Dr Cris Beer has followed her healthcare passion in and out of the consulting room.
Queensland GP Dr Cris Beer’s interest in lifestyle medicine began long before she entered the medical world. ‘Before I became a GP I was a personal trainer,’ Dr Beer told Good Practice. ‘That’s where the interest [in lifestyle medicine] was probably inspired, working with my clients and seeing the transformation that can come with making healthy lifestyle changes.’ Following her undergraduate studies in biomedical science, Dr Beer transitioned into medicine at the Gold Coast’s Griffith University, graduating in 2008 as part of the university’s first cohort of medical students. ‘I did my first couple of years out from uni at the Gold Coast University Hospital and then decided to get into general practice,’ she said. ‘I finished general practice in 2013 and decided to branch a little bit more into integrative medicine. ‘So I’ve been doing integrative medicine ever since that time, working in a practice called the Medical Sanctuary.’ The Medical Sanctuary is located on the Gold Coast and is a holistic practice with a focus on integrative and preventive healthcare and healing. ‘I currently focus more on preventive and lifestyle medicine, so I spend a bit more time with my patients,’ Dr Beer said. ‘I have a passion for being able to help them prevent or reverse chronic disease. ‘I work with a lot of patients with insulin resistance or even type two diabetes, people with hormone issues or who are struggling with their weight.
‘I try and help them … by modifying factors in their lifestyle and looking at any other chronic risk factors that might need to be adjusted. ‘That’s my interest and my passion.’ That passion is carried beyond the practice, with Dr Beer moving into medical publishing in order to try and help patients make positive adjustments in their lives. ‘Two years ago I wrote my first book, Healthy habits: 52 ways to better health,’ she said. ‘That is a step-by-step guide for people wanting to improve their health by making small, sustainable lifestyle changes. ‘My most recent book, Healthy liver, is about preventing fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome that can come through insulin resistance. That is, primarily looking at lifestyle factors like alcohol reduction and processed foods, and just modern-day lifestyle choices that we can all make to improve overall health. ‘That is the second in a series called ‘Healthy living’. There will be at least four other books in the series, about one a year for the next few years. The next one will likely focus on hormones and menopause. Each one has a different focus.’ Motivating subjects As a GP at a busy practice, it is not necessarily surprising that the outlines for Dr Beer’s books came from time spent speaking with her patients. ‘I decided to put the ideas down on paper based on common questions that people would ask me: How do I improve my health? What do I need to do and eat? What’s evidence-based, what’s not? What is and isn’t going to work?’ she explained. When Dr Beer actually put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and explored these questions, however, she found the process something of a two-way information exchange. ‘Putting it down on paper helped me to consolidate my understanding and my research and my focus, but also my ability to pass that information on in a useable form for people to be able to read,’ she said. ‘Not everybody can come and see me in the clinic,
obviously, and I may not have the capacity to be able to see as many people as I would like to.’ While the idea for her initial book came directly from patients’ questions, the second was a direct response to a broader trend that Dr Beer has witnessed first-hand. ‘Healthy liver came [about] because that was the next biggest thing that I see in the clinical setting: fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, people struggling to lose weight,’ she said. Longer reach In addition to her work in publishing, Dr Beer has a significant media presence, including writing newspaper columns and appearing on radio programs and television shows. She believes this type of exposure helps to provide a positive healthcare message to far more people than would ever be possible through her practice. ‘I’ve always had an interest in media in general due to its reach, which means you can impact lots of individuals with the one message,’ Dr Beer said. ‘The clinical setting is obviously personally impactful for the patient, but it doesn’t often go beyond that patient.’ In her media capacity, Dr Beer spent time at a retreat for overweight and obese people with Channel 10 three years ago. She found this experience extremely beneficial in that it provided invaluable understanding of people living with an extremely difficult condition. ‘That was actually a great insight,’ she said. ‘I saw a lot of individuals and the extremity of their poor health, many of them not different from anyone else in terms of what they ate or did throughout the day. ‘They’re busy and stressed, like the rest of us, and whether it’s genetic, metabolic, or some other factors I’m sure we don’t yet know about, their weight had escalated beyond what was safe for them so they had come out of desperation. ‘Hearing their stories, I developed a lot of empathy and compassion for people suffering with chronic diseases associated with some lifestyle choices. ‘I guess that’s probably what then spurred the Healthy habits book on a bit more, the encouragement that I received from people saying, “I wish more people knew about what you’ve been teaching us and what you’ve been showing us”. ‘I started writing the book when I was working as part of that retreat.’ Dr Beer’s personal experiences with such patients have taught her the value and importance of not rushing to judge people, both in and out of the practice. ‘You don’t know what’s culminated in that person being who they are and where they’ve gotten to,’ she said. ‘A long time ago, when I was doing personal training, I decided that judgement wasn’t going to help anyone and it’s better to just move forward with the knowledge you have, armed with compassion to try and help people. ‘We’ve all got our own journeys and I try not to judge someone for where they currently are. I try and help take them from where they are to where they would prefer to be.’
First published in Good Practice July 2016:22-23