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  • Writer's pictureLaura Vater

(trying to) Stay healthy in the hospital

With break rooms filled with sugar, high levels of stress, sleep deprivation, and lots of sedentary tasks, working in the hospital doesn’t exactly promote the health of clinicians. Here some strategies that have helped me try to stay healthy while working in the hospital:

1. Nourish your body with things grown in the ground.

If I wait until I’m hungry, then decide what to eat, it’s a RECIPE FOR DISASTER. So I plan ahead, and it’s worth every minute. It actually saves me time. I bring a lunch box every day. Inside it has a large bottle of water, a mug and loose-leaf green tea, a healthy lunch (usually a whole grain like quinoa with veggies and beans), snacks (apples or other fruit, mixed nuts, popcorn), and reusable utensils. On call, I also bring dinner, more snacks, sparking water, & chocolate.

Your body thrives on whole food. And you deserve to eat well, even during a chaotic season of your life. It's worth a little extra effort to nourish your body.

2. Find creative ways to be active.

In medical training, we spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I try to exercise before or after work, but sometimes there just are not enough hours in the day. If I'm working nights or a long shift, I get creative. When my work is complete and there is a lull, I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes, and hit the stairs in my scrubs. If I get called or paged during this impromptu workout, I stop to address it. I also stop the timer.

When I have time again, I go to the stairwell and resume the timer and my workout. I often listen to music or an audiobook, which is likewise therapeutic. Sometimes I'll add leg lifts, pushups, or planks at the top stairwell. On occasion, my colleagues will join me. And sometimes we'll use resistance bands if we're feeling ambitious.

I know you are wondering: Am I sweaty afterwards? Yes. Do I smell bad? Probably. I bring a change of undershirt/scrub top and deodorant with me, this helps.

3. Identify a quiet space for reflection

In your training, you will have hard days. You will be stretched beyond your limits. You will face physical and emotional exhaustion, and you will take care of very sick patients. Sometimes these patients will die.

It is essential that we find places at work where we can be alone and reflect. I've found that it helps to identify these places in advance. Maybe it's a hospital chapel, or a small conference room, or the window by the stairwell. Maybe it's a rooftop garden, or the meditation room, or your call room.

It is essential that you have a place to be alone and process what you are experiencing.

4. Know the people who can help during crisis.

Sleep deprivation and high-levels of stress are often a recipe for poor mental health. Dark days can creep up on us, ever so subtly.

It is essential that we know the people and resources at our programs who can help. Counselors, chief residents, other friends in residency training.

If you don't feel like yourself, it is not your fault, and you are not alone. Seek support. And support your colleagues, too.


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