Patients Taking Responsibility For Their Health

by KCotton KCotton (New)

Specializes in Hospice/Palliative Care, ICU, PreOp/PACU. Has 18 years experience.

Nurses need to educate patients to take responsibility for their own health. Quick resources are provided in the article.

Lifestyle choices can cause preventable health diagnoses

Patients Taking Responsibility For Their Health

I know, I know!  Stop rolling your eyes!

In today’s world, the information overload for health is overwhelming, not to mention confusing and contradictory.  What is the healthiest diet … Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, Plant-Based?  How much should we exercise?  I have provided a couple of great resources for you to pass on!

As nurses, we barely have time to eat lunch and now we are talking about spending more time educating patients!  But, Americans are getting sicker and our hard-earned dollars are being spent on those sick. We are in the midst of a health epidemic that shows no end in sight. Lifestyle choices are causing preventable health diagnoses.

COVID-19 has opened some eyes on who is succumbing to this disease. The obese population is at greater risk of dying from COVID.  Also, the number of young adults coming in for bariatric procedures is unprecedented.  The number of young adults being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes is sad. Accurate, concise education is just not available.  All of the information available makes your mind spin.  That is where we step in!

Are We Offering Sick Care or Health Care?

The United States Government spends an extraordinary amount of money on healthcare every year.  We spent $3.8 trillion dollars on healthcare in the US in 2019.  That is $11,582 per person.  We are projected to spend $6.2 trillion in the year 2028.  With all of the dollars our government sinks into healthcare every year, nurses on the front line should educate their patients on nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Most doctors don’t have the time, usually 10 minutes per visit, or honestly the knowledge to help patients understand how to help patients combat their disease process.  In all of the years that a doctor spends in medical school, the average number of hours they spend on nutrition is 23.9 contact hours.  The minimum number of hours that is recommended by the National Academy of Science is 25 hours.  Only 40 schools in the United States meet that minimum.

Our Role as Nurses

I remember when I first became a nurse on a step-down unit.  I was shocked at all the 40-somethings coming into the hospital with their first heart attack.  They came into the hospital taking no medications and they left taking 10 medications!  I wish I knew then, what I know now.

After having my own health scare, I dove headfirst into alternative healing.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.  I did the conventional surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but I also tried to heal my body with nutrition, exercise and stress reduction.  My cancer is not hereditary, it is environmental like 90% of the cancers diagnosed.  One out of four people will be diagnosed with cancer.  How scary is that!

After my research I tried to pass on the resources I found to my patients.  I printed out a little card with the following resources below.  This made it quick and easy, as they could just put it with their belongings.  I gave it to patients and their family members.  It does take a village!  So educating the family is just as important as educating the patient, maybe more so.

Resources to Help

Most of the diseases that affect us here in the United States are lifestyle diseases.  They include heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer to name a few.  The following resources have scientific backing and honestly, as a healthcare professional, it just makes sense.

Print out the following resources to use when educating yourself and your patients.

Documentaries that EVERYONE should watch

  • Forks Over Knives
  • What The Health


Above is a photo showing the reversal of heart disease after following a strict plant-based diet. I found the photo in Dr. Caldwell Essylston’s book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

What Can I Do Now?

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (this is really the number 1 key to health)
  • Animal Protein is not our friend; either cut it out completely or cut it down to 1-2 servings per week
  • Eliminate fat from your diet, especially if you have heart disease and diabetes (yes, that includes “healthy” oils)
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • If that seems impossible - start by sitting quietly and taking deep breaths for a few minutes to improve your oxygen circulation
  • Drink lemon water first thing in the morning
  • Do purposeful movement for 30 minutes/day (those 30 minutes can be broken up throughout the day as needed)


  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn
  • How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Gregor
  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
  • Mastering Diabetes by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD and Robby Barbaro, MPH




Status of nutrition education in medical schools

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-based Cure NHE Fact Sheet


Kelli Cotton, MSN, RN has been working as a Registered Nurse for almost 20 years in Cardiac, Intensive Care, Hospice/Palliative Care, and Surgical Recovery. She has met so many patients that have been told by their physicians that high blood pressure and heart disease just come with age, diabetes cannot be reversed, and your cancer diagnosis is just bad luck. After being diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and after hours of research Kelli has realized that we can actually take control of our health, without medications. Evidence shows that plant-based nutrition can reverse and prevent disease in most situations. The majority of our illnesses are lifestyle diseases, caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD). Kelli can teach you the physiology behind your disease and the evidence that plants can cure. Many, many years ago Hippocrates said... "Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food."

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You're speaking my language.  Thanks for writing that article, Kelli!  Today's conventional medicine is brilliant on so many levels and narrow-minded on so many others.  I'm not working as an RN at the moment, and it is a breath of fresh air to live without the cognitive dissonance of working within a system I don't fully agree with.  There is so much focus on nurses educating people about vaccines right now, and I firmly believe nurses need more time to help educate patients on wholistic health about a solution to reduce readmits, health costs, and the number of exhausting chronic illness patients!  When will the system learn...

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 30 years experience. 32,328 Posts

You're speaking my language as well! 

I wish Forks Over Knives was required viewing for anyone with chronic diseases.

However, I wish more of us could take some preventative steps so we're not in the shape as the people in Forks Over Knives to begin with.  It can be confusing to filter through the conflicting information out there.

May I add to your list of reading.   Both books are very recent and present evidenced based nutrition.

Fiber Fueled

The Proof is in the Plants

There are no guarantees and health is precious.  I'm so thankful to have made it to 62 without any of the chronic problems plaguing people my age.

Edited by Tweety


RNperdiem, RN

Has 14 years experience. 4,556 Posts

I suspect patients actually know quite a bit. Actually changing human behavior is difficult, even when people have the knowledge.

I read an article about a study of people who managed to maintain a long-term weight loss through a healthier diet and exercise.

A strong motivational force like an adverse health event, a new high weight milestone, or an unexpected OMG photo was the most common reason for people to make the behavior changes needed. At that point, people were most receptive to the teaching they would need to achieve weight loss and better health goals. 

As a nurse being able to assess when someone might be most receptive to teaching is a good skill to learn.

Unfortunately we live in a world where people know better but still don't wear seatbelts, use condoms, wear masks or get vaccinated.



Specializes in Hospice/Palliative Care, ICU, PreOp/PACU. Has 18 years experience. 1 Article; 2 Posts

RNPerdiem:  I agree...  changing habits is tough.  And, most people probably won't make a change until they have a life event that wakes them up.  But I think we still need to try.  Even if it is just giving people examples of how to change what they eat on a regular basis.  An example is, instead of having a beef burger every week, substitute a veggie burger every other week.  Another idea is to use black beans instead of beef or chicken in your tacos.  Small changes hopefully can turn into big changes.  

Edited by KCotton

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Guest 1152923

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On 12/10/2021 at 3:49 PM, RNperdiem said:

I suspect patients actually know quite a bit. Actually changing human behavior is difficult, even when people have the knowledge.

Agree with this^^^  Unfortunately, I see two factors playing into this lack of self care.  One; I think most people know on some level that eating fast food every day or meat for every meal is bad for one's health.  Knowing doesn't always equate to action though.  Have you ever been casually observant as to what nurses eat on their breaks at work?  OMG!  Seriously, and no, this isn't a convenience thing when much healthier choices are available.  Two; for poor people, eating crap food is often cheaper, especially considering that many live in food desserts.  Fresh fruits and veggies are expensive while McDonalds is relatively cheap, especially when feeding a family.  

2BS Nurse, BSN

Has 9 years experience. 675 Posts

"I firmly believe nurses need more time to help educate patients on wholistic health about a solution to reduce readmits, health costs, and the number of exhausting chronic illness patients!"

The above doesn't make $ for our health care systems so they will never pay us to spend that extra time. 

"Actually changing human behavior is difficult, even when people have the knowledge".

I once worked for a new MD. Because he was building up his practice, he had ample time to educate his patients about nutrition, exercise, etc. Unfortunately, most of them wanted medication, not lifestyle change. The information is out there for those who desire to learn. Yes, it's exhausting when you're ultimately responsible for their outcomes.