Tag: health

How hard should you work as a doctor?

How hard should you work as a doctor?

I can’t think of too many white collared jobs that rival the intensity and duration of work endured by doctors.  Sure, there are plenty of physically and mentally demanding occupations out there, but what other job involves handling the livelihood of others, triaging life-threatening events, and multi-tasking multitudes of time-sensitive matters?

The work of a lawn maintenance guy.

Take, for instance, the duties of “just” a lawn irrigation serviceman. Let’s say the lawn guy is tasked with installing a drip irrigation system in a lawn.  This is an extremely labor-intensive process.  A general overview is that supply lines have to be placed, individual irrigation lines have to be delivered to the plants, the valves tested, lines buried, and landscaping created to make the lawn aesthetically pleasing.  Even more labor intensive is searching the lines to identify any leaks in the lines after they’ve been buried! Combine this work with the scorching summer heat, and you’ve got yourself one strenuous job.

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Rinse and repeat. Let’s say you and your crew of three guys repair and install new irrigation every day, five to six days a week. Fifty weeks a year.  You’ve got yourself a pretty strenuous and repetitive schedule. Plenty of people do it. It pays the bills, and it is hard work.

Falling asleep in front of your computer is probably okay but not in the operating room during a surgery!

The work of a corporate finance guru. 

The finance industry works hard. I would consider finance bankers, analysts, associates, or whatever title they may have to be the grunt workers of the white-collared world.  Think 80+ hour weeks for projects, presentations galore, and meetings to consume your life.  Many financial analysts I know party hard too. Extreme vacations and sports in the limited downtime they may have.  Some of these guys get smart and save up a financial nut like Sam from Financial Samurai.  Others just spend it on an expensive lifestyle. Many of these people don’t last in their industry.  After they move up the ranks, they either transition out of the industry altogether or just move into a more administrative role.

Sure, I’m biased, but why do people in the this industry eventually leave? The guys that I know who are in their first five years of financial banking tell me they love the challenge, hard work, and helping improve our economy and quality of lives. Huh?

The work of doctors.

Yes, I’m a doctor, but I do think that our line of work is genuinely gratifying.  Take away all of that administrative B.S., healthcare regulations, and management issues of any workplace, and you’ve got a profession that is out there to do some good. Look at the Hippocratic oath. I don’t know of any other profession that makes you swear by such a statement.

You might also like: How to identify physician burnout.

You might also like: Why doctors need a four-day workweek.


I know doctors who spend six days a week working to care for their patients.  Some of them take only two weeks of vacation per year.  Some others work either three to four days a week.  Some others take twelve weeks of vacation.  There is amazing flexibility in medicine—you just have to make a decision to what is most important to you.

Is the the money?

Is it the lifestyle?

Do you want to work 70 hours a week, take only two weeks of vacation per year, and make $1 million a year? Some of us don’t have the luxury of titrating our work-money-lifestyle balance due to the nature of our work, but this is a subject that I’ve been contemplating for a long time.  Given the intensity of our line of work, there has to be a breaking point.

I once had a patient who was in the truck driving industry for thirty five years.  He ended up getting placed on dialysis because his kidneys shut down after going for so many years in an occupation that didn’t necessarily allow for bathroom breaks!

Another one of my patients was a construction worker for twenty years, but ended up getting on disability not because of an injury, but simply because his joints broke down after many years on the job.

At what point will you draw the line on balancing your work, money, and health?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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Occupational injuries among doctors are more common than we realize

occupational injuries among doctors are commonSuccess in our careers can be defined by a number of criteria. Two of the most important qualifiers in my book include both financial and physical/mental health. After all, your pool of money serves you no good if you are not healthy enough to enjoy it. Interestingly, I came across an article published in the 2010 issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that surveyed health of surgeons. One of the key findings was that 86.9% of respondents reported symptoms of physical discomfort! The group of oncologic surgeons surveyed stated that the bulk of the physical ailments come from cervical spine pain, musculoskeletal fatigue, and vertebral disc injuries.


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This is a frightening finding that is unfortunately true and common. After a long day at work, I come home with various aches and pains. As doctors, we all are subjected to repetitive tasks whether it is operating on patients, clicking through the electronic health records, or simply examining patients. We are all subjected to higher volumes of patients as reimbursement levels decline. I think the stress of our workplace contributes to the physical ailments we experience.


How to reduce the likelihood of injury

The best way to insure your health for the future is to prevent injury. I keep a handwritten list of reminders at my office to help me step back and reassess what I need to focus on, especially during a tough day:

  1. Don’t forget to breathe. This means that no matter how chaotic your workday is, make time for yourself. Take that extra 3-5 minutes to go to the restroom, eat your breakfast, and find sanity. The sky will not fall if you take care of yourself first. If you are ill, then you won’t be able to care for others.
  2. Meditate. Yoga and meditation exercises are great to clear your mind. Sometimes you need that extra 10 minutes in the evening to unwind, clear your mind, and reset. It doesn’t hurt to pause.
  3. Make time to stretch and exercise.  Repetitive task-related injuries are most common in the workplace. The best way to prevent these is to reduce the repetitiveness. Stretch. Strengthen your core.
  4. Improve your core strength. The stronger your central muscles are, the less likely you will become injured. Moreover, the stronger you are, the faster you will likely recover from injury.
  5. Find a balance between work and relaxation. If you are a surgeon, limit the number of surgeries that you perform in a reasonable manner. If you are employed by a large corporation, make sure that you have the appropriate negotiation strategy to justify your worth. If you are self-employed, ask yourself how much money is worth it to you. Is it worth risking your well-being to perform an extra few appendectomies? Don’t be so sure.

What other strategies do you employ to maintain your mental and physical health?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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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