Klaus Morales: Can doctors be healthy AND happy?

Klaus Morales “Work is central to wellbeing, and certain features correlate highly with happiness.” Tony Delamothe (BMJ  2005;331:1489-1490). Agree. But to what extent? I just got home from a whole day of activities and duties at the hospital and let’s say – a bit of bla bla blas.

Yes, I am a junior doctor, but not a “F number” doctor. Medical training in Brazil includes six years of graduation and, only if you wish to do so, a residency program. It looks quite simple at first glance, but isn’t so simple in practice. I am an aspiring specialist in anaesthesia in my first year of training. And yes, I am a bit tired already (certainly not unusual for junior doctors worldwide).

Being a doctor is quite different from being a medical editor, a job that I took on within the BMJ Group as editor of the studentBMJ in 2006. No more wine next door at 5 pm, no more phone calls to authors in Asia or Africa or the US or anywhere in the world everyday, no more interesting discussions about novelties in medicine and definitely no more caramels on Friday afternoons (as Jessie Colquhoun, the current editor of Student BMJ pointed out in her first blog entry). Let’s not forget about the stressful deadlines too! On the other hand, being a doctor has also involved many positive experiences; loads of practical work, rewarding patient contact and challenging cases.

But what really made me sit down and write this blog entry was to realise, after almost nine months of being a fully qualified doctor, that I am an unhealthier individual nowadays. Why on earth do we choose to take care of other people’s health (of course not always being 100% successful) while giving up some of our own? I have my personal reasons and of course you have yours, but almost everyone agrees that it is almost impossible not to feel physically and emotionally drained after up to 14 hours a day of intense work, with not unusually a 30 minute-break for lunch? No Latin American Working Time Directives around here fellas… and even if it existed, I bet it would solely be theoretical!

When I have a bit of energy left to drive to the gym, just the thought of exercising on the treadmill makes me want to rush home and go to bed to be able to start all over again the next morning. I know I am sounding pessimistic here – it’s great to be able to work and Delamothe’s quote is really appropriate. I know it is almost a sin to complain, considering the Catholic guilt most Brazilians are raised around, but doctors including juniors, consultants and professors, need better quality time at work and outside of work. I would say “work is central to wellbeing, and it’s even better when you are feeling healthier.”

I am six kilos heavier, I can’t concentrate as well as I did in the past, my anxiety levels are as high as the Sears Tower and I am still happy. I just feel that I have the potential to be healthier, but clueless about how to do it. I am sure time will give me the answer, as soon as I adapt to this new routine (in fact, it is a matter of adapting to a whole new life). Isn’t it?

It would be nice to hear from juniors around the world – does the European Working Time Directive make training in the UK any better or worse? Are doctors in Spain allowed to indulge in their siestas? Is it true that US residents are required to be on a 72 hour shift every week? How is it to be a junior doctor in the Middle East? Any tips on how to lose 6 kilos let’s say, in a month?

Klaus Morales is a former Student BMJ Editor who now works as a junior doctor in Brazil.