Dr. Dave’s Diagnosis

It’s no secret that health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure take a disproportionate toll on the Black community. So why isn’t wellness and life expectancy getting any better?

Because of a communication gap, according to Dr. David Montgomery, who is trying a different approach to encourage change. Instead of leading with gloomy statistics that don’t seem to make an impact (such as Black men have a 47% higher chance of dying of heart failure than white men), he prefers a more relational style.

“Nobody’s motivated by saying, ‘You just might die,’” Montgomery believes. Mere information doesn’t work because “it’s not personal enough.” So, for example, when talking to a group of guys about their health, he doesn’t just cite death rates. Rather, he asks how many of them know older men in their 80s, and then asks them to think about what sort of shape those people are in, to make his point about the need to take care of their bodies.

“Statistics serve a role,” Montgomery says. “When you’re writing a paper, you have to have some stats in there,” but in dealing with people, “I would rather use an anecdote or a metaphor.”

Montgomery does so in his cardiology practice and primary care clinic (PREventClinic) in Atlanta and in his many media appearances. An increasingly popular go-to medical expert for his engaging manner, Montgomery has been a regular guest on national talk shows including The Steve Harvey Show and Sister Circle Live. He has also hosted his own podcast (The Health Mastery Café with Dr. Dave) and web series (The Good Doctor TV) and served as contributing health editor for Ebony magazine.
There are a couple of main reasons for what he calls medicine’s PR or marketing problem: distrust and disbelief. People’s natural wariness about doctors is reinforced because many medical professionals don’t communicate well, he says. And when people are told about risks of sickness or disease, they typically think it just won’t happen to them.

Nobody’s motivated by saying, ‘you just might die.’


Health is wealth
As part of his endeavor—which he describes on his website (www.dave-montgomerymd.com) as “Coming from the Heart. Shooting from the Hip.”— Montgomery emphasizes the importance of good health for anyone wanting to realize all their other life goals.

“Your most valuable thing is time, because you can’t go back and get any more,” he says. “Once that 24 hours is gone, it’s gone. But if you’re unhealthy, you don’t control your time.” Instead of doing what you want to, you have to go to the doctor or you’re not able to take that family vacation, he says. On a lesser scale, even just feeling under par means that you are not operating at your best abilities. If you have a headache because of high blood pressure and can’t think straight, you might miss out on “the beginning of an idea that makes you a billionaire.”

Your most valuable thing is time, because you can’t go back and get anymore.

And there’s no benefit in accumulating wealth if you are not around or able enough to enjoy it, he says: “Health is wealth.” Just as people seek to build generational wealth, they should pursue “generational health” that involves modeling taking care of yourself so that your kids see that being well and living long requires intentionality.
“There should be a strategy,” he says. “Some people only strategize about their vacation or their social media content for the month. We don’t use that same ingenuity we use at our job on our health.” He quotes motivational speaker Jim Rohm’s advice: work harder on yourself than anything else.

As part of that, Montgomery advocates finding a doctor you can trust who can give you the information you need to make good health choices. Start by googling for doctors in your area and then check out their reviews. “You’re going to do that when you go buy a television,” he says. “Why don’t you do it when you go hire a doctor?” If they have only 3.5 stars, “you may want to look somewhere else.”

Having located a doctor that you think might work, interview them. Make an appointment and see if you feel some sort of connection with them, and if you like the way they communicate. Ask them about their philosophy of medicine. And when you have found a doctor you feel comfortable with, follow through on what they suggest.
Regular checkups are important (everyone should know their blood pressure, Montgomery says) because even if your stats are good, “you could still have something going on in your body that literally can change the course of your life.” After all, no one has a perfect body: “Everybody has at least something they should be thinking about and working on; if you don’t know what it is, you’re behind the eight ball.”

Medicine as ministry
Montgomery knew he wanted to pursue medicine from a young age, fascinated by the physiology and anatomy book he asked for from a childhood friend’s mom after she had finished with it for her studies. He realized “the human body is the most wonderfully created self-contained machine on the planet.”

Montgomery’s father died of a massive heart attack aged 52 and later Montgomery would resolve that he wanted to stop other dads and moms from dying so young. Graduating with a degree in biology from Morehouse College, he earned his M.D. at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and followed that with a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. An inductee of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, he is also a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. In making his message of preventive health media-friendly, Montgomery draws on some family genes. His maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher, while mom was a teacher for 39 years. And while he tries not to sound preachy, Montgomery says he views his medical career as a form of ministry.

He also builds on communication skills developed when his dream of becoming a doctor was stalled at the end of his sophomore year at Morehouse. “My loans were exhausted, my mom’s loans were exhausted, and I had to sit out,” he recalls. Friend Kevin, who found himself in a similar situation a year behind Montgomery, suggested they try to build on the speaking they had done in their church. Calling themselves The Brothers of Thunder (after two of Jesus’ disciples), they traveled giving motivational presentations at youth groups and conferences.

In a short time, they found themselves flying around the country, riding in limousines. “We were like little kids,” Montgomery recalls, “but we were honing skills and I think the dividends are paying off now. What I did was take something that I was inclined to naturally and married it with another thing that I was inclined to naturally, and that was science and explaining science.”

Three simple health hacks
We asked “Dr. Dave” for three simple things everyone can do to improve their health. Here’s what he prescribed:
Breathe deeply. There’s lots of evidence about the benefits of proper breathing: it can reduce blood pressure, release a sense of calm and improve your mindfulness. “When you’re out of touch, you’re not about to be as creative as you could be.” Take as deep a breath as you can through your nose so that you fill up your lungs, hold it for three seconds and then let it go slowly.
Drink plenty. Most people are chronically dehydrated; he sees many pregnant women with high heart rates who could have saved themselves a trip to his office or even the ER just by drinking more water. Too many guys who exercise regularly also complain about aches and pains from injuries that could be avoided by making sure their bodies take in enough water. Everyone expels about a Coke can of urine a day, so make sure you’re replenishing: pure water, not sparkling or soda.
Sleep enough. Every living organism sleeps, so why should humans think they don’t need to, he asks? People who don’t sleep well often don’t live as long and have more chronic conditions. That fuzzy thinking may not be a sign of dementia, just sleep deprivation. “When I stopped thinking that I could burn the candle on both ends, my performance increased dramatically,” he admits. Six, seven or eight hours is optimum.