A lifetime of prevention: Dr. Vivien Brown on women’s health, and why you should never be too busy for yourself.

By Marie Moore, Women of Influence

Dr. Vivien Brown has been a family physician in Toronto for more than 35 years, and is the Vice President for Medical Affairs of Medisys Corporate Health, a national network of medical clinics dedicated to preventive health care.

“No matter who I see, no matter what age group, when we’re talking about preventive health, women will say, ‘I know I’m supposed to do that, but I just don’t have the time.’”

It’s a paradigm that Dr. Vivien Brown has been dealing with throughout her long career. She’s been a family physician in Toronto for more than 35 years, and is the Vice President for Medical Affairs of Medisys Corporate Health, a national network of medical clinics dedicated to preventive health care. In her practice, she hears a variety of explanations from women regarding what makes them “too busy” – from work demands to raising kids to taking care of elderly parents. Her response to each one is the same.

“I rephrase it for them. Everybody has 24 hours in a day. What you’re saying is that your health is not a priority. And if your health is never a priority, you and your family will pay the price.” She also doesn’t hesitate to point out just how high the stakes are, citing statistics on heart disease, the leading cause of death among Canadian women, as an example: “The first heart attack is fatal for 50% of women, and of those that survive, another 25% die within the next 12 months.”

 

Changing how women view their self care is just one of many goals Dr. Brown has focused on in a long career dedicated to preventive health. In addition to her practice, Dr. Brown is an award-winning educator in women’s health, and has lectured locally, nationally and internationally on preventative medicine. She serves on the Board of “Immunize Canada,” on McGill’s Medical School Advisory Board, as well as on the board of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative. And as the immediate Past President of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, she’ll be speaking as the Canadian delegate to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in March of 2017.

With so many commitments, it’s amazing that Dr. Brown is able to maintain balance in her own life. Her secret is to ensure that whatever task she is focused on gets 100% of her attention. “I don’t want to carry the burden of one thing as I try to do another thing. So when I’m seeing patients, it’s 100% patient care. When I’m with my family, it’s 100% my family. I’m connected and giving quality time to whatever I’m doing, and then moving on.”

Dr. Brown also makes time for her own preventive health care efforts, aiming for 10,000 steps a day, tracked by a FitBit. It’s a goal that works well for her, and she encourages individuals to figure out in their own schedule what exercise they can do on a daily basis, “because a pilates class once a week is not enough.” She also emphasizes the importance of not smoking – even one to two cigarettes a day doubles your risk of heart disease – and committing to your health care efforts fully, including following the advice of your doctor.

“When we do a preventive health assessment at Medisys, and we give people advice, you need to follow it. There’s no point being told you have high blood pressure, and then taking your pills most of the time rather than all of the time. When you have a risk factor that’s identified – and 9 out of 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease – you want to really follow the instructions to get to the target.”

For those Canadians who are motivated to take charge of their own prevention efforts, Dr. Brown recommends preventive healthcare services like Medisys. While there’s no doubt that she’s a fantastic family doctor – in 2012, the College of Family Physicians of Ontario named her “Physician of the Year for the Region of Toronto” – she admits there are limitations in the public healthcare system that push her towards putting out fires rather than prevention.

“In my private practice, I see about 30 people in a day. That’s pressured, and not a lot of time with each individual. You can’t possibly give them the amount of attention that you want to. At Medisys, I see four patients in a day. I can go over all the details, rather than just focusing on the most important thing for the day. I like to think that the overview we give patients allows them to calibrate their health, from where they have been to where they are, and enables us to give recommendations on where they should be going.”


 

 

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