AMA makes physician health a priority

A guest column by the American Medical Association, exclusive to

As physicians, we prioritize the health of others often at the expense of our own health. Our patients’ health is our priority and why we chose the profession of medicine. The International Conference on Physician Health, held earlier this month in Chicago, gave physicians the opportunity to make their health a priority and provided them with tools to make healthy decisions for themselves long after the conference concluded.

The conference was sponsored by the American Medical Association, British Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association to highlight health risks for physicians and promote a culture of wellness, while reducing the stigma associated with poor health in physicians. It served as a forum for health care professionals and researchers to present recent findings, innovative treatments and educational programs in various areas of physician health.

This year’s conference agenda focused on addressing four areas: physician burnout and peer support, physician health linked to quality and patient safety, workplace wellness and physical and mental health and well-being. For those unable to attend the conference, full abstracts of the studies and research presented in each of these areas are available on the AMA web site.

When asked what my top tip is for maintaining good health among physicians, it’s the same tip I would give my patients: get moving. Physical activity contributes greatly to overall physical and mental well-being. I recently wrote a blog about the walking routine I’ve maintained for years. This four-to-six mile route not only helps keep me in good physical health, but allows me to focus my thoughts and prepare for the day ahead.

Physicians tend to have long work hours that can lead to lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits and undue stress. Keeping tabs on mental health is just as important as maintaining good physical health. Take some time to assess where you are mentally at the end of a work shift or the end of the week. Is it just normal fatigue or something more?

With multiple competing demands on our time, it can be difficult to make time for ourselves, but it’s imperative physicians make their health a priority. By finding an appropriate work-life balance and learning effective ways to deal with stress, physicians can be at their best and give their best to patients. Research shows that when a physician adopts a healthier lifestyle—be it increased physical activity, eating better, losing weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake—they are more likely to ask patients the right questions related to those behaviors when they are doing a history and physical exam. Improved physician health also helps to enhance patient care. A healthy, mentally alert physician can better care for patients.

Take some time today to do something healthful for yourself – take a walk, remedy a stressful situation, eat a healthy lunch – you’ll be a better physician, spouse, family member and friend because of it.

Cecil B. Wilson is President of the American Medical Association.

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