Walking the Walk: How One Doctor Uses His Health Journey to Guide Patients
When you meet Dr. John Sosa, you realize that there’s something different about him. And it isn’t just the fact that his face and physique could grace a Men’s Health cover. It’s the questions he asks — and his thoughtful approach to medicine.
Tell me about how things are going with your spouse. How are you sleeping? What do you enjoy doing for exercise?
The Tampa-based physician’s inquisitiveness stems from a desire to explore what’s possible in healthcare and a drive to do the same for his patients. It’s a highly personal mission.
“People look at me and they say, ‘You look so young.’ ‘You look so good.’ I’m quick to tell them that I wasn’t always like this,” Dr. Sosa says.
His standard American diet once had him dragging around an extra 30 pounds. While he was a (and still is) a gym rat through college and medical school, he knew he wasn’t thriving. Then came a wake-up call.
He was working at a hospital whose cafeteria included a Tim Horton’s and a Wendy’s. After countless burger-and-fries lunches, washed down with soda and sweetened by M&Ms, he watched a documentary that shifted his personal and professional trajectory. It was about high-fructose corn syrup’s grip on the nation.
“Nobody taught me that in medical school,” Dr. Sosa says “It’s been over 17 years since I’ve had a soda.”
He gave up dairy. Then red meat. And then chicken. Finally, after a serious bout of gastroenteritis, he gave up fish, too. He became a full-fledged vegan.
His newfound control over his own well-being gave him an overwhelming sense of empowerment. Yet, a feeling kept nagging Dr. Sosa. Something was missing. How could he empower his patients, too?
Evidence of a Better Way
Family medicine left little room for Dr. Sosa to bring his new ideas to his patients. Try determining whether a patient has healthy relationships and sound stress-management skills while diagnosing and treating their strep throat in fewer than 15 minutes.
“I was looking to transform my personal practice, make it more in line with my evolving beliefs,” Dr. Sosa recalls. “I was on this typical hamster wheel of primary care, and I wanted to be able to offer something different — something that felt right to me.”
In 2016, he discovered lifestyle medicine. This board certification is based on six pillars:
- Healthy diet of whole, plant-based foods
- Physical activity
- Stress management
- Tobacco cessation
While the approach spoke to Dr. Sosa, what sold him was the evidence.
“Lifestyle medicine is founded on evidence,” Dr. Sosa says. “As much as people would like to tell me otherwise, I say, ‘OK. Show me the evidence.’”
With his new board certification in hand, Dr. Sosa had the right methodology. He just needed the right practice model. He found it in direct primary care (DPC). As Dr. Sosa explains it, lifestyle medicine needs time: Time to discuss relationships, time to teach healthy eating, time to determine what physical activity makes sense for each patient. Pitching a patient on radically transforming their life — and equipping them with the knowledge to do so — requires intense personalization.
“I found my ‘why’ and purpose with lifestyle medicine,” Dr. Sosa says. “To empower patients is incredibly satisfying as well, especially because I now have the DPC platform and essentially unlimited time to listen to patients and guide them from where they’re at to join them along their own health journey.”
To Dr. Sosa, patient empowerment looks like 60-minute patient encounters. On beautiful Tampa days, he asks his patients if they’d like to go outside to stroll and talk.
He smiles through a story about a patient who learned he could come off a CPAP machine. Then he recalls another who cured their Type 2 diabetes with exercise and nutrition. One patient recently told Dr. Sosa that they’re exercising four to five days a week. Another patient sends him monthly photos highlighting his weight-loss journey.
“Most doctors — and this was me in my previous life — they’re not getting people off of stuff,” Dr. Sosa says. “They’re not reversing disease. They’re not saying, ‘Did you know, you can get off your CPAP machine? I can tell you how to do it, and it’s going to take some work, but you don’t have to be on that stupid thing.’”
DPC is about freedom: Freedom to practice the way Dr. Sosa deems best and the freedom patients find when they take charge of their health.
For doctors weighing a move to DPC, Dr. Sosa suggests the following:
- Be prepared financially: Operating outside insurance requires a cash runway. Be ready to handle a few lean months in the beginning while you build a base of patients.
- Have the right software: Your EHR and your patient communication systems need to be seamlessly integrated. Dr. Sosa uses Elation Health for his EHR, Spruce for his patient portal, and Hint Health to manage billing.
- Market yourself: Create a steady social media presence. Spend some money on advertising. You didn’t learn this in medical school, but you need to put yourself out there.
For Dr. Sosa, DPC is much more than a way of practicing medicine. It merges everything that’s possible in healthcare: His values, the methods he’s used to transform his own life, and an opportunity to do the same for his patients.
“As far as what I tell patients, it’s always about meeting them where they’re at,” Dr. Sosa says. “I had a passion for true health for years and was finally able to fuse this passion into my practice.”