Physician health warrants more focus during season of sickness

Influenza is in. Patients line waiting room walls. Vaccinations sit sharp and at the ready. Now is definitely not the time for the doctor to be out.

Much has been said regarding the wellbeing of the general populace as this year’s season of sickness takes its aggressive hold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established maps and apps with distinct outbreak-pinpointing capabilities and dropdown access to important prevention tactics aimed at defusing the enervated masses. Clinics of all sizes have swung their doors wide and far to accommodate all active pursuers of the flu shot. Medical staffers of all ranks spend their days coaching and caring for the afflicted, putting themselves directly in the fever’s line of fire to make sure their jobs gets done.

All such acts are proper and sound — they should not be taken lightly. But there has got to be more than a momentarily backwards glance paid to the health of healthcare’s finest. At some point, physicians and other professionals in the field need to practice what they treat and take the time to care for themselves. After all, the only thing worse than a patient being sick (from a patient’s perspective, no less) is their doctor falling ill, mentally or physically.

“As physicians, we all have a responsibility to maintain our physical and mental health,” wrote AMA president Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, in a commentary piece for American Medical News. “Multiple studies have shown that physicians who are mentally and physically fit are far better able to take care of patients. Additionally, physicians who are fit are more likely to counsel their patients toward healthier lifestyles — and more likely to be listened to.”

Not only should physicians and their co-workers be taking enough time and preventative measures to gird themselves against trending illnesses, they should be blocking off slots in their calendars for fitness and psychological leisure as well. What’s more, the cared-for clientele should allow for such activities.

“I know that lifestyle issues can be difficult to bring up with patients,” Lazarus concluded. “However, it is far more of a challenge to have these conversations with patients if we haven’t had a similar conversation with ourselves first. If you are one of those men or women who keeps promising yourself that “someday soon” you will stop, take stock and change your habits. I suggest that now is the time. We are still early in the new year, which is historically when people do make plans to move forward in a different direction.”

So docs: Get your flu shot, take a short jaunt at lunch and make sure to submit to short spurts of alone time throughout the day to de-stress. As fellow humans doing our best to be well, we patients will understand. Heck, we may even be more apt to join you.