By Dr. Jaime D. Lewis
The Clinical Practice Committee is again submitting a series of blog articles regarding a topic of common interest. Domains of wellness are variably defined and may be considered to include: occupational, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical. In this blog, I focus on the physical domain.
As a trainee, I found it difficult to schedule personal appointments and set a schedule for eating and working out. As a medical student, I often couldn’t even figure out when I’d be able to go to the restroom next. How could I plan meals and health care appointments? As a resident, I exercised very little except as during my two years of research. My diet at the hospital consisted of peanut butter and graham crackers. I nearly burned my house down one post-call day when I fell into a deep sleep on the couch waiting for ramen noodles to cook. If I had taken them as a trainee, my wellness inventory would have been sparse and my burnout level high.
As a junior attending with a young family and a multitude of stressors, I felt the full impact of self-neglect. After a very challenging period of time and with some help, I recognized that I must make personal wellness a priority. Though it sometimes feels selfish and self-indulgent, I am fully aware that I cannot take care of others if I do not take care of myself first. Family needs are my primary concerns and my clinical and educational responsibilities are quite important, but meals, physical activity, and activities that support my physical and mental health are prioritized on my daily schedule. When I talk to patients and students about physical activity and diet recommendations, I know that I am following many of them and working to improve in areas where I am lagging.
In addition to maintaining healthy habits outside of the hospital, it is important to recognize the physical impact of our jobs on our bodies. In recovering from a chronic injury that I thought was due to long distance running, I discovered (with the help of the physical therapist I initially fought so hard to avoid due to the time commitment required to undergo treatment) that the injury stemmed in large part from my occupation. With my physical therapist and a personal trainer, I have worked on strength training and body position awareness, now take short breaks while operating to allow fatigued muscles a moment to recover, and often work at a standing desk in my office. I have started to talk to my trainees about the impact of our jobs on our long-term physical capacity to facilitate their understanding of the importance of ergonomics.
While I have generally been able to set my own priorities and thus limits at this point in my career, there are many social and organizational barriers to wellness. For medical students and residents, I am encouraged by the requirement for programs to support trainee wellness. It can be hard to get all of the recommended activities and foods in daily. Thus, it’s important to recognize the value of 30 minutes of physical activity a few times a week and a healthy plant-based meal on the weekend. As an attending, it is possible to block out personal health days just as one would block out vacation or education days. It might also be possible to manage your schedule to go to the gym or take a run or walk several days a week. In “finding time” to do the things that contribute to wellness, it is imperative to manage the free time that does exist.
I encourage each of us to evaluate our personal levels of physical wellness to determine if we are on a trajectory that will support longevity and fitness or if changes might improve that path.
Dr. Jaime D. Lewis (in pink in the photo running Moonbow 50k in 2019) is an Associate Professor in the Division of Surgery Oncology and a Career Advisor in Student Affairs at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she also completed her general surgery residency. After residency, she spent a year in Tampa, Florida training in breast surgical oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center. Her practice is dedicated to the care of those with diseases of the breast. Dr. Lewis is also committed to improving wellness and professional development opportunities for those who pursue careers in surgery. Outside of the hospital, she is an avid road and trail runner and loves nothing more than spending time with her family. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @JaimeDLewisMD.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and, as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.