Patient care

For this DO, smoking cessation education is personal

Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, was inspired by a loss in her family to lend her support to sharing CDC Tips From Former Smokers® (Tips®) campaign materials and offer her patients guidance and resources for quitting smoking.

Family physician Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, is intimately familiar with the loss that smoking-related health conditions can cause.

“My father smoked cigarettes for a very long time,” says Dr. Rivera-Martinez, DO, who is also an AOA Trustee. “He smoked since he was young, and while he was still young he contracted colon cancer, which caused devastation to my family.”

Dr. Rivera-Martinez’s father died soon after learning he had cancer, and when she became a physician, she learned that smoking causes colon cancer. Remembering the enormous impact of her father’s death on her family, Dr. Rivera-Martinez jumped at the chance to provide Tips campaign materials to her patients during visits.

An old family photo of Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, and her father.

Since March 2012, the Tips campaign has helped more than 1 million Americans quit smoking by sharing real stories of people living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities. The people whose stories drive this campaign come from a range of health backgrounds. They have challenged others to rethink tobacco use. More than 16 million Americans currently have a disease caused by smoking.

To encourage people to quit smoking, the Tips campaign airs ads nationally on cable and network television and online. In addition, the campaign provides free materials and resources that primary care physicians like Dr. Rivera-Martinez can share with patients who are interested in quitting smoking. Such personalized interventions are key to saving as many patients as possible from the adverse health effects of smoking.

The DO spoke to Dr. Rivera-Martinez to learn about her story and how she uses campaign resources to help her patients quit smoking. Following is an edited Q&A.

Were there many smoking cessation or prevention campaigns back in your father’s time?

No, and in fact, it was a time when it was in style to smoke. In movies, you would see how glamorous it was to have females and males alike all smoking. That’s how it was portrayed. Apart from a tiny warning on the cigarettes, there was no real campaign telling people they should stop smoking. It very much seemed like smoking was the thing to do.

How have your patients generally responded to Tips materials?

We’re in the infancy of using Tips materials, but it looks promising so far. I’ve shared them with a handful of patients, and they have responded well. I’ve gotten quite a few of my patients to say they’ll stop smoking. I’ve provided them with the tools CDC and New York State have, and also offered them additional visits to help them along the way.

An old family photo of Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO (right), and her parents and brother.

How has this campaign changed the way you approach smoking cessation conversations with your patients?

The material is very educational, and those personal stories touch people. It’s heart-wrenching to see the devastation to the individuals in these stories, and even to their family members. It mimics some of the heartache my family had, but in a different way.

A lot of people know about the throat cancers and lung cancers, but not all the other cancers that can occur because of smoking. I opened a couple videos during my encounters with patients, and their jaws just dropped. Rather than me just telling them to quit the way I advise them on many things, I shared Tips materials and saw how it touched a different chord.

Did your father imagine his daughter would grow up to become a physician? What would he think, seeing the physician you are today?

I don’t think my father envisioned me being a physician. I did tell him about my dream one time, but he was already sick with his cancer, dying little by little. I expressed to him that I wanted to be a healer.

I was still going from elementary school to middle school, so he may have thought it was a pipe dream for a kid who didn’t know the hurdles she would have in front of her. I don’t think he saw me as a physician at the time. If he saw me today, I think he would be proud. He went up to the ninth grade only and considered himself fortunate to have gotten that much education.

He wanted both my brother and I to have a good education. So did my mother, who was the powerhouse—a very strong-willed lady who propelled us to pursue those dreams. I think both my mother and father would be extremely proud that I achieved what they could not. Both would be particularly proud that I work for people who are underserved. They knew it was my passion to help those who are in need.

Learn more

Physicians interested in learning more about the Tips campaign and seeing the latest free resources for doctors can visit the Tips Healthcare Providers page.

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