During her internship last summer at a hospital in St. Louis Kathryn Skimming, ’10, made an astute observation.

Not all physicians were practicing what they were preaching when it came to eating healthy, not smoking, and watching their weight.

As a leadership studies major planning to go to medical school, Skimming wondered what message this was sending to patients, and if physicians should have an ethical obligation to be healthy.

She spent the better part of her senior year conducting research to determine the answer.

The research became her senior honors thesis and earned her an opportunity to present at two national conferences – the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics’ Annual Meeting in Ohio and the Mid-Atlantic Leadership Scholars Forum at Christopher Newport University. She was a winner of the two paper competitions sponsored by the conferences, and her work may be published in a scholarly journal for undergraduate research.

“Physicians are leaders because of the influence they have on others,” said Skimming. “Some physicians were telling their patients to be healthy, and it didn’t really match what they were doing. That has an effect on the leadership at the hospital and on the health of the patients. You might think, ‘well, if my doctor is smoking I can too.’”

She worked with ethicist and leadership studies professor Terry L. Price to develop her research, which examined the work of philosophers Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill as well as current research. Skimming looked at their understanding of duties and social obligation, and virtue ethics.

But her research didn’t stop there. She also came up with a list of practical suggestions for ways hospitals can help physicians and their patients along the road to good health. Topping the list – workout facilities, healthier vending machines and cafeteria food, and not letting fast food places move in.  

“You do what’s convenient and eat what’s around you,” Skimming said. “If you don’t bring your lunch, you’re forced to eat what’s there – and more and more hospitals are putting in fast food places like McDonald’s. I don’t think that’s really the image hospitals want to have.”

Skimming says she is grateful for the opportunity to do the research and to work with Price.

“When I decided to do this research I really wanted to incorporate my interests in leadership studies and medicine into something that would be beneficial for my future career,” she said. “Dr. Price helped guide me through the whole process and encouraged me to apply to the conferences. He expected a lot, but in the end I was proud of what I accomplished.”

Skimming will continue her research on the topic this summer thanks to a grant she received through the Jepson School.