Wallowa Memorial doctor helps chronic disease patients through lifestyle changes

Over each of the past few months, we’ve introduced you to a “Hospital Hero.” These are just a handful of the many Oregonians who work and volunteer every day in the state’s community hospitals. They do so much to care for our loved ones and to improve the health of our communities, and Our Health Oregon thanks them. This is the final installment in the Hospital Heroes series.

This month, meet a Wallowa Memorial Hospital doctor who helps her patients combat chronic disease through lifestyle changes.
Dr. Emily Sheahan is among the first group of doctors in the world to be certified in Lifestyle Medicine. “I’ve always been interested in getting my patients to improve their health by increasing physical activity, making better food choices, and making positive changes in their social environment,” said Dr. Sheahan. “I saw how much you can reverse chronic disease by changing your daily lifestyle habits.”

Clinicians now know the connection between chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes and lifestyle factors. Dr. Sheahan is part of a group of 204 doctors to be certified as Diplomats of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), and the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine. The group completed coursework and passed a rigorous exam.
According to ACLM director Stephen Herzog, doctors need to change their approach to chronic disease. “Gone are the days of diagnosing the ill, prescribing the pill, and sending the bill.” Dr. Sheahan agrees. “The more we can address the underlying causes of chronic disease, rather than just band aid symptoms, the more we can reduce the costs of health care, and lead people to live their best and most productive lives,” said Dr. Sheahan. Lifestyle medicine is defined by the ACLM is focused on a few key evidence-based strategies: a whole food, plant-based diet, physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and no tobacco.

Dr. Sheahan has already been a local pioneer in lifestyle medicine at Wallowa Memorial Hospital. She started the “Diabetes Undone” program, a support group for lifestyle changes. “Several patients have lost weight and reduced or even eliminated their diabetes medications,” said Dr. Sheahan. “They are feeling so much better, and it just motivates me to encourage more lifestyle medicine approaches.”