honors all Native Americans.

: New skincare + sleep innovations. I love discovering new ways to help my patients enjoy glowing skin… and a good night’s sleep. Did you know the two are related? I’ll be popping into a medical conference or two, to learn about the latest developments.

No matter what’s piquing your interest, it’s always the perfect season to take your brain “back to school.”

What are YOU excited to learn?

~ Dr. Susan

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Summer’s Last Hurrah! How to get the most out of the season’s final stretch.

We’ve got a few days to squeeze the lastsummer fun few drops out of summer.

I don’t know about you, but right about this time, every year, I find myself staring at the calendar in a state of shock, wondering, “Where did all the time go? I had all those plans … all those picnics I wanted to go on … all those dinner parties I meant to throw … what happened?”

I’ve learned, over the years, to simply accept the facts: Summer is always shorter than we’d like, and the time always moves faster than we think.

But even though there’s just a little sliver of summer left, you can make the most of it.

Here are my tips on how to celebrate summer’s last hurrah — and step into fall feeling refreshed, without any regrets:

Re-shuffle your wardrobe.
Pull out your favorite summer dresses, shorts, sleeveless tops and sandals; and arrange them in the front of your closet, as a visual cue that summer is here … but not for much longer.

Cut your to-do list…
If you’re like me, I’m guessing you’ve got a list a mile-and-a-half long of things that “could” and “should” get done. Like re-tiling your bathroom. Or organizing your spice drawer. Or clearing out your inbox. See if you can cut that to-do list as much as possible. You can tell yourself, “I don’t have to do these 5 things right now. Those are ‘winter activities’. Today, I’m going outside!”

Revisit your Summer Bucket List….
A Summer Bucket List is a list of joyful things that you want to do before summer is through. When you write down a goal, you’re 42% more likely to actually follow through. If you did one earlier this summer, read through it and make firm plans to do the things that still interest you. Put it on the calendar and get your family involved. If you didn’t do one before, there’s still time. Here are some ideas for you:

1.    Take a hike.
2.    Go mini-golfing.
3.    Go star-gazing and learn a new constellation.
4.    Make homemade popsicles.
5.    Make a family movie.
6.    Check out a new farmer’s market and make a new veggie recipe.
7.    Take a spontaneous weekend trip.

Tell the world, “See ya later!”
Experiment with email tools like Inbox Pause (which “pauses” incoming emails until later) or set up a “vacation auto-responder” (even if you’re not “literally” on vacation).

Your auto-responder could say: I’m away from my desk right now, savoring the last few drops of summer with my friends + family. I hope that you’ll have a chance to spend part of your day doing the same. I’ll write back as soon as I can!

Remind yourself what really counts.
Not to be too grim, but on your deathbed, will you say to yourself, “Gosh, I really wish I’d spent more time inside, on a conference call!” Or, “Wow, if only I could have written just a few more emails in my lifetime!”? Nope. You’ll regret not playing, traveling, laughing, cooking and connecting with loved ones, more.

So do what counts.

And give yourself the gift of a summer that’s fun and free of regrets.

Dr. Sue

P.S. Ready, set, go! What’s your last hurrah for the summer?

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Busy, productive or energized? How do you want to feel today?

“Wow, you sound incredibly happy today!”downtown

My friend, on the other end of the phone line, couldn’t help but notice the cheerful sparkle in my voice.

“I am!” I said. “I’ve had a great morning. I’ve had a couple of meetings with fun, creative people, and I got invited to speak to a group of university students about innovation. And now, I’m sitting in a beautiful space, getting caught up on my charts, with a bowl of fruit on the table. I love days like this!”

“It sounds like you’re having a really energizing day,” my friend commented.

She was right. I felt unstoppable. And her comment got me thinking … isn’t it interesting how some days (OK, most days!) are really busy … some days are really productive … but then there are few days that feel truly energizing?

For me, an energizing day is a day where I get plenty of things done, without really “trying.” Like I’m floating around on sunbeams. I’m in the zone. And then, at the end of the day, I feel ready to rest, but not flat-out exhausted. Like my cup has filled, instead of drained.

Those kinds of days seem so rare and magical, but setting up your day so that you can feel energized isn’t really that complicated. It’s just a matter of paying attention to what energizes you … and then making those things a priority.

I’ve started to much pay closer attention to the types of activities, people and situations that energize me — so that I can bring more of that positive juice into my life.

For example, I know that …

Brainstorming with passionate people energizes me. Especially if they are entrepreneurs, fellow physicians, or people who are devoted to making the world a happier, healthier, more positive place to be.

Thinking about innovation energizes me. When I got invited to speak to a group of students, I wasn’t just flattered by the invitation — I was energized by the topic: innovation! I get a “natural high” thinking about ways to do things differently and better.

Beauty energizes me. It can be as simple as a vase of fresh flowers on a conference room table, or as dramatic as a sunset. I love beauty, in any form. It’s pure energy, for me. My work with beautiful faces energizes me, and I love helping women smile when they look in the mirror.

Being downtown energizes me. While I love all of Fargo, I love the historic buildings, bumping into friends and neighbors, and the thriving arts scene. Taking a Saturday stroll down Broadway can shift my whole week. A popsicle from Gigi’s, a shop stop at Shanna Lee or Downtown Diva, tea at Nicole’s and a little treat for Grant at UnGlued or Zandbroz…. I could go on and on! What fun!

Giving patients resources to make healthy lifestyle changes energizes me. Simple choices can have profound impact and I love to see patients flip the switch for great new habits that make them happier and healthier.

There are plenty of things that do NOT energize me, of course.

Some of those things could be taken off my to-do list (… and I’m working on it).

Some of those things simply have to get done (… and I’m working on that, too).

I know how helpful it is to structure my day to include some activities that energize me. It’s the perfect blend of job satisfaction and life satisfaction.

So far, today, are you feeling busy, productive … or energized?

What energizes YOU?

~ Dr. Sue

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Making lemonade: Sweeten up your day with the art of the “re-frame.”

Grant got to help his neighborhood buddy, Eddie, with lemonadea lemonade stand this week. Eddie even shared the profits, much to Grant’s delight.

As adults, we sometimes make lemonade in a different context.

It was Friday morning, and I was looking forward to a weekend retreat with one of my favorite writers and a delightful group of women entrepreneurs.

We’d all flown into Portland for the weekend, and I was gleeful about the prospect of curling up in the library of our hotel with my laptop and just… writing!

No distractions. No drama. Just delicious brainstorming, happy blogging and free time to revamp that book I’ve been working on for, oh, the past three years.

And then… things happened.

I learned that a key member of my clinical team had to move to a different part of the state at the end of the month for her family. Caught me off-guard.

My six-year-old — Grant — fell into one of his very-special-moods at the breakfast table (think: grumpy grandpa, trapped in a tiny kid’s body).

The rain started pouring down, which meant that Dad couldn’t take Grant out of the hotel on the day trip that they’d planned.

A couple of lemons, souring the “perfect weekend.”

In the past, hiccups like these might have ruined my whole day. After all, it’s so easy to focus on the negative. As human beings, we’re physiologically wired to fixate on danger, criticism and bad news… far more strongly than good news. Our brains have evolved that way, as a form of self-preservation. Annoying, but true!

The key to staying positive and productive, I’ve learned, is to master the art of the “re-frame.” Or as your grandma might have called it, “making lemonade out of lemons.”

Cognitive re-framing is the practice of interrupting a negative thought and actively replacing it with a positive alternative. It’s a way of choosing how you want to feel about a situation, rather than allowing negative emotions to darken your day.

Writer Eric Proulx tackled big lemons after a layoff and made a documentary called Lemonade: The Movie, about people reclaiming their lives during the recession. He did a follow-up with Lemonade: Detroit, about the rebirth of car town.

No need to shoot a film, although that might be really cool to do. Just put pen to paper. Starting with a “re-frame script” can help.

“It’s OK that _______ happened. Now, I have an opportunity to _______.”

For example: “It’s OK that one of my team members decided to step down. Now, I have an opportunity to find someone new, who will bring new skills. And I know that my former employee will be happier, too!”

“I wish _______ wasn’t happening, but I can let it go. The important thing is _______.”

For example: “I wish my son wasn’t throwing a tantrum, but I can let it go. The important thing is that he’s here with his mom and dad, in a beautiful place, spending quality time with his family.”

“I wasn’t expecting _______, but I can handle it. The good news is that _______.”

For example: “I wasn’t expecting it to rain all day long, but I can handle it. The good news is that now I have NO excuse not to sit down and work on my book!”

Re-framing might feel silly or awkward at first, if you’re not used to doing it.

You might think, “Am I just lying to myself? There’s no silver lining, here. This situation is terrible!”

But no, you’re not lying. You’re consciously choosing a new set of thoughts and beliefs about a particular scenario. That’s very real. And very powerful. And very healthy!

What’s one not-so-great situation in your life that could use a re-frame to sweeten things up today?

~ Dr. Sue

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Want to be every doctor’s “dream patient?”

Every year, The Physicians Foundation happy patientcollects data from thousands of people to identify the needs of patients, as well as the physicians who serve them.

Last year, the survey revealed that….

  • 84% of physicians feel that the medical profession is in decline.
  • 60% say they would retire if they had the means to do so.
  • 50% would not recommend medicine as a career.

Other surveys suggest that up to 90% no longer recommend a life in medicine.

As a physician, I find these statistics depressing. At the same time, I understand why some physicians feel the way that they do.

TV shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice make it seem like practicing medicine is a nonstop, sexy, exhilarating adventure… filled always grateful patients, miraculous 11th hour recoveries, and of course, romantic interludes in the supply closet!

In reality, being a physician is a very different story. With a lot less romance. And a lot more insurance forms. Every year, it’s more alphabet soup of complexity: ACA, HIPAA, CMS.

As a patient, it’s not your “responsibility” to make your physician feel better. More physicians need to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”

That being said… you can make a difference. If you want to help your physician smile, and feel good about her (or his) career, and maybe even empower them to be part of the change, there are some very simple things that you can do.

After all, when your doctor is happy, the benefits flow right back to you!

Here’s my take on how to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

1.    Say “thank you.”

That physician who just walked into your examination room? She might be saddled with a quarter-million dollars in student loan debt. She might have said “no” to a date last night, because she needed to complete a stack of paperwork. She may have postponed having a child, in order to focus on setting up her medical practice. And now it’s too late.

You never know what kinds of sacrifices your physician had to make in order to be here for you.

Expressing your appreciation doesn’t take much time or effort. Just say “thank you.”

“Thank you for helping me today.” “Thank you for the great advice.” “Thank you for making me feel better.” “Thank you for all that you do.”

2.     Come prepared.

Show up for your doctor’s appointment as if it’s a job interview — for your health. Get all of your ducks in a row, before you walk in the door!

If you are visiting a new doctor, bring your health history and medication list, including any vitamins or supplements that you take.

Bring your three biggest questions, and be prepared to answer questions too.

If you’re coming in to talk about a “mysterious” condition, make a list of any recent changes to your life (moving to a new house, starting a new job, switching to a new cosmetic line… anything that might be a cause.)

Set an intention for each visit. Know what you want, so that you + your physician can get right down to it.

3.    Be patient.
(No pun intended!)

The average wait time to see a doctor is 23 minutes.

Instead of getting annoyed, plan those 23 minutes into your schedule, and use them! Maybe you could answer a few emails, giggle while flipping through a funny book, or go over the questions that you want to ask your physician, one more time.

Some delays are due to system inefficiencies with paperwork, electronic medical records, scheduling and habits. These are inexcusable, and we need to work hard on improving.
But just as often when your doctor is running behind, it just means that an earlier patient needed some extra attention. If that patient was your child, your partner, or your parent, you’d want them to receive the best possible care. We are all human, and sometimes our needs don’t fit into a 15-minute time slot.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t take much to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

So, go ahead… make your doctor’s day!

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. Want to read the flip-side of this conversation? Check out last week’s post: How to be every patient’s “dream doctor.”

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How to be every patient’s “dream doctor.”

Every year, big research firms like Gallup roll out doctornew statistics about “patient satisfaction.”

Some of the numbers are encouraging. (72% of Americans who have health insurance are “satisfied” with the current U.S. healthcare system. Not too shabby!)

Others are a bit depressing. (97% of patients are frustrated by long wait times. Yikes!)

The unfortunate reality is that many physicians are over-worked and over-scheduled, which makes it difficult to go “above and beyond” for every single patient on the docket.

I know, all too well, that when you’re rushing from appointment to appointment, it can be tough to remember to ask yourself:

“How could I give my next patient the BEST possible experience?”

Tough, but still doable. Even on the most challenging days, we can all strive to do better.

Whether your medical practice is receiving positive feedback, negative feedback, or a grab-bag of mixed responses, there is always room for improvement.

Here’s my take on how what we can do to improve patient satisfaction and become every patient’s “dream doctor.”  And feel free to share this with your doctor!

1.    Express genuine care and concern.

As the communication expert Kare Anderson once said: “People like people who like them.”

The way you move, touch, talk, and most importantly, listen, should convey to your patient:  “I like you. I care about you. I want you to have the life and level of health that you deserve.”

Don’t forget to smile, make eye contact, and treat human beings like … human beings.

2.    Acknowledge progress.

I know personally how hard it is to make changes. When your patient has made good progress, even just a baby step or two, acknowledge it!

“I can tell you’ve been using sunscreen, just like we talked about. Great job!”

“You seem calm and happy today. I can tell your new stress management regime is paying off!”

“You’ve lost ten pounds since our last visit. I’m so proud of you!”

As Earl Nightingale once wrote, “Children bloom like spring flowers under praise.” The same is true for adults, as well! Find something to celebrate.

3.    Anticipate overwhelm.

Your patients aren’t physicians. They don’t have the same training + vocabulary as you.

So, even if you think that what you’re explaining is “simple,” to your patient, it might be the most confusing thing they’ve heard all year!

Anticipate feelings of overwhelm, give written handouts whenever possible and say to your patient:

“Would you like to record these instructions on your smartphone? That way, you’ll be able to listen to my instructions again, later. I know that it can be difficult to remember everything on your own. I’ve been in those kinds of situations, too.”

4.    Be willing to keep trying.

For a patient, there’s nothing as disappointing, or scary, as a physician who has “given up.”

If you can’t make a diagnosis, or if the patient isn’t responding to your treatment, seek help. Keep trying.


“I want to get a second pair of eyes to make sure I’m not overlooking any possibilities. I’ve invited my colleague to step in. She’s wonderful. Together, I’m confident that we’re going to make progress.”

5.     Make “easy changes” first.

Improving patient satisfaction doesn’t always require big, systemic changes.

It can be as simple as adding free Wi-Fi to the waiting room (a move that 60% of patients say would make them very happy, indeed!) My six year old son is always checking for free Wi-Fi whenever we are out and about so he can download games on his iPod. He will be happy that we now have it in our reception area!

We bring in fresh flowers at the check in desks (unscented so they don’t bother our allergy patients) and patients love the Keurig coffee maker and water.

Start with a few “easy changes” — then move on to bigger overhauls.

We will keep trying to do better with wait times, and communicate when things are running behind. And compassion, courtesy, little human touches, a willingness to keep trying — and yes, free Wi-Fi! — can go a long way too.

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. Check back next week, when I’ll explore the flip-side of this conversation: How to be every doctor’s “dream patient.”

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3 “innocent” habits that are just as bad for your health as smoking…

We may love the show, but I’m so glad we don’t broken cigarettelive in the Mad Men era anymore, when casual smoking at work was a total thumbs up. (Just like hurling offensive comments at female employees, and having a triple-martini lunch!)

These days, most people recognize that cigarettes are a terrible health risk. My son Grant plugs his nose and holds his breath if we walk by someone smoking. He sometimes slips out a less than polite comment too. Although I don’t like smoking, I don’t like him being rude either.

But when it comes to your health and longevity, there are several other habits that are just as bad — if not worse — than having a smoke.  

1.    Sitting all day.

As this NPR story reports:

“Men who reported more than 23 hours a week of sedentary activity had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity.”

Sitting at your desk absolutely counts as “sedentary activity.” If you’re working at your computer for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, you’re already clocking in at 30 hours. (And that’s before you factor in that Netflix movie marathon on the couch after work!)

To fight back against this health risk, invest in a standing desk. Or, at the very least, take a 10-minute stretch break every 90 minutes to get your circulation flowing. I recently wrote about taking walking meetings, or doing stand-up huddles to get things done.

2. Not getting enough sleep.

As a physician who is board-certified in sleep medicine, as well as ENT and integrative medicine, I’ve studied the effects of sleep deprivation firsthand, and let me tell you… it’s pretty scary.

Lack of sleep (or low-quality sleep that’s being disrupted by blinking lights, snoring or sleep apnea) raises your risk for stroke, heart disease, hypertension, depression and diabetes.

If you’re frequently groggy in the morning, like you can’t pull yourself out of bed without a gallon of coffee, make some lifestyle adjustments — or consult with a sleep specialist!

3. Unresolved anger.

It doesn’t matter if you’re angry at yourself, your parents, your partner, or “the entire world” — living in a state of chronic anger + bitterness can be deadly.

As this article reports, summarizing a study from Washington State University:

“People over the age of 50 who express their anger by lashing out are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries — an indication that you’re at a high risk for a heart attack.”

Lashing out is bad, but suppressing your anger isn’t any better. Bottling it up has been linked to elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Some researchers suspect that suppressing negative emotions can actually triple your risk for a heart attack.

The solution is to find healthy ways to uncork your emotions. Psychologist Dr. Suzanne Gelb recommends thwacking a pillow with a knotted up towel. I guess the punching bag workout would be great as well! Or, like sculptor Pablo Solomon, you could try banging a stone with a hammer and chisel, turning your emotions into a work of art!

Do what it takes to work on these three health risks. Your well-being is worth it.

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. What’s the toughest habit you’ve ever had to kick?

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How to run a happy, productive meeting

Meetings…just the word can elicit eye team meetingrolls or acollective groan. But they are vital to effective group communication. Family meetings. Committee meetings. Volunteer meetings. Board meetings. Staff training meetings. In-person meetings. Virtual meetings. Mastermind meetings.

Since launching my medical center 14 years ago, I’m almost afraid to try and tabulate the number of hours that I’ve spent in “meeting mode.” I’m probably on my way to being a 10,000 hour expert.

I’ve learned that there’s an art to leading a happy, productive meeting — one where real progress gets made, and where everybody’s ideas get to come out and play. They can even be fun and healthy.

Here are my tips on how to run a meeting that you can be proud of…

1.    Getting to know you. The best part of working on a project together is establishing and deepening relationships. Meeting new friends is a major source of joy for me in board service.

Even in our small office at Catalyst with 30 employees, not everyone has a chance to chat on a regular basis. So we use staff meetings to give personal updates. We share about our kids, favorite grade school memories, a recent vacation, new hobbies, favorite recipes or home projects.

For our TEDxFargo meetings, we have a diverse group that gathers early Wednesday mornings. We go around the table and do a brief introduction, and a fun fact. One week was “words to live by” and another was “favorite Easter candy.”

2.    Celebrate progress. It’s so easy to get bogged down by everything that’s “not working” or “not finished yet.” But what about everything that’s going… right? Kick off each meeting by taking a moment to acknowledge something good: a job well done, a recent success, or a small contribution that every team member has already made.

3.    Champion every voice. Sometimes, younger employees will be hesitant to speak up… but their ideas are just as valuable as anybody else’s. Say: “We’re a team, and everyone’s input is equally valuable. Let’s make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to speak.” Once again, a ‘round the table’ approach works well.

4.     Make it “safe” to share difficult truths. Often, the most valuable feedback that a group of people can hear… is the one thing that nobody wants to say. Make it safe by offering people the option of writing feedback anonymously and submitting it before the meeting, or coming to speak with you, privately.

5.    Keep the energy moving. As the leader of the meeting, it’s up to you to keep the energy flowing! If you sense that one person is dominating the conversation, or starting to ramble and repeat themselves, gently interject and say: “That’s a great point, [name]. I think we can all agree that the big takeaway from what you’ve just said is [reiterate their main point]. In the interest of time, I’d love to move on to the next item on our agenda. Are we all ready for that?”

A timer can be helpful if you want to break up into groups of two or three to chat about an issue, and reconvene at the sound of the alarm.

6.    More movement. Speaking of energy, try a walking meeting for a small group. And since sitting for 8 hours a day conveys the same mortality risk as cigarette smoking, consider a standing meeting or at least take a few stretch and move breaks.

7.    Know your “why.” All too often, people hold meetings because they think they are “supposed” to — or simply because it’s “on the calendar” as a recurring event. Those kinds of meetings are rarely productive! The best meetings always begin with a clear intention — a specific reason for being there… a purpose… a goal of finding a solution! Open and close your meeting by reiterating your “why.”

I think the key word is “solution.” So often we discuss issues, and discuss them some more, without agreeing upon and actionable solution.

Opening: “Thank you for joining me this morning. The reason we’re here today is to find a solution to __________. I’m so excited to brainstorm with all of you.”

Closing: “Thank you for spending this time with me. I’m so thrilled that we were able to find a solution to __________. I’m excited to put this plan into motion.”

This will ensure that people go home feeling accomplished and proud, instead of scratching their heads, wondering, “What the heck did I just do in there?”

Meeting with other people can be a total chore, or the very best part of your day. The right attitude, structure and leadership makes all the difference.

Here’s to happier meetings… and getting things done!

~ Dr. Sue

P.S. A question to think about… what’s the worst meeting you ever attended? What would you do differently if you had a chance to be there, again?

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My Summer Bucket List. (What’s on yours?)

Summer is never long enough here in thesummer relaxation North Country, but we sincerely appreciate it after our hard winter.

Long-time Fargoans (like me) know that summer is something to be treated with the utmost respect — you’ve got to savor every sweet moment, before it’s gone.

That’s why — as soon as the winter snow melts away, and those gorgeous spring flowers burst into full bloom — I start making a new Summer Bucket List.

Here’s one of my Lists from a few years ago. Yep. I still want to do pretty much everything on that list … all over again!

I rarely complete everything on my list, and still haven’t done the photography lessons I’d hoped for. I’ve made peace with that. But it’s a fun way to get the wheels turning … and sketch out some new plans! At least of few of them become reality, and I think I’d have less of a summer without my bucket list.

In honor of summer, here’s my list for 2014:

1.    Yard games! Grant seems to acquire a new Frisbee-like toy at any child gathering, so we’ve been outdoors tossing them around. I’ve gotten into yard games — like Blongo ball and bean bag tosses. I’m loving a Pinterest board, filled with outdoor game inspiration like water balloon piñatas. I have a feeling my six year old, Grant, would get pretty excited about this glow-in-the-dark lawn bowling idea!

2.    Puppies! Grant has been begging for a dog, pretty much since he could say the word “dog.” We’ve decided that he needs to wait until he’s eight … but in the meantime, we’ll be teaching him about pet care by volunteering at the Humane Society. We get to start with the cats.

Like the idea of temporarily taking care of somebody else’s pup, in your own home? Register as a dog sitter on!

3.    Block parties! I have such happy memories of block parties from my childhood — descending into the street for a friendly BBQ with the neighbors, with packs of kids running through the backyards. We haven’t had a block party in my neighborhood in the ten years I’ve lived in this house and I’m determined to change that!

Here’s a no-brainer guide to throwing a great block party from Don’t forget to obtain a permit from your local city officials if you really want to stop traffic.

4.    Road trips! I’m constantly reminding myself (and others) that travel is good medicine. There’s nothing like a trip out of town to see new sites, and recharge the soul. Duluth was Grant’s favorite last year, not for the beautiful view of Lake Superior, but for Adventure Zone, a warehouse filled with bouncy houses, mini-golf and arcade games.

5.    And … everything else. Fruit-infused water, a la Jamie Oliver. (Checked this one off when we hosted Prairie Roots Food Co-op at Catalyst last week!) Cucumber-lime-mint popsicles. New music. Great books. (I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things.) Gardening. (Another check….. big pots of tomatoes and basil are on the patio and Grant has his own special pot for Luke the Cuke.) Dinner parties with friends. As many “unplugged” days as possible. Oh, and definitely THESE from Martha Stewart, brownies with peanut butter ice cream.

So, that’s the List … so far. I’m always willing to add a few more dreams.

What’s on yours?


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