ABPS Diplomate Michelle Thompson, DO, On Staying Healthy at Home

Michelle Thompson, DOMichelle Thompson, DO, a Diplomate of the American Board of Physician Specialties®, is Chair of Medicine at UPMC Horizon in Pennsylvania and an integrative and lifestyle family medicine physician at Hermitage Community Medicine-UPMC. Here, she offers advice on how to stay healthy at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABPS: What are your concerns about the health of people who must follow stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 crisis?

Dr. Thompson: It’s important that we try to find stillness during the chaos. In this time of uncertainty, we know one thing is for certain—our breath. We can utilize our breath as a tool for meditation. This practice involves taking in a slow, deep breath and holding it for three seconds. Then, we let it out slowly and completely, releasing the tension from the body. We can perform this practice many times throughout the day. For instance, I do it when I’m washing my hands, which is frequently. Another technique is to repeat a mantra that focuses on the positive. “I am safe.” “I am well.” “I am happy.” “I am going to be okay.” Or we can start the day with conscious gratitude, and perhaps record in a journal all the things in our lives for which we are grateful.

ABPS: How can our lifestyles contribute to maintaining health and wellness at home during the pandemic?

Dr. Thompson: We can use this extra time at home to slow down, focus on self-care, and develop healthy habits. You can create a stay-at-home retreat, for example. By tending to our bodies, learning to quiet our minds, and living in the present moment, we may hopefully emerge from the pandemic better than when we entered.

ABPS: What advice can you give us regarding exercise and nutrition?

Dr. Thompson: From a cardiovascular standpoint, 30 minutes of exercise a day can improve your mood and resilience tremendously. Jumping jacks, sit-ups, a brisk walk—they can all improve your health. If the weather is bad, embrace the elements and go out with an umbrella. Even a 20-minute walk can help us to reset. Eat foods rich in immune-enhancing fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, quercetin, and zinc. You can put lemons or limes in your water, grab a piece of grapefruit or dark chocolate every day, and eat foods like broccoli or brussels sprouts.

ABPS: What about sleep?

Dr. Thompson: A lot of us underestimate the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. It’s helpful to quiet our minds before going to bed. A practice called Yoga Nidra allows the body to relax deeply while the mind stays quietly alert. This helps to deactivate our sympathetic state, or the fight-or-flight state, and moves us into the parasympathetic state of rest and relaxation. Organic nighttime teas and medicinal-strength herbs that don’t interact with medications can also help. It’s also good to develop a sleep ritual, perhaps by warming the room, playing soft music, and using a diffuser with essential oils. It’s been proven that the better we sleep, the less anxiety we experience.

ABPS: What about relationships?

Dr. Thompson: Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Relationships matter. Virtual platforms such as Zoom, Facetime, Messenger, Skype, and WhatsApp can help us organize social events like happy hours and parties. Right now, there are yoga studios and websites helping us keep in touch with each other by streaming exercise sessions into homes for free.

ABPS: Some people are consumed with all the information out there. How do we handle the stress?

Dr. Thompson: We should reach out to people and rely on one another. You shouldn’t think that you’re in this alone. Counseling is available. Call your doctor if you’re having a tough time. Your doctor can use a video platform to help you.

ABPS: How can we continue to practice healthy habits?

Dr. Thompson: Use this time to hit the pause button and think about what really matters to you. Look at yourself and each other with new eyes, with compassion. Having more compassion promotes a feeling of interconnectedness. Ask yourself: Am I loving well? Am I caring for others? Am I caring for our planet?

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On October 18, 2007, President George W. Bush released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21 (HSPD-21), calling on our nation, among other initiatives, to “collectively support and facilitate the establishment of a discipline of disaster health”. It is a great testament to the wisdom and foresight of the American Board of Physician Specialties that it immediately set to work and created, within the short span of only one year, an educational blueprint and set of certification examinations, both written and oral, for a new subspecialty of disaster medicine—and it is why I chose to be part this vital initiative and this wonderful organization. This is but one of the many innovative programs initiated by the American Board of Physician Specialties over the years, and why I am proud to support its work on behalf of our nation’s public health.

Art Cooper, MD
Disaster Medicine
When the American Board of Physician Specialties offered to host the American Board of Integrative Medicine, ABPS became a landmark organization working to move medicine into the twenty first century. Certifying physicians who have completed rigorous academic training in Integrative Medicine ensures that the field of Integrative Medicine will continue to develop academically, clinically, and professionally. The leadership of ABPS continues to impress me - they are diligent in constantly innovating to provide certifications for physicians who want to advance their careers and their areas of expertise. I am honored to be a part of this organization.

Ann Marie Chiasson, MD
Integrative Medicine
There are many ways board certification advances a physician career. ABPS Board examination verifies your accuracy, precision, and reflects your mastery of your residency training verifying your expertise. ABPS Board certification demonstrates your level of expertise beyond your practice experience, primary education degrees, and training which are necessary for insurance reimbursement and practice privilege requirements. Attaining your ABPS Board Certification will clarify your purpose, secure your practice growth, and expand into leadership positions. Board certification can serve as an indication of a physician’s commitment to medicine, beyond the minimal standards and competency of training, their measurement to quality of care, and attaining an award for excellence.

Chris Kunis MD
Internal Medicine
When I think historically, advancement in medicine and patient safety and care has been driven by the diversity of people and scientific thought. That’s what I found at the ABPS and more. For over 60 years that is just who we are. I found a physician certifying body that provides a choice and voice to all physicians ensuring that patients are always placed first.

Jerry Allison, MD
Emergency Medicine
When I decided to pursue a full time role as a physician executive it was important to me to obtain additional professional training, education and work experience. Board certification through the ABPS in Administrative Medicine is validation of my efforts and a demonstration of dedication to professional development. We need more physicians to become full time health care executives, knowing there is a board certification option in Administrative Medicine encourages physicians to take the leap from full time clinical practice to healthcare organizational leadership.

Richard Paula, MD
Administrative Medicine
The American Board of Physician Specialties has provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of internal medicine through board certification. As a hospitalist, board certification is an expected credential, and hospitals recognize the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) as one of the three standard credentialling bodies for Internal Medicine. Additionally, the ABPS has helped me develop leadership skills as a Board member and Committee Chairperson. ABPS has also helped me sharpen critical thinking skills as a test question developer and reviewer. The Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) physicians in the ABPS are lifelong learners and frequently pursue multiple board certifications. I enjoy the camaraderie of my peers in ABPS.

Loren Jay Chassels, DO
Internal Medicine