Taking the diploma in lifestyle medicine – A personal account
By Dr Adam Smith
9th Apr, 2021
‘Should I take the BSLM diploma in lifestyle medicine?’ This was a question I was debating around this time last year. Could I afford the time and expense and would it be worth it? The following is a summary of my experience of taking the diploma, together with a few small tips, which I hope are of use to those contemplating the same questions.
By means of introduction, my name is Adam and I am a GP. I have always looked to follow my interests, which has resulted in me having a few different roles when it comes to work. In addition to being a GP I have worked in occupational health and am currently a medical examiner for the military. I am involved with tutoring of medical students and have previously been a doctor at a professional football club.
I am always interested to hear how others found lifestyle medicine and what brought them to this specialty. I first discovered lifestyle medicine back in 2019. It took my interest on two fronts. At the time I was looking to improve my own health and fitness, and researching ways I could optimise this with lifestyle. At the same time, I was becoming dismayed at seeing the growing burden of chronic disease with the knowledge that this is preventable. The evidence for preventing chronic disease is out there, but is not being reflected by a healthier population. Lifestyle medicine, I believe, can play a big part here.
I decided to take the diploma as I felt it would be a good way to structure my learning around the topics within the field of lifestyle medicine. I also felt that I would gain more from the diploma experience by immersing myself in lifestyle medicine, compared with continuing my current approach of getting tips online and from watching YouTube videos in a more ad-hoc manner.
I later recognised greater benefits of obtaining this qualification. The diploma sets a benchmark for standards. It provides formal recognition for the degree of learning, that shows you are able to provide reliable, and trusted evidence-based information in your practice. These are standards which can offer confidence to patients and colleagues alike.
Additional benefits from taking this examination were found in the community I became a part of. It provided a great opportunity to meet like-minded people. I have got to know a number of dieticians, physiotherapists, nutritionists, as well as fellow doctors from a range of specialties, including general practice, endocrinology and anaesthetics. I have met so many good people, who care about what they do, and want to make a difference in the lives of their patients.
On a personal level, it has also enabled me to review the evidence for different lifestyle measures and see how I could implement these into my own life. For example, I have always considered myself to do fairly well on the physical activity front. It was an eye-opener for me to discover a study regarding sedentary behaviour, which demonstrated sitting is an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality even in individuals meeting all of the physical activity recommendations.1 I am now making a point of at least finding micro-moments of time during work to stand and move.
Requirements and tips for taking the Diploma
The requirements for the diploma are to undertake self-directed study following information primarily from The Lifestyle Medicine Board Review Manual2, to complete 10 hours in-person learning (achieved by attending the annual BSLM conference), to submit a case study and to pass a multiple-choice question examination – 4 hours for physicians, 3 hours for practitioners.
The case study was a useful exercise in putting lifestyle medicine principles into action. A patient with a medical condition is selected, an evidence-based lifestyle intervention is implemented, and the patient then followed up to review the response to the intervention. The requirements are flexible in that you may select a friend, family member or even yourself as the test patient. I chose a friend for my own case, and am pleased to say that she also benefited greatly from the experience.
I would recommend selecting the patient as early as possible, to give enough time to see the benefits of the intervention. Six weeks to three months would be a reasonable time frame in my opinion. One of the main outcomes of the case study is to reflect on what you have learned from the experience, so be sure to spend time expanding on this.
The most important piece of advice about taking the exam from my experience is to connect with other students and join a study group. I joined the BSLM Diploma Students private Facebook group and then went on to become part of a smaller group. We formed a WhatsApp group and arranged regular online Zoom meetings where we would discuss one chapter at a time from the course manual. We would each read the chapter prior to the meeting and prepare some of our own multiple choice questions for discussion. This was an excellent way to prepare for the examination, which provided a structure for revision and motivation to learn small amounts regularly over the course of a few months. The group provided inspiration and support for each other throughout the diploma journey and beyond, and for this I am very grateful.
The examination itself was conducted online last year due to the pandemic. I found the examination was not easy, but I would say that by setting aside regular time to revise over the course of a few months will give you a very good chance for success.
I feel that I have gained so much from the experience of taking the diploma last year. I would like to wish the best of luck to all those taking part this year.
- Van der Ploeg, H.P., et al., Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222497 Australian adults. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012. 44(12): p.494-500.
- Kelly J, Shull J. Foundations of Lifestyle Medicine: The Lifestyle Medicine board review manual, 2nd edition, 2019. American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
Adam is a GP in Scotland and a Learning Academy Associate for the BSLM, where he provides a mentorship role for students sitting the 2021 lifestyle medicine diploma.
You can find him online at www.wellbeingdoctor.net and on Instagram @dr_adam_smith