Charity begins at home: Look after your health first

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Doctors often neglect their health because of the increasing demands of their profession. There is a common perception among the public that doctors are never ill. But, this is not true.

Learning on the job gives doctors their clinical skills, which help them to practice medicine safely and in an effective manner. But, at the same time, doctors are also exposed to factors that are potential health risks such as exposure to infections (HIV, TB, hepatitis B and C) and radiation, long and unregulated working hours, high work load, poor sleep quality or sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, work-related stress.

A study published last year had found that most healthcare workers with an acute respiratory illness have worked during most episodes of their illness, putting their patients and coworkers at risk for infection.

No other profession faces public allegations or undergoes public scrutiny as much as the medical profession does. Violence against doctors has become commonplace in India.

All these factors not only have an impact on physical health, they also adversely affect motivation and mental health.

As a result, compared to other occupations, doctors are at a higher risk of burnout, which though very prevalent among the medical fraternity has largely been ignored by everyone for a long time.

Burn-out has been defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It has been classified as an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition. Burnout is characterized by:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

In its 2015 statement on Physician well-being, the World Medical Association (WMA) has described physician well-being as “the optimization of all factors affecting biological, psychological and social health and preventing or treating acute or chronic diseases experienced by physicians including mental illness, disabilities and injuries resulting from work hazards, occupational stress and burnout”.

Till the several factors that influence the working conditions of doctors are addressed by the concerned authorities, doctors should take care of their own health.

The Revised Declaration of Geneva adopted in 2017, called the Physician’s Pledge, adopted by the WMA also reiterates “I will attend to my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.”

Physician well-being is important not only for doctors themselves, but also for their patients.

Charity begins at home. Look after your health first.

Dr KK Aggarwal

Padma Shri Awardee

President Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)

Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications

President Heart Care Foundation of India

Past National President IMA