Blog | Thursday, September 19, 2019

3 ways health care professionals can stay healthier throughout their work day

One of the biggest ironies about modern health care in America, especially given the size and scale of our health sector, is that so little effort is put into addressing the health and wellbeing of the millions of dedicated professionals that work in it. It's such a disappointment, compared with how much effort other large companies put into their employees' wellness—and a topic I've written about previously. For the time being at least, it's up to those of us who work in health care to ensure that we address this ourselves. As a doctor with an interest in health and wellness (click here for details about my first book—High Percentage Wellness Steps—it's the sole topic!), I see some of my colleagues on a daily basis lead very unhealthy work lives. Here are 3 suggestions:
1. Frequent healthy snacks, a thoughtful meal, and plenty of hydration
We often work 12-hour-plus days, which are over in the blink of an eye. I remember once being so busy and overloaded with patients a few years ago, that I went without eating or even drinking anything for the whole day! Every doctor will have a story like that. But it's not good or healthy. Our bodies need regular meals and also frequent snacks throughout the day—especially if we are busy. I'd recommend a meal (usually lunch) which is not overloaded with carbohydrates, but does contain a good amount of vegetables and a healthy protein (I'm not going to go into specifics here, but if you are in medicine, you will know what this means). For your snacks, avoid chips or chocolate—and go for an apple, banana, nuts, or a nutritious health bar. Stay well hydrated throughout your day too, pure water (can be tap water) is ideal. Add a slice of lemon to it if you want to add more taste.

2. Exercise bursts
Hospital-based specialties will definitely involve more walking and moving, but office-based specialties can be pretty terrible for ensuring you remain sedentary throughout your time at work. I once worked in a hospital where some of us would use dumbbells while reviewing patient information on the computer in the doctor's group office! That may be a bit extreme for most, but if you're in an office, I recommend getting up and walking as much as you can, and ideally taking a power walk outside at lunchtime (the fresh air will also do you a lot of good). If you're in a hospital, take the stairs at every opportunity instead of the elevator. If I feel a tinge of lethargy hit me during my work day, I'll often go for a brisk walk or race up and down the stairs a couple of times.

3. Stress management
We are living at a time when rates of job dissatisfaction and burnout are unfortunately soaring among health care workers. The system-wide issues that have led to this aren't obviously going to be fixed by eating better and exercising, but given where we are at, adopting a healthier lifestyle certainly isn't going to do you any harm. Other techniques that have worked for colleagues of mine include deep breathing and mindfulness exercises during the day (sometimes using apps), and listening to relaxing music with headphones while typing patient notes.

Something that I have always been quite firm on, when any colleague has given me the classic: “I'm too busy to think about what I eat/whether I exercise/use stress management techniques during the day” line—is that's a load of nonsense. Absolutely nothing should come before your own health and well-being, and as a health care professional you should not only know better, but also be setting an example to your patients. Adding 1, 2, 3 and so on, healthier habits to your day, quickly adds up. It may not magically make you love your job, but will likely make you feel and perform a heck of a lot better for your patients.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.