A Successful Doctor Needs To Be A Healthy Doctor

Doctors are in the healthcare business. That means that we either make recommendations to prevent or fix health problems. Ideally all doctors should listen to their own advice, but that is not the case. I’ve seen wide range of doctor lifestyles that range from health addicts to downright gluttons. Some examples of real people who I’ve met:

  1. Surgeon who wakes up at 4am, swims several miles, and then goes through a day in the operating room. He eats mostly raw grains during the workweek, but the a “normal” diet on the weekends.
  2. Dual income ER doctor family with no kids (not planning to have any either) dining out at Michelin star restaurants several times a year. They appear to be in good shape, so probably balance out their caloric intake well.
  3. Independently wealthy internist who eats out at least twice a day in NYC. She Instagrams most of her meals, which sometimes look healthy but definitely budget busting.
  4. Family medicine doctor who eats fast food daily in the hospital cafeteria and local chains. His BMI is likely over 35.
  5. Anesthesiologist who runs an alternative medicine clinic. Firm believer in alternative medicine supplements. I frankly don’t know what his health is like, although he appears to be fit.

I have never been hugely athletic, before, during, or even after my medical training. However, after practicing medicine and aging with experience, I’ve come to terms that nearly every single aspect of our careers are dependent upon our health. If you’ve gotten far enough to become a doctor, you might as well become a healthy one.

Health and Exercise Improves Sleep Hygiene 

Many doctors sleep soundly simply because their work is grueling. If you are a Hospitalist who admits and discharges patients for 12 hour shifts while running around the hospital, you will be exhausted. Likewise, if you are a surgeon who operates from 7am until 3pm three days a week, you will also be tired and burned out.

I doubt that either of these doctors will have trouble sleeping, but it is likely that both of them currently have or have had back pain or body aches. I have seen quotes that 60-80% of everyone in the United States have or have had back pain! A doctor who spends most of his day hunched over in the operating room is not only exhausted enough to sleep well, but also likely to have neck pain.

I used to experience recurrent back pain throughout medical school, residency, and fellowship. When I started my first job, I finally wizened up and started a rudimentary exercise and core strengthening routine several days a week. My job was just as stressful, but any somatic aches seemed to vanish. I even slept better and woke up more refreshed in the morning. Is it fitness that cured my musculoskeletal problems or was there simply a psychological component? Frankly it doesn’t matter as long as your aches are gone.

You Will Look More Convincing If You Look Healthy 

What do you think goes through your patient’s mind if you’re trying to get his A1c below 15% and you look as if your BMI is 35? How about telling your patient to increase her cholesterol medication while your breath reeks of the sweet smell of McDonald’s fries you ate during lunch? How likely is your patient going to listen to anything health related if you look as if you’ve just escaped from the grim reaper?

People can and do judge you based on your appearance. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most competent surgeon in town if you look as if you need 4L of oxygen to make it through the day. You will lose patients if you don’t look the part. You will feel more confident as a doctor and better equipped to care for others if you are healthy yourself.

You Have The Option To Prolong Your Working Career if You Are Healthy

One would hope that health confers a longer life and working career. No chronic back pain to force you into early retirement or other disability that can shorten your career. While you might decide to retire early anyway, but wouldn’t be nice to have the option?

Exercise Will Help Improve Your Cognitive Ability 

As doctors, we have to remember a boatload of information. Surgeons have to maintain their dexterity and clinical and intraoperative judgment. We are expected to be able to do this our entire careers. It is well accepted that physical activity is associated with improved cognitive function. It behooves us to stay fit and keep our mental sharpness as long as possible. Being healthy does just that.


There are plenty of reasons to be healthy—and plenty not to. You can decide what works for you. If you are like me and never truly was in good shape your entire life, go ahead and try exercising. You might like it.

What are your thoughts on health and exercise? What strides have you made to get in shape?

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