This month’s Spotlight features a Q&A with Kelly Freeman, MS, NP-C, co-chair of ACLM’s RN/APRN Working Group. Kelly is a foremost champion for advancing lifestyle medicine in the nursing field.
By Kelly Freeman, MS, NP-C
Q: ACLM recognizes that RNs are one of the most important members of our LM team. As an RN leader within ACLM, what role do you see RNs playing in advancing the lifestyle medicine movement?
A: Registered nurses are on the front line of healthcare and are uniquely positioned to promote therapeutic lifestyle changes as they interact with all of the lives they touch. There are approximately three million registered nurses in the United States alone - imagine the healing power of these nurses!
Q: As an RN, and in working with your fellow nurses, how are you and others integrating lifestyle medicine into clinical practice?
A: Nurses have an abundance of opportunities to guide people towards better lifestyle choices. Within the acute care setting, nurses are responsible for monitoring nutritional intake. In many cases, they assist their patients with ordering food off of the hospital menu. This can be a wonderful opportunity to promote a positive change. Many nurses work within home health and community settings, offering motivational interviewing and connections to evidence-based therapeutic lifestyle resources.
Q: It's always fascinating to hear about what led to our members' interest in the field of lifestyle medicine; for you, what was the catalyst for your paradigm-shift and did it impact you, personally and professionally?
A: In 2012, I was working in an acute care setting with individuals who had coronary artery disease along with many other chronic diseases. At that point in my career, my understanding was that these diseases were mostly genetic and that the role of nurses was to help patients cope with their disease and manage their symptoms and medications to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, the trajectory of symptoms, procedures, surgeries, and more medications that came with these chronic diseases were quite disheartening. That year, I watched a documentary called Escape Fire, which changed both my personal and professional views regarding the importance of lifestyle. In the documentary, Dr. Dean Ornish discussed the research behind reversing heart disease. I had never before heard that heart disease could actually be reversed despite having worked with these patients for over 20 years! I needed to learn more and dug deep into the research. What I found was startling to me, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been exposed to that information before. The next year, Dr. Ornish was scheduled to speak at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine conference, so I decided to attend. That was a life changing experience for me. I began to realize the potential for real change in healthcare so that people no longer have to suffer from preventable chronic diseases, but instead have hope and the ability to not only halt their chronic disease, but in many cases, to reverse it. I am passionate about this cause, because everyone has the right to have the information that they need in order to have the best health outcomes possible.
Q: What is your educational background, and how did it or did it not adequately prepare you in regard to "treating the cause," which is at the heart of lifestyle medicine?
A: Along with being an RN, I am a board certified geriatric and primary care nurse practitioner. I have a post-graduate certificate in nursing education and am pursuing a PhD in public health. Health promotion has traditionally been part of nursing school content. It’s exciting to see this being expanded to include multiple modalities of evidence-based therapeutic lifestyle interventions. For example, at the university where I teach, an entire course is offered for the undergraduate nursing students related to motivational interviewing and health coaching. There is a great deal of opportunity to expand throughout all undergraduate and graduate programs the power of lifestyle medicine to prevent, halt, and in many cases reverse disease.
Q: What has been your professional journey, and how is what you're doing today impacted by your dedication to a lifestyle medicine-first approach to healthcare?
A: I spent most of my early career in acute care as a charge nurse, case manager, and consultant. After becoming an NP, I focused on geriatrics and worked mainly in long-term care environments. I currently teach nurse and nurse practitioner students full-time at a large university in Indianapolis and speak to groups on lifestyle medicine topics. I am on the board of directors for the Cardiovascular and Diabetes Coalition of Indiana. This group is working hard to decrease the amount of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke in Indiana, and certainly lifestyle medicine is an essential element required to make this happen. I do feel that I can best amplify the message to others regarding evidence-based lifestyle medicine through teaching, speaking, and organizational work, so I’m very thankful that these opportunities have come my way.
Q: You were the spark that ignited the formation of ACLM's first working group that was established in 2016, the RN / APRN Working Group, with Lilly Tryon now sharing with you the co-chair responsibilities. Tell us why you felt this group should be established and your vision for the impact it will have?
A: This working group provides vital networking links between nurses throughout the United States who want to be connected to others who share this passion for lifestyle as medicine. We have regional groups as well as specialty project groups, and welcome all RN’s and advanced practice RN’s to be a part of this exciting endeavor as we work with other disciplines to advance the lifestyle medicine cause within our practices and communities. Nurses interested in participating may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I understand that Lilly Tryon, your working group co-chair, is writing the RN version of the Lifestyle Medicine Core Competencies that was first published in JAMA back in 2010. This is a brilliant! Please update us!
A: It is essential that all nurses are able to demonstrate core competencies in order to best care for their patients. These lifestyle medicine competencies will provide a foundation for nurses to utilize to integrate evidence-based therapeutic lifestyle techniques into their nursing practice. There will be more to come on this in the near future.
Q: ACLM is bringing its annual conference this fall to your hometown of Indianapolis, IN. What do you want your fellow ACLM members and other clinicians across this country and around the world to know about Indianapolis and why it will be an ideal host city?
A: Indianapolis, the Crossroads of America, is a fantastic venue for an amazing conference. The event will take place at the beautiful JW Marriott in the heart of downtown, which is conveniently located near so many wonderful attractions, including the Indianapolis Zoo, White River State Park, and many museums. Over the past few years, the whole foods plant-based lifestyle has become more pronounced within the city, with many nearby restaurants offering wonderful, healthy options. A premier health system, Eskenazi, is located within walking distance from the convention. Their hospital has truly embraced lifestyle medicine, harvesting food from a rooftop garden for their patients and staff. A top university in the country, Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis, is also within walking distance. Lifestyle Medicine 2018 in Indianapolis will have so much to offer for participants from the U.S. and around the world! I look forward to seeing returning and new colleagues at Lifestyle Medicine 2018 in Indianapolis October 21st thru 24th.
Q: We often say that, while ACLM is the nation's medial professional association for physicians and allied health professionals who are committed to advancing the field of LM; yet, even more so, it's a galvanized force for change. You are one of ACLM's most dedicated allied health professional leaders who is championing the cause. What message do you have for your fellow nurses--and for other allied health professionals--about the field of lifestyle medicine and about the American College of Lifestyle Medicine?
A: Lifestyle Medicine is absolutely a team sport, so to speak, and every single member of this team in incredibly valuable. Working together, we have opportunities to truly make a huge difference in the lives of people who suffer from chronic diseases. Beyond that, we can transform our health system into one that prioritizes the health of patients, staff, the community, and our planet. This is an exciting time in nursing and in health care. Let’s all embrace the evidence and utilize the safe, cost-effective, and incredibly powerful approach of lifestyle medicine.