Freshmen across the country are getting advice during orientation about staying healthy and fit in college, but only freshmen at Trinity Washington University heard tips from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ’70, the nation’s highest ranking health official, who returned to her alma mater to talk about health, health care reform and lessons in leadership. Her keynote address was preceded by remarks given by Dr. Nicole Lang ’89, who founded her own medical practice, Washington Pediatrics Associates, and is a member of the Trinity Board of Trustees.
Sebelius reflected on her own experience at Trinity and told the more than 300 freshmen that “Trinity is a great place to be. It is a life-changing experience to attend Trinity and be part of this amazing community.” She added that, “I wouldn’t be in the job I’m in and I wouldn’t be able to do the job without the incredible education I received at Trinity and the lifelong friends I made here. I still look to my Trinity friends for counsel and advice.”
Sebelius spoke about the changing landscape of health care and the need for more health care professionals. She noted that, “75 cents of every health care dollar is spent on chronic disease, and only 8 cents is spent on prevention and wellness, and we need to turn that around.” She spoke about the positive changes in health care that are being realized through the Affordable Care Act and she said that it is “an enormous thrill to be part of this cabinet at this time.”
Sebelius told the students that the health and fitness choices they make in college will make a difference in their health long-term. “There are two things you can do right now. If you don’t already do so, start to exercise every day. If you walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you are 40% less likely to get diabetes. If you also eat a healthier diet, you are 80% less likely to get diabetes.” She encouraged students to get enough sleep, try to eliminate stress and study regularly.
Sebelius took questions from the students, one of whom asked her what she believes are three keys to being a good leader. She said it is important to be a good listener and to learn everything you can – and recognize that you can’t possibly know everything so you need to gather the very best talent around you. Finally, she said a good leader must be willing to take risks. “If you never take a risk, if you never walk through a door, you won’t know what’s on the other side.”
In her remarks, Lang emphasized that it takes “a balancing act to maintain your overall health and wellness” in five areas — physical, mental/intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual.
Regarding physical health, Lang told the students that the “choices you make today will influence your path going forward,” and she stressed that daily exercise is very important, as is eating carefully and getting enough sleep. ”Listen to your body and respect your body,” she said.
To maintain mental/intellectual health, she encouraged the Trinity freshmen to “stay focused on learning as much as you can, ask questions in class and don’t procrastinate.” She emphasized that good social health is about healthy friendships and relationships, and “making smart and healthy choices about who your friends are.” Like Sebelius, she said that the friendships she made as a Trinity student have lasted a lifetime. Addressing emotional health, she told students that they will “experience different stresses in college,” and stress management is critical. She said it is essential to have a support network and “laughter is important.”
Lang closed her remarks by talking about the importance of spiritual health. “My faith has really helped me become the person I am today. Listen to your intuition and to your inner voice. Seek peace and tranquility through prayer and faith. Make each day prayerful and positive and establish a relationship with God.”
Students asked Lang questions about her journey to become a doctor. She said that “the health care field is very rewarding and it has changed my life,” noting that “anything worth doing is going to take dedication, hard work and follow through.” Asked about her future, she said, “The best is yet to come.”