The desire to help people get well, or stay well, is a prime motivator for those who choose a career in health care. Why then is it that those of us in health care ignore our own health? It is often stated that doctors, nurses and health care workers make the worst patients. Many of us are expert in explaining away our aches and pains as minor, avoiding age-specific health maintenance interventions, and being “too busy” to find time for exercise, good nutrition and relaxation. As a group, we have difficulty with work-life balance. To be absolutely clear, I put myself squarely in this camp, wrestling throughout my career with workaholic tendencies.
Why do I believe it is imperative for us as health care workers to focus on our own health and wellness? First, healthy individuals are productive workers. Our patients and community need us to be there for them in top form every hour of every day. Second, we are collectively Vermont’s academic medical center, and it is important for us to lead by example. In this era of health care reform, with a basic tenet being to shift the focus to maintaining health, many eyes are on us as an organization and individuals. Focusing on our own health reinforces the UVM Medical Center’s leadership position and each of us as health care leaders in the community.
About a year ago, we launched the first phase of our employee wellness campaign, “Know your Numbers.” Wanting to lead by example, I had my numbers checked—weight, blood pressure, screening blood work—and was mortified by the results. Virtually every category needed improvement, with the root cause an over-emphasis on professional work at the expense of all else, the good stuff like eating sensibly, exercising, and spending more time focused on family and friends. The resulting introspection led me to rebalance my life by pursuing physical activity more regularly, eating a healthy diet and trying to take time away from work to recharge. Having successfully worked to improve my own wellness (down about 30 pounds), I feel much better and believe I am more productive and effective.
I chose health care as a profession to assist people in staying healthy and to restore health when illness or injury strikes. It is with this same motivation that I fully support our collective efforts to focus on wellness. Please join me and take charge of your health!