Doctor, take care of your health!

Let me be honest: I struggle with this issue – I didn’t see a dentist for the first 3 years of residency, which is frankly disgusting. The standard advice is to exercise, eat healthy, and sleep as much as you can, but it is hard to do when you work >80 hours a week. I sympathize. But there are still some things you can do that don’t take that much time.

Eat healthy. I love fat and protein, especially when I’m stressed, which is pretty much all the time in the hospital. But hopefully your cafeteria has some decently healthy food, or you can bring some from home. I would always rather have the bacon cheeseburger than the turkey sandwich without mayo, but I try and remind myself that I don’t need to eat every meal for enjoyment. One of the biggest drawbacks to eating healthy is, ironically, cost. I know you will be an underpaid resident, but suck it up. Someday you’ll be making 6 figures and you can pay off whatever debt you accumulate from getting those fresh vegetables on your salad.

Walk the stairs. I have a rule that I’ll walk anything less than 5 flights, and more if I’m not really busy. This is free exercise because waiting for an elevator is usually about the same amount of time anyway. Plus, research has demonstrated the significant positive benefits of even nonsustained aerobic exercise like this. Win–win.

Be disciplined with your sleep. When I first started internship, I would come home post call and “hang out,” sometimes the whole day. Even when I wasn’t post call, similar things would happen in the evening, and I wouldn’t get to bed until midnight or 1 AM. But I quickly learned how self-destructive it can be to not pay attention to my “sleep budget.” I know I need 7 hours to be rested. If I ignore those needs, my cognitive performance starts to deteriorate. Plus I just feel bad. And my GERD acts up, I get migraines, etc. So, I finally learned that I need to set a bedtime for myself and enforce it strictly. This can be particularly difficult if you have a partner with whom you are trying to spend time. But remember that you aren’t very fun to be around when you are exhausted anyway, and even less so when you develop major depression or an anxiety disorder (both incredibly common among residents). Residency is a marathon, not a sprint. Take the long view, and take care of your sleep.

Prioritize your loved ones. Time is short, and there are many other competing demands. Bills need paying, dinner needs cooking, and the list goes on. But one of the most sustaining and healthful uses of your time is to spend it with those you love, whether a spouse, significant other, family, or friends. While relationships are the most significant determinant of human well-being, be careful not to cast the net too wide. Your sister’s college roommate is in town? Forget it, you don’t have time. Your second cousin once removed? Too bad, you can catch up after residency. I know it sounds harsh, but spending time with them means you are spending less time with those who matter most.

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