In 2010, longtime VGH anesthesiologist Dr. Himat Vaghadia was working over 50 hours a week and was not paying attention to what his body was telling him. He had low energy, daily pain, poor sleep and was gaining weight.
“That’s not unusual for physicians who work those kinds of hours,” Dr. Vaghadia told a group of VCH staff gathered for his recent Vancouver Physician Staff Association (VPSA) wellness presentation. “A JAMA study of 7,288 doctors who work 50-plus hours a week showed that 58 per cent reported emotional exhaustion, 50 per cent reported depersonalization, 45 per cent felt burnout, and 38 per cent experienced depression. How can we provide the best patient care when we aren’t looking after ourselves?”
Dr. Vaghadia’s family physician wanted to prescribe medication to help him with his health conditions. But Dr. Vaghadia asked for a six-week reprieve while he adjusted his lifestyle. The results were incredible and set him on a new mission: spreading the word about the benefits of exercise, nutrition, and finding meaning outside of work. His VPSA presentation cited research being conducted around the world.
“I encourage my colleagues to start by making small changes in their lifestyle; changes they can incorporate with only minor disruption to their lives,” he said. “A typical doctor walks 6,000 steps a day and some might think that’s enough exercise. But it’s not. Try taking the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator. Aim for 30 flights a week… I meet a lot of colleagues in the stairwell and it’s become a fun way to socialize.”
When it comes to nutrition, Dr. Vaghadia is a firm believer in following either the Mediterranean or a vegan diet. Both improve heart health and reduce cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer risks. Again, Dr. Vaghadia suggests starting with small changes: “Make a handful of nuts a day your snack; replace that low-fat muffin with some raw almonds. Just that can make a big difference.”
Long hours, intense training and tragic outcomes are just three causes of anxiety for physicians and Dr. Vaghadia points out that the BC Physician Health Program hotline receives 800 calls a year with physicians reporting martial stress as well as work-related and interpersonal pressures.
Just as Dr. Vaghadia made significant changes to his lifestyle eight years ago, he recommends his colleagues to “recalibrate your practice. Create your mission statement; think about the legacy you want to leave behind; name three items daily that you’re grateful for. Manage your time and money; slow down; develop spirituality; find meaning outside of work; learn to have fun!”
Facility Engagement Initiative events are one way physicians can find meaning and develop relationships outside of their day-to-day work. VPSA was established to improve the work environment for the Vancouver Community of Care. Get involved: join a committee andattend events.