Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Linda Bradley

Our Road to Health series continues with the internationally recognized surgeon and a look at efforts to empower women toward a more pro-active healthcare approach.

Admired and respected for her clinical teaching, surgical expertise and compassionate bedside manner, Dr. Linda Bradley is an internationally recognized gynecologic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. She's vice chair of the clinic's Ob/Gyn and Women’s Health Institute and committed to educating women around the world about their bodies, their health concerns and, most importantly, their options. Bradley has also served on Cleveland Clinic's Board of Governors and chaired the Ob/Gyn section of the National Medical Association. She was selected by Ladies Home Journal as one of the top six female physicians in the U.S.
Sponsored by:


Tavis: Dr. Linda Bradley is a renowned surgeon who serves as the vice-chair of obstetrics – I can never say that word. Say it.

Dr. Linda Bradley: Obstetrics and gynecology.

Tavis: Thank you, at the Cleveland Clinic. (Laughter) She’s also the founder of a program aimed at women of color called Celebrate Sisterhood. Dr. Bradley, good to have you on this program.

Bradley: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Tavis: I read a piece that you wrote not too long ago called “Ten Ways to Put Your Doctor out of Business,” which I was fascinated by when I saw. I thought to ask you, as I will now, whether or not doctors really want to be put out of business, and you know where I’m going with this.

There is so much money that’s made in the medical profession, but I wonder sometimes – I’m not casting aspersion on you – but I wonder sometimes how serious we are in this country about really getting to a point where people don’t need hospitals, they don’t need doctors, they don’t need the kinds of medical insurance that we – can you imagine a time when we’ll get to a place where we will be so healthy that we really can put doctors out of business?

Bradley: I’m very optimistic that we can do that, and in fact, doctors would relish the opportunity to take care of patients, to be looking at preventive ways to promote health. If you look at the new oath that we take as physicians, a somewhat modified – basically the Hippocratic Oath says something like “I prefer to take care of patients for prevention rather than a cure, and let food be thy medicine.”

So I think we’re really moving to a generation that we are very, very sad, I’m very, very sad when I look at young people, middle age or old folks who have diseases that are totally preventable. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of why people are in hospitals are self-induced illnesses.

So we do want patients to be healthier. There are going to be bad things that happen to normal people who do the right things, but many of the things, 70 to 80 percent of things that we can control, we would love to be able to take care of patients and be more of a partner with talking, setting examples, being role models for things that they can do to prevent these devastating, chronic illnesses.

Tavis: When did the Hippocratic Oath change or get modified, and what was the justification, the reason for doing that?

Bradley: It’s more of I think in the last 10, 15 years, and it’s more about looking at what we’re doing as physicians. In the old days, as we would say, we didn’t have a lot of things. You didn’t have antibiotics, you didn’t have surgery, you didn’t have anesthesia, and so you just relied on the good Lord to take care of you.

Now we’re putting things back into our patients’ hands, and we want to partner. So we’re very optimistic that if we teach, and if you recall the word “doctor” in Latin means “teacher,” that’s what I would really like to do, and that’s what most of my colleagues would want to do also.

Tavis: What’s your view of Obamacare, specifically now I want to ask, where people of color are concerned? I’m asking you that question specifically because while there was great debate about Obamacare over the last couple of years, we never got around to talking about disparities in healthcare.

So even with healthcare for millions of Americans coming online in 2014 or so, we still haven’t gotten around to that disparity that still exists and will exist, even when it comes online.

Bradley: Right. Well, I love the term “healthcare reform,” but if you were sitting in my office, or your sister or your mother, the word that you’d hear from me is “self-care reform.” It’s so much in our hands as patients that we should not just rely upon our doctors, our religious leaders, our insurance companies, but do the things for yourself that you know to do.

The basic ABCs of taking good care of yourself. I think there are many parts of the Affordable Care Act, especially vis-à-vis women – contraception, being able to talk with your doctor about things like domestic violence, getting your PAP smear, getting your mammogram.

So there are many excellent parts where people don’t have to pay co-pays for some of the basic things that account for probably 50 to 70 percent of ills that happen to women, and strong women and healthy women can make healthier families.

So I look at it as putting this power back onto the patient, and when I write and speak about things at programs I like to use the words self-care reform, because a lot of the other things, I recognize that it’s there, but we really have to take ownership for what we do and make these changes and do the right thing.

Tavis: So we know those forces that we’re against, for many, many decades, the forces that were against healthcare reform. What are the forces against self-care reform?

Bradley: Education. Education is extremely important. I think, and I’m going to speak for me, it’s easy to get seduced into all the advertising dollars that are spent for unhealthy foods.

We become mouse potatoes and couch potatoes, so we don’t exercise, so education, getting screening, eating right, and exercise. If we just did that, in addition, if you have a chronic illness or been diagnosed with an illness, take the medication that your physician or your healthcare provider has recommended.

So sometimes it’s noncompliance, and a lot of it is living without understanding the long-term repercussions. For instance, let’s just take hypertension that affects women and affects men.

If you go to the dialysis centers around the country, predominately who is sitting there getting dialyzed? It’s Black people. A lot of things can happen because they’ve not lost weight, cut down on fat, cut down on salt, exercised, stop smoking, moderation in alcohol.

There’s so many things that we can do, but we become a society of super-sizing everything. I think if we just moderate, try some new things, a lot of these illnesses are so simple to treat. But it takes self, and we have to get out of this thought of having what I call access to convenience foods.

It’s quick, it’s fast, but sometimes you’ve got to go back in your home and re-learn things that your grandmother and great-grandmothers did every day. Cook. Cook for yourself.

So I just think if we start looking at what’s in fast foods – lots of fat, lots of salt, lots of sugar. You realize that a can of soda, if it’s not diet, has 12 teaspoons of sugar. If you came to my house and I fixed you lemonade and you saw me putting in 12 teaspoons, you’d say, “Linda, you’re kind of crazy. What is this going on?”

Or how much salt is in food, and how much fat. So I think it’s just a matter of becoming a consumer that understands what advertisement has done. We just have to stop being lazy in the kitchen. We’ve got to get on our shoes, our tennis shoes. I tell my patients, you don’t have to join a $1,000 a year spa or gym. You can walk. That’s the cheapest, easiest, affordable and doable in any climate anywhere. So, basics.

Tavis: What’s the link that you see – it’s one thing to read about this; it’s another thing to ask a physician about the link you see between the less-than-healthy condition of some of your patients and poverty?

Bradley: I think poverty is a big link. However, let’s just look at other groups of people. Some of our most educated African Americans are overweight. I have – my children aren’t children anymore, but when we look at organizations that we belong to – Jack and Jill, other women’s organizations, our children sometimes the more highly educated, and in fact a study just looked at that.

It actually crosses not just African Americans, but all, that this issue of wealth sometimes doesn’t make you any better a consumer, and so it’s almost an equal opportunity – I say it’s an equal opportunity disadvantage by either being poor or also being rich, or being middle class.

So it affects everyone. Certainly a little bit more in our community, but it is not as if other communities are not being affected.

Tavis: Tell me about this program, Celebrate Sisterhood.

Bradley: Oh, it’s, like, the best thing for me and for our community. I founded this this year, and it’s a day of information, of celebration, of education, of time for women to learn a lot of information about health, and we call it a day of edutainment.

So it’s fun. It’s not just rote lectures. It’s hands-on, it’s screenings, it’s testimonials, it’s a spiritual awakening. It started at 7:30 in the morning, over at 3:30. We kind of had to push people out. But a day to reconnect with our community.

I partner with the Cleveland Clinic because we live in a very – area of Cleveland that’s very poor, and sometimes I wonder if it’s the message or the messenger in terms of how health information is being delivered. So I wanted to do something – when I say “I,” I have a bunch of volunteers and executive staff that works with us to find great speakers, great motivational lectures.

We had topics from colon health to exercise, to GYN topics for how to avoid hysterectomies, methods about contraception, female sexuality. We talked about eating, and with a partner of mine we did a cooking demonstration for about an hour and a half.

So it’s a whole day of just lots of fun, hands-on, and when I look at the things that I do – I am a surgeon, but I think the role that I’m in right now, there’s more to be done with a mass group of people than one person at a time. This was a large group, so I really enjoyed putting this on, again, with the team and with the Cleveland Clinic behind me to help finance this, to provide the resources to make that day a very unique and empowering day.

Tavis: Let me close with this – you’re from Cleveland.

Bradley: Yes, I am.

Tavis: Comedians, as you well know, for years have had a field day making jokes about Cleveland and it gets bashed for a lot of different things, although I love the city of Cleveland. It has been the butt of jokes for years in certain circles.

Yet in the center of this city sits the Cleveland Clinic, which I’m obviously very proud of and partial to for different reasons. But people around the world literally do anything they can to get to the Cleveland Clinic. As one who was born and raised in Cleveland, how’s it feel to be able to work at this particular institution in your home town?

Bradley: In my home town. It’s been phenomenal. Cleveland is a comeback city, and to work at an institution that is number one in so many areas. Our department, for instance, for department of gynecology, is number one in the state of Ohio for the last 10 years, number three in the country. Our heart institution is number one in a row for 18 years in a row.

So it’s a very unique opportunity to give back. It’s a great city, and the institution is one in which has been at the forefront for many things. As you may notice, we don’t hire smokers. We got rid of a lot of the unhealthy –

Tavis: I know the story well.

Bradley: – things in the –

Tavis: President Obama has cited that in the Obamacare conversation.

Bradley: Yes, yes, so we want to set an example, and physicians also want to set an example. We are trying to empower patients and make them take ownership that self-care reform – not to be passive about your health. Health is wealth, and so we want people to live, like many parts in the world, to 100.

The biggest thing that I would say is that if you are healthy at age 50, you’re likely to live to age 80. If you’re healthy at 65, you’re likely to live to age 90. If you’re healthy at 70, you’re likely to live to 100 years of age.

So we want people to take those steps. Again, I think men and women were trying to empower schools to maybe start teaching some classes. Churches is a big part of our community, and I’m working with my church. Again, it’s one plate at a time to show what you can do.

Children are coming home, moms are working. What can a 7-year-old, 10-year-old, 15-year-old cook in the kitchen that’s quick and healthy? So that’s what we’re trying to do. Celebrate Sisterhood was a part of that process to educate, inform, and most importantly, be fun in teaching.

Tavis: It’s our “Road to Health” series. Pleased to have had on the program today Dr. Linda Bradley of the Cleveland Clinic in the great city of Cleveland, Ohio. Good to have you on the program.

Bradley: Thank you so much.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.

“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: June 30, 2013 at 9:40 pm