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Health Questions Answered with Walk with a Doc

Oct 24, 2016 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Walk Your Way Healthy

November 2016
By Jordan Venema

If you’ve been to the hospital in the last few years, you can probably relate to many Americans who feel frustrated by their experience with insurance and healthcare providers. Between high costs and copays and referrals between specialists, sometimes a simple appointment can make a patient feel like he’s getting the runaround. 

Why not take your healthcare for a walk instead? More specifically, take your doctor for a walk. 

Every second Saturday of the month, the Healthy Visalia committee, which promotes health in the Visalia area, sponsors a program that encourages participants to do just that – take a walk around the park with a local healthcare professional.

“I had heard there were a couple other Walks With a Doc in our area, in Porterville and Tulare,” says Alma Torres-Nguyen, the committee chair for Healthy Visalia, so she contacted the organization in 2014 to start a chapter. The national organization was started by Dr. David Sagbir in Ohio in 2005.

“Dr. David takes care of patients with heart problems, and he would always tell them to walk because it’s a benefit to getting better,” says Torres-Nguyen. Except Sagbir frequently discovered that his patients who agreed to walk were only giving lip service. 

“He’d find out they didn’t follow through, so he thought, ‘Well, if I go to the park with my family, maybe they’d walk with us.’”

Ten years later, the organization is represented in hundreds of cities across the country, even internationally.

The nature of Walk With a Doc is about as straightforward as its name. Once a month, a healthcare professional, usually a doctor, walks around Visalia’s Blain Park between 8 and 9:30 am. Each walk draws between 10 and 30 participants, and Healthy Visalia provides healthy snacks and water.

Each month, the walk brings a different professional, who spends about 15 minutes talking about a health issue, such as flu prevention, breast cancer awareness, diabetes and stroke prevention.

“We have warm-ups with a Zumba instructor, then around 8:30 the speaker arrives and gives about a 10- to 15-minute talk on whatever health topic it is,” explains Torres-Nguyen.

In some ways, the very practical walk with a doctor is a perfect way to break down many of the walls that exist for patients trying to navigate the healthcare system. Hospitals can seem clinical to the point of becoming impersonal, and appointments too often rushed.  If there’s a world where doctors still make home visits and know their patients personally, too few Americans actually get the experience. But there’s no place less clinical than a park. 

“I think it is an opportunity for them to get to know the local doctors,” says Torres-Nguyen, “and to see that they’re regular people too, and that they’re open to helping the community.” 

Sure, the walk also opens the opportunity for the classic move: “Hey, you’re a doctor? I’ve got this rash I want you to take a look at…” Torres-Nguyen laughs, and agrees that there’s nothing stopping walkers from asking the doc for an opinion, but most use it as an opportunity for a quick consultation, which often results in a complimentary referral to a specialist.

Not only is Walk With a Doc a great way to meet local doctors and learn a bit about health topics, it’s also just an opportunity to get out and, well, walk. Torres-Nguyen stresses the importance and overall health benefits of just 20 minutes of walking each day. 

“It’s beneficial for people of all ages, and we hope that by being more active, by walking, we can reverse some of the consequences of the sedentary lifestyle,” she says.

So grab your water, bring a dog or a friend, and hit the parks for your daily exercise. But every second Saturday, for those in the Visalia area, mosey on over to Blain Park and get to know your local health professionals, and together you can all go for a walk.

Blain Park • 3101 S. Court St., Visalia • (559) 624-2416

Second Saturdays, 8-9:30 am •