Health and Surgical Residency

11 Apr 2014

People like me are more interested in talking about healthy living than actually living it, since our lifestyles are often the direct opposite of healthy. This article is based on my experiences during residency and is meant to create a broader perspective of health.  I am going to categorize health into three systems: body, mind, and soul. All three systems are interdependent, and together in harmony, lead to a healthy lifestyle.

Physical Health

Breakfast is the most essential meal of the day and should not be missed, as the rest of the meals are not guaranteed in residency. Try to start your day with a good breakfast, and you will see the difference in your performance immediately. Keep water with you, and actually drink it. Snack with fruits and nuts instead of sugar-loaded food and drinks.

Don’t postpone bathroom breaks until they become emergencies. Physical exercise in the form of running, pull-ups, swimming, dancing, or playing your favorite game is refreshing. Remember anything is better than nothing. Stretching at the start of the day with yoga, even if it is for five minutes can make a huge difference.

Respect Sleep Hygiene. Try to sleep and wake up early. Sometimes we try to push ourselves to stay up late and study. Learning in this circumstance is usually sluggish at the best with minimal retention. On the other hand, being able to rest at the earliest when you need it the most is more natural and energizing. Early morning reading is usually more efficient and retentive. For night shifts, make a sleep schedule and follow it regularly. Don’t underestimate the power of a good shower at the start and end of your day.

Mental Health

At the start of the day, remind yourself of the love you have for the work you do and be thankful for getting this opportunity.

Remember to smile and even laugh. It’s infectious, creates positive energy, and prevents any burnout
Talk to someone like your mentor or a friend if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with work-related stress before it is too late. Try not to carry work-related issues back home where they can be injurious to the mental health of your family. Also have some time set aside for your family once in a day or in a week—whatever is possible. Don’t take your family members for granted, as their support is very valuable and they deserve your time too. Very little but pleasant family time reboots our mind for another challenging day ahead. Remember: residency is a marathon and perseverance matters a lot. Develop a mechanism to cope with complications and deaths on your service. If it’s not learnt during residency, the lack of an appropriate coping mechanism may blunt your professional progress post-residency and can make people quit, too. Discussing with your peers is very helpful in developing a better understanding on how to avoid complications if possible in future. Learn from others’ complications too.

Passive TV watching can be deleterious for mental health as it leaves you unsatisfied at the end wanting for more. However, doing activities of your interest like playing games/ cooking/ writing/ teaching/ etc. gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Be a better you everyday than wasting time in being better than someone else to avoid placing a limit on your own abilities. Constructive criticism from anyone is very helpful in that regard. Try and resist anger and arrogance as you grow through residency. Look at the most successful surgeon that you ever met and you will notice that they are the most humble people.

Spiritual Health

After listening to successful people of various fields, I have realized that the key to their happiness is staying connected to their inner self.

It not only makes them very focused, and hence, efficient in their work but also builds mental strength over a period of time. It is also very helpful in maintaining balance in work and family life. Most people following various paths achieve this state with meditation. It doesn’t have to be for days, hours, or even minutes. It can be as little as meditating a breath at a time. Regretting for our past mistakes or worrying too much about future makes us forget the beauty of now. I would strongly recommend listening to Google talks by Ekhart Tolle or reading his book, ‘Power of Now’. As we start living in the present, life becomes more beautiful and meaningful.

As a member of a health care delivery system, it is essential for us to strive for a healthy lifestyle and then lead the society by our own examples.

Bharti Jasra, MD is a medical graduate from India finishing up her General Surgery Residency at Saint Louis University Hospital. She is interested in specializing in Breast Surgical Oncology.

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