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Medical Spa MD {9} Dr. John La Puma, Chef MD Author & Entrepreneur

Dr. John La Puma, Chef MD

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This episode of the Medical Spa MD Podcast, Dr. John La Puma of Chef MD discusses being a physician entrepreneur, TV host, and NY Times bestselling author.

In this episode, Dr John La Puma discusses how he has combined his interests in medicine, health and food to build a career that offers both business success and personal satisfaction.

We touch on the use (and missuse) of social media, how to use your existing skill set and match those with your interests to exert more influence over your career and lifestyle. These tools are needed for every physician.

About: John La Puma MD is the leading physician voice for healthy eating as part of health, and a wellness, ethics and lifestyle expert. Both a board-certified practicing internist and professionally trained chef, he is a New York Times best-selling author twice, on healthy aging and diet. He currently hosts the nationwide PBS Special Eat and Cook Healthy! and is medical director and host of Chef MD on Lifetime TV. He is the first physician to teach a cooking and nutrition course in a U.S. medical school (SUNY-Syracuse), with Dr Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. La Puma specializes in weight management in Santa Barbara’s Chef Clinic.

His clinical trial designs and academic work have resulted in authorship or co-authorship of over 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers, 150 other contributions to the medical literature and three medical books, including a CME book.

He performed his residency in internal medicine at West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center and UCLA, and completed the first postgraduate fellowship in general internal medicine and clinical medical ethics in the US, at the University of Chicago.

Dr. La Puma became a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, Professor of Nutrition at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts, and cook at James Beard-award winning Chef Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo in Chicago. Dr. La Puma graduated with honors from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now a Le Cordon Bleu school) in Professional Cooking.

Repeatedly named One of America’s Top Physicians by Consumers’ Research Council, Dr. La Puma has been honored with the American Medical Association/National Association of Medical Communicators Award of Excellence. He is based in Santa Barbara, California.

Some of what we talked about in this episode.

Interview Transcript

Jeff: Dr. La Puma, tell me a little bit, you were an internal medical physician and now you're, of course, an author, you lecture and you write books. How does that transition actually happened?

Dr. La Puma: Well Jeff that really wasn't a transition. The best advice that I got was to add them instead of change them and I have tried to do that eversince I graduated from medical school and do my internal medicine residency. I have always written, I think, ____________ and general internal medicine fellowship and there ____________ papers and after that my first book on how to pamper patients (?) but didn't write a book for the public until I met Michael Roizen and really had the time ________ Chicago and then we wrote the Real Age Diet and Cooking the Real Age together. Most recently I've written Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine. I'm fortunate that all the books have done very well.

Jeff: Is there that kind of reminds you of two things, you said add to career as oppose to change them, which is quite something I find very interesting. How do you avoid being the jack of all trades master of none then if you're adding in the sense that's an entirely different career? Am I wrong?

Dr. La Puma: I think of the basis for everything that I do, Jeff, as medicine and I still see patients and _____________ instead of focusing on long-term weight loss and on ___________ for that, weight loss for lifestyle measures; and then secondarily with lifestyle measures, to help people lower cholesterol and keep it off, avoiding overdoing things that depends on ___________ especially; and thirdly on anti-aging strategies that are lifestyle strategies or people who simply want to function on an optimal level. I don't think of that work that is clinical; it really involves everything that I do. I really haven't thought about it as a separate career because it's all based in patient care and patient choice, medical ethics and writing about strategies for people to make themselves better with what they eat and lifestyle changes and to some extent, my hobbies as well.

Jeff: So the careers or the career path that might have either concur or parallel, have you chosen those or have they just kind of, you know, have you taken an opportunity that kind of dealt with those as they came along? I mean, was that part of your plan, you know to kind of move in to publication and then move in to speaking and potentially move in to television which you've done quite a bit of? Or were those kinds of just happy coincidences?

Dr. La Puma: I wouldn't call what I've done a plan, Jeff. I think that would be giving it too much credit. I have always been lucky in having really good teachers and I was raised with a sense of intellectual cursiosity encouraged to pursue ideas and interests eventhough they were not necessarily in the mainstream. So when I was in internal medicine, residency for example, the kinds of questions about patients that I was most interested in were who they were and where they were from and what they beliefs were and how they got to the hospital with liver failure instead of what their ____________ time was. I was quite interested on news on __________ time but I was more interested in what their family background was and where they were _____________ when they got in the hospital because I hope and expected they would go home. So I followed that up with a fellowship in __________ because that was a place to learn about that kind of interest and I did the same with cooking. I went to cooking school because I had patients who I didn't know what to tell except to go to dietician for their obesity and hyperlipidemia and stress levels. I knew I needed to learn about them myself because I gained a lof of weight almost having troubles keeping it off and managing it despite kind of high profile part of my career at that point. So I went to cooking school to learn how to make a healthy diet taste good. When I came back to practice I found that kind of knowledge was quite useful in patient care, and from that developed our Real Age interest and my very teriffic partnership with Michael Roizen. I truly admire him a lot and he's now the Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic. It became clear that people were more and more interested in using food as medicine especially that's how my work with ChefMD came out just seemed like the best way to communicate interest and to talk to people about it was to try to make it a public form. Television was great with that because it allows you to be entertained and be kind of funny at the same time as teaching. And that's what I guess I like the most, the teaching part of it.

Jeff: Which came first? Was it the notoriety or the high profile that you had that lead to the kind of media interest in what you're doing?

Dr. La Puma: Well, I like to skip the notoriety. I think that's partly not desirable thing. The media interest in our work in ethics was from day 1, when you walk in to the fellowship and it began kind of necessity talking with print and radio and ocassionaly television reporters about often the life issues and so as part of my ____________ training, I learned that talking to media was just part of the work. And as I progressed to interest that I recognized or that kind of recognized me, I learned that it was really important to be able to translate what i was doing in the clinic and what may patient experience is and the patient experiences of my colleagues were, to general public because it's a fundamental curiosity about how the body works and how we could give more for ourselves. So I then did accept and seek some additional trainings in media and having been on lifestyle television now for almost five years, once a weel doing a 3 1/2 segment and co-hosting, I really am lucky in just being able to practice these skills. Media communication and accepting television is a lot about being authentic eventhough it seems like it's acting. The camera is like another person and if you can think about it, talking to another person and being authentic with them, trying to communicate directly and in ordinary language, you usually are able to connect with people in a way that very few others really can except for doctors taking patients in a medical office or in a spa or any health clinic.

Jeff: So that kind of connection, is that something that you actually learned or that came innately to you? When you're on camera or talking to media or kind of putting your position across with authenticity, is that somethingt that you've already had and you just have to change or do you actually had to learn to a larger extent actually how to do that?

Dr. La Puma: It's a producer's joke, a TV producer tell one another, when he gets someone really convincing in front of the camera, they say: eat your sincerity really well. And actors can because they are trained in acting, but I'm not. i don't know that I could fake it. So what I'm saying in television, I actually really believe and I guess, I don't know, I'm told that I connect well because of that. But I just think about it as talking with others in a way that's more entertaining than I get to do in a medical office because it can't actually be appropriate. So I probably have a combination of both, I don't think about it as acting, I think about it as really helping people with food and stress and lifestyle.

Jeff: You're also active not only on larger media but you're also active on social media. You're on blog at a ChefMD and you got, you've got Facebook, and I don't know if you're using for example Twitter, but that's certainly a possibility, how have you, do you know, were you an early a doctor of social media and how has that affected other things that you have inside of your career--mainly, well not only mainly but also including your medical practice? Has that been kind of a boon or has that kind of takes away from patient time?

Dr. La Puma: I love social media. i think social media is critical for physicians. i think we will learn to use it in a therapeutic way. I do have several blogs and Facebook and LinkedIn page and your listeners while connect them and meet you that way. I also have Twitter account for Dr. John La Puma and ChefMD. I think that it is other way to make connections and things that are just modern way to make connections. We used to do it more face to face for a while over wine and teas, but now it's done this way and so when you get together with someone face to face over wine and teas, it often has more depth. I think it's really interesting. I guess I do consider myself an earlier doctor but I haven't been rapid about it. I haven't grown my Facebook following to hundred thousand or more which is kind of what you need to land a book contract which is part of what i'm talking about in Las vegas at the Medical Fusion Conference. It has not really affected, as far as I can tell, my clinical practice which remains small and really special to me because I really like my patients. They are very wonderful people who tend to be higly interested and accomplished and find me because someone has heard about my work and did ___________ for the first time when they came directly. I just think about it as an integrated hole. i don't really separate it as marketing or advertising. i don't really think of it that way. I think about it as trying to connect with other people who has some interest and find out about what they know.

Jeff: Do you find that that is, you know, you might not be seeing that as marketing or promotion but in effect, it is. I mean you know the connection is part of that. Have you found that to be effective in building your relationship that actually helps the business aspects of what it is that ypu're doing?

Dr. La Puma: i think I have not examined it in that way. I am not doing Facebook or LinkedIn and Twitter because I am not trying to, for example, recruit new patients or find a new speaking gig or get paid for doing more television or something like that. I do it because it's a way to, I'm active in that because there's always I can express myself and connect with other people who care about the same thing. I think if I'm going to qualify it on an hour per dollar way, the hours would far outstrip the dollars. And yet, there are people like the Vaynerchuk for example, of who insist that ______________ TV is a good example of this, that if you grow your business online and follower online, many other good things will follow, of course in premier example in the book world, the publishing world. But I say that those kinds of followings are few and far between and I think once in a while I can't, I think most Jeff I can't really tell what would be a good connection and what's not. It's kind of like medical school in a way--you know you were supposed to learn everything you could and you couldn't imagine in the end what could be relevant because all you want to do is to go out and see patients, at least that's how I felt. But it turns out that a lot of those stuff, at least for me, just come around and is relevant and the details of the crab cycle which are always cited as the most _________ possible chemical reaction turned out to be quite helpful in nutrition and metabolism and that's a lot of what I do now. I think that those connections are with making, you don't know quite know which relationships are going to be mutually beneficial and because you, again, connect with people of common interest. It's easy to get distracted and waste time and I think you have to learn not to do that if you have a tendency towards sitting in front of a PC or MAC and have some modest degree addiction but with some skill you can control it and I think ,create value although the value is not the same as doing another operation or doing another procedure. It's more of down the line return of investment. At least that's how I think about it.

Jeff: I've always had this a little bit of compunding interest in something that you kind of you know put a dollar a day away but accumulates over time because one of the things that is different when you are communicating over the web or you're making connections on the web or with technology, is that they linger. If we're having this discussion in your office, you and I will be ___________ and hopefully we'd drive some benefits, but nobody else could have access to that. It's kind of the difference between sending somebody an email and posting that same content on your blog is that then there's an accrual of information and benefits to a larger group of people overtime. The other thing is that it's a little bit you know, when you were speaking, I was reminded of the reason that i was going to medical conferences is that I never knew what I was actually going to find. It's one of those things that you go to a conference, hoping that you come across one or two things that are going to make a conference worthwile, and to be honest, I have never found that not to be the case where I've gone to a conference of any kind really and come away thinking this was a complete waste of time, I shouldn't have come. I've always kind of come wasting, okay this bit of information fits in, this place is really beneficial, especially if you might be talking about something that potentially changes your career or your saving money on a hundred thousand piece of technology or something like that. I've always kind of thought that it is a kind of worthwile in the way that it leaves a little bit of breadcrumbs that always kind of leave to you and develops relationships exactly the way that you're talking. Of the social media that you are employing or using, what do you like actually the best? Do you spend most of your time in Facebook, do you spend on your own blog, do you twitter to your existing patients?

Dr. La Puma: i think what i like the best is writing in my own blog because of what you've just mentioned, it's a good investment and a body of knowledge and a train of thoughts and it allows me to keep up with people while telling them what I'm doing and what i'm thinking. it becomes an added piece of original content which then can be re-used in any number of other ways and posted on each of those social media sites in one form or another. It's important in my opinion to post them in different forms on to different social media sites. I finally getting the best professional connection place my Facebook profile is actually for my actual friends, not my Facebook friends, my Facebook friends wind up on my Facebook fan page where my second fan page, couple of thousand people on ChefMD fan page and a few inbox in my own page. Twitter, I guess I think of kind of this you're online chitchat-personality. It has a lot, I think of people who are used to doing business face to face as being something that you talked to what you had for breakfast with. But instead of I think of probably best keys for communicating information right away, you know that Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear that occured with John Steward and Stephen colbert this past weekend was really only publicized on comedy central, Facebook, and Twitter, not one piece of direct mail, and they got over 300,000 people in Washington DC. That's pretty powerful, way more powerful than any other political rally just a few days for the election. It shows I think how people who are engaged in social media like connections who are interested in this work and savvy about it, can communicate and reach others who have similar interest, and i think this isn't true simply for politics or media or entertainment--although that's how it's primarily used now--but I see it powerful for this in public health and lifestyle change and in lifestyle change maintenance and in wellness more probably.

Jeff: During your time in social media, are there anything that you have done that you would categorize as a mistake that you wish that you hadn't done either because it was waste of time or some other event kind of triggered that?

Dr. La Puma: oh yes. I had a blog as early as 2002 i think, and I just didn't keep it up. I didn't understand how to use it or why and I enrolled people as members in a website when I changed websites and we did it all the information as often. i didn't think that it mattered very much but I was certainly wrong. I had to rebuild it so that my members instead of left, probably 10% of what it could be, but that's okay. You know you live and learn and I think now is a great time to invest in social media for conditions especially who, of course a little _____________________ because we're generally conservative, but also because we don't want to violate or other rules that govern medical work. I think it's worth looking at that carefully with some legal advice but I also think that sensible people will not, will keep in mind the principles of medical ethics and social confidentiality and use Facebook pages especially in LinkedIn certainly, in ways that can actually improve, employ wellness and diminish stress among followers and among people who are really interested in your personality. There are so many ways that i think, may shape the future not just anticipate it.

Jeff: Do you think that physicians in the future will be known more as individuals as opposed to you know, somebody walks to the door and talks to you for several minutes in kind of in a general family practice or internal medicine or kind of out patient clinic, do you think that social media kind of extends the reach outside the small amount of time they're actually interacting with patients and that is a benefit to physicians or that's something that kind of counter balances the way of the advice of the physicians gives inside of the consultation room. I don't know if I'm making myself very clear there but what I'm wondering is do you think social media elevates or makes a friend of the physician or is that a good thing for patients to have access to?

Dr. La Puma: You know I still think that the doctor-patient relationship is the most powerful tool that the doctors have and to the extent that social media encourages, tightens, improves on and makes accessible that relationship especially to people who want to know more about their doctors, it can only improve patient care. There have already been anecdotal reports of social media diagnosis of CDAs and heart attack, proposed treatment for emergency bites and trauma. But I'm confident that more systematic clinical approach to social media will actually emerge so that patients will be able to follow their own tradition and that tradition would be able to dispense advice that maybe generally useful as well as specifically useful without it actually being medical practice that is open for liability or probably for reimbursement. Both of these things might occur, there might be instances where physicians will be liable for giving that advice over Twitter which of course, makes it false even to put that in a sentence. And it might be that in the present conditions we'll try to get paid for text messages to patients for specific prescriptions, adjustments for example. And there might be instances where there could actually be good outcomes, being in touch with patients living _________ care in over social networking, but I think that for this feature, I would say 5-7 years out. For now, I think what is available will help both conditions and patients is to be a good steward of both the relationship and medical resources by providing more information than you can in a 7-minute visit on Facebook, through other social media and through public forum that can be reproduced in any number rather for, and we haven't really mentioned YouTube, but I have a 120 videos on YouTube from my ChefMD work in 25 or so on my own John La Puma work. Those are videos that get comments all the time, and YouTube is i think the 3rd most searched site after Google and Yahoo and it's certainly the video site that drives the most traffic as in recent study is in web traffic report for video and multimedia sites and YouTube was 91 over the next competitor which is Flickr which is you know, a photo site. I think that we're at the very intensity of this work and that it has enormous potential to do good within corporations and with the public at large and the secret really will be faithful connection, people who are able to keep in touch regularly, not as I said kind of once in a while but at least once a week.

Jeff: You're going to be speaking in the Medical Fusion Conference which is this coming weekend in Las vegas. What are you going to be speaking about?

Dr. La Puma: I'm going to be speaking about how to write a New York Times best-seller, which I did and published to do twice.

Jeff: Can you give us a couple of tips from what you're going to be saying?

Dr. La Puma: The most important thing is to know Oprah. If you know Oprah and you send her your book and she likes it, then I think it's very good. And then the next most important thing is to know Gayle King or Stedman and hope one of them tell her about the book and then she likes it. Sort of that or having your book made into widely-released and popular film. There are actually ways to learn about New York Times list and to I think achieve it. I've been fortunate, I managed it to do it twice. And this last time for Chef MD, nobody thought I could because they thought the book was too dense and not popularly-written, not light enough, and _______________ about a whole new feel of the idea that the culinary medicine could be the art of cooking blended with the science of medicine, which by itself could be intriguing but if you tell people the nitty-gritty science of it, it's very easy to turn them off. But in fact I was able to do it and I have lots of help and what I'd be talking about is exactly what that help looks like and how do these evolve and why it's still important and why although publishing is kind of book in this industry and many publishers are growing their business, it's still for most people who wants to break in especially with the first book. The first book is I think so quite important to at least evaluate what your goals are whether you really want to spread the ideas or if you want to become famous or you want to make a lot of money or you want to find other people who believes the same things. Writing a New York Times Best-Seller pressume that you are aiming to write one, pressumes that you know what your goals are and if your goals are to hit the list, then there's a whole bunch of self-decisions behind that you're really interested in the big time. It's all going to be starting with that big time is and how i got there and how I think others can get there and I'll also be providing resources for those who want to find an agent and want to know how to market their book and how to self-published as well.

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