Creating Positive Change

The Healthy Monks Project

A community with an unrecognized health crisis just needed a spark to make a change.  Five years ago, the head monk of the Lao Proutha Thammaram Buddhist temple in South Philadelphia suffered a heart attack.  A temple member and former nurse at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) became worried for the health of all the monks. She reached out to PCOM’s Dr. Barry Rosenfield for help. 

The nurse was worried the diet and lack of exercise could lead to similar fate of the other monks in residence. The monks rely completely on community donations for food. “The food that the community members donate is food that they think is very special, because they love and respect the monks,” said Rosenfield. “So, the type of food that they think is very special is the kind of food that they might bring to a party.”

Food is a large part of the community life and it is shared in abundance. Much of the food is fried and/or also sweet. The monk lifestyle is very sedentary, with many hours spent in meditation. The monks also had no health insurance or health care. That is the perfect incubator for cardiovascular issues and diseases.

Behavior modification was needed, without sacrificing or scaring the community away from donating to the temple.  The older generation of monks are hesitant about accepting the concepts of western medicine. Dr. Rosenfield enlisted help from his colleagues at PCOM, such as Dr. Charmaine Chan.

Dr. Rosenfield and Dr. Chan worked with the monks and the community to help them both thrive. The monks began adjusting their diets and getting regular health check-ups.  Dr. Chan brought in various student groups, the APAMSA and SAAO, help translate and explain the multiple health care options to the monks. The program blossomed into what became known as the “Healthy Monks Project.” The monks were making healthier choices and students got first-hand experience educating their patients, conducting check-ups and performing OMT treatments.

*Click photo to enlarge 



The program now involves the community. The Buddist Monks project hosts an annual health fair in October for the entire community that includes basic health screenings and interpreters. Many in the community are first or second generations immigrants. The annual health fair reaches beyond just the southwest Asian population into the other migrant communities including African, Filipino and Latino groups. With the help of the PCOM faulty, students and volunteers, along with volunteers from Temple Health, the entire community has made significant changes and benefits to their health and well-being.

A single health scare led an entire community to change. These DOs are truly community leaders and we thank you for being part of DOs DOing More. 

If you would like more information on the Buddist Monk Project, please contact Dr. Rosenfield at PCOM.