The Doctor is In
Health and Wellness Director Amy Kelly reflects on the importance of exercise, positive thinking and eating Cheetos.
BY AMY GAGE
LAST APRIL, DR. AMY KELLY achieved a milestone when she ran the Boston Marathon two months shy of her 40th birthday. She'd had to run an earlier marathon in under three hours and 45 minutes to qualify for the elite event, and although she is clearly proud of the accomplishment, Kelly refuses to reveal her running time, other than to say it was "respectable."
Modesty about athletic achievement might seem an unusual characteristic for a physician whose work as director of the Health and Wellness Center at St. Kate's requires her to preach the benefits of exercise and eating right. But it fits with Kelly's time-tested personal philosophy of practicing good health: "Everything in moderation."
"I'm as likely to eat a handful of Cheetos as an apple," she concedes with a laugh. "I exercise a lot. Running is how I stay sane. If there's a time when I am not in balance in my life, it's when I'm not making time to exercise. I think exercise is vitally important to good health — and it can be as simple as a 20-minute walk."
A summa cum laude graduate from the University of St. Thomas, Kelly performed a residency in pediatrics at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine and later earned a master's in public health at the University of Minnesota. She began work at St. Kate's during her fellowship in adolescent health at the U of M. That experience shaped her decision to forsake more lucrative private practice for the satisfactions — and frustrations — of promoting student health.
What sorts of issues or illnesses do you commonly encounter?
How do you teach coping skills to students?
We talked a lot about that in my adolescent health fellowship: Where do you get resiliency? Can you teach it? In my work I try to help people tap into their inner wisdom or innate health.
What drew you to specialize in adolescent health?
I also like being able to help them reframe how they interpret circumstances in their lives or reflect upon decisions they were beating themselves up about. My own children are 6 and 9. I hope that as adolescents they will have people in their lives — teachers, coaches, staff members at school — who will view them as I view my patients, who will help them make good decisions. I won't always be there to decide what's in their lunch boxes.
At St. Kate's opening convocation in September, Penelope Moyers, dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, said: "Health can't be defined by the absence of disease or disability but by joy in living." How do you try to bring joy to your patients at St. Catherine University?
Penny's quote is tied to that. You can have a disease or a disability, and that's outside of your control — but you always have inner wisdom, you always have strength. You always have the ability to be joyful. In Western medicine we're taught to look at what's broken or isn't working. Health Realization reframes that perspective to look at what's working.
As a physician, how can you influence your patients' mental health?
Alcohol abuse is the stereotypical health issue for college students, and you've recently been appointed to a statewide commission to study the effects of binge drinking on college students. How much is excessive drinking a problem at St. Kate's?
I talk to students about the health risks of alcohol use — but for young women, I also talk about their overall safety. As soon as you start drinking and your judgment goes down, you put yourself at risk for assaults and unintended sex. As a woman, as a mom, I want students to think about the types of situations they're in.
The Minneapolis campus became tobacco-free in 2008. You helped lead the effort to make the St. Paul campus tobacco-free as of September 1, 2010. Why is this important?
Do these restrictions really change behavior?
This is not about punishing the smoker. It's about encouraging healthy behavior that benefits the whole community. We're saying that our campuses are tobacco-free. We're not saying people can't go home and smoke.
You are a physician and your husband is an orthopedic surgeon. You have a career and two children. How do you manage it?
You talk about your work as a way to make a difference. Does that go back to the Catholic faith in which you were raised?