A Doctor’s Dozen: Twelve Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness

Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH

Fam Med. 2019;51(5):362-363.

DOI: 10.22454/FamMed.2019.586937

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Book Title: A Doctor’s Dozen: Twelve Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness

Book Author: Catherine Florio Pipas

Publication Information: Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College Press, 2018, 224 pp., $22.95, paperback

Catherine (Cathy) Pipas is professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. She is well known in STFM, having been involved in many activities of the organization. She is best known as a mentor and role model for personal and professional success in an academic environment. She is also a wife and mother in a very active family that loves life experiences.

In A Doctor’s Dozen, she brings her experience and that of 12 patients to provide 12 important strategies for health and wellness. This work is directed mainly to medical students and young physicians. The book is a gold mine of insight and good practical advice.

The book begins with a quote from Albert Schweitzer which sets the tone for the depth of insight and inspiration presented throughout:

If there is anything I have learned about men and women, it is that there is a deeper (positive) spirit than is ever evident. Just as the rivers we see are minor compared to the underground streams, so too the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what people carry in their hearts unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted, and bringing these underground waters to the surface.

The introduction to A Doctor’s Dozen covers the “health conundrum” of the 21st century where population health is declining and burnout is increasingly common among medical students, residents, and physicians. Science and technology have progressed magnificently, yet personal health has suffered. Dr. Pipas wrote this book out of a desire to make a difference and turn around the personal health problems in our patient care and among our learners.

A Doctor’s Dozen is divided into three parts: Self-Awareness, Self-Care and Self-Improvement. Each chapter covers one of the topics and strategies for personal health and wellness. There is a lesson and a health challenge for each. These are:

  • Be Present—Practice Mindfulness
  • Ask Questions—Complete a Self-SWOT
  • Build Resilience—Perform a Self-Assessment
  • Write Your Story—Practice Self-Reflection
  • Fill Your Own Tank—Nourish Your Body, Mind and Spirit
  • Establish Trusting Relationships—Give and Receive Feedback
  • Replenish 24/7—Complete a Time Log
  • Nurture a Healthy Environment—Model Wellness
  • Embrace Change—Initiate a Personal Health-Improvement Tool
  • Make Healthy and Authentic Choices—Construct a Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Rewrite Your Story—Seek an Alternate Lens
  • Celebrate the Journey

Each chapter follows a unique formula in which Dr Pipas presenting a patient from her practice experience, a learner is involved in the care, and a growth experience happens for everyone involved. The “knots” are untied gradually and sometimes surprisingly similar to the “slow medicine” described by Victoria Sweet in God’s Hotel.1

The patient stories include those with cancer and other major illnesses, depression, drug use, and family relationship problems. Pipas also includes the many life lessons she has learned along the way, mostly from these patients. This formula works well and makes the book incredibly valuable for anyone from a medical student to resident to faculty, and even to practicing physicians.

There are a few books that medical students, residents, and practicing physicians find the time to read that have a profound impact on the meaning one gets from the work of doctoring. This is such a book. I recommend that A Doctor’s Dozen be dog-eared and on the bookshelf of anyone in family medicine education. You may need to buy multiple copies since you are likely to give it out to learners in distress.


  1. Sweet V. God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. New York: Riverhead Books; 2013.

Lead Author

Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH

Affiliations: Eisenhower Health, Rancho Mirage, CA

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