January marks the beginning of a new year and a new decade. What better time to take stock of our current situation and consider how best to alter our practices, or those we fail to do, in order for us and those around us to lead happier and more productive lives. This month marks the beginning of a rotating litany of Health Observances and Healthcare Recognition Dates that seem almost derived from Hallmark itself.
January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month, Birth Defects Prevention Month, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and Thyroid Awareness Month. National Activity Professionals Week runs from January 17-22, Folic Acid Awareness Week from January 11-17, Healthy Weight Week from January 17-23, Medical Group Management Week from January 25-29, and Nurse Anesthetist Week from January 24-30. January 21 has been designated as Women’s Healthy Weight Day and January 31 is World Leprosy Day.
All of these clearly are well worth noting and taking a moment to appreciate their significance to health and well-being. To certain individuals, however, a medical condition itself provides sufficient reminder of one or more of the above. For others, these rotating observances provide an impetus for much-needed education, outreach, recognition, and, at times, fundraising. Although one can stop at face value with the name of the observance itself and choose to pay attention on a selective basis, we all know that each of these problems—and the caregivers associated with them—touch the lives of most individuals at one time or another, even if only indirectly. Blood donation, for example, is essential to people with a myriad of illnesses and traumas, thus touching the lives of nearly all of us at one time or another. Birth defects affect not only the parent and child, but also members of society, and we never know when one’s own offspring, even in generations to come, will be affected. Cervical cancer and glaucoma should be screened for, and if a problem is identified, treatment should be begun prior to the start of serious consequences; despite this knowledge, screening remains elusive for many individuals. Obesity is a growing problem of national significance and is well worth the added attention this recognition may provide.
What seems initially like a “Hallmark moment” suddenly begins to make a great deal of sense. While it would be ideal for there to be no need for these special health observances, I fear that this is not the case. So, embrace each of the National Health Observances as they begin this month and rotate throughout the year. Note which causes closest to you have not been given a place on the calendar, and advocate for their inclusion in future years. We should appreciate and learn about other people’s “favorites.” Who knows, maybe someday soon these may become the focus of your time, energy, and advocacy too.
Dr. Gambert is Professor of Medicine and Associate Chair for Clinical Program Development, Co-Director, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Director, Geriatric Medicine, University of Maryland Medical Center and R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, and Professor of Medicine, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.