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Voices: Saving the oncologist one step at a time: My wellness strategy | Nathalie McKenzie, MD, MSPH

Jun 20, 2018

Saving the oncologist one step at a time: My wellness strategy | Nathalie McKenzie, MD, MSPH

I am a 14-year cancer survivor, the daughter of a cancer survivor and a mid-career gynecologic oncologist. I am therefore ever conscious of the fragility of human life. Yet, I have no fear. With grounded confidence all of us can adapt and persevere.

Nathalie Dauphin McKenzie, MD, MSPH

Ambition, drive, intelligence, and social IQ cannot change certain unfortunate circumstances, but how we proceed—-how we adapt and persevere—could make all the difference. Take, for example, the increasing rates of physician burn out in our society [1]. How can we adapt and persevere in the current physician employment landscape—one that some claim is associated with poor health for our physicians?

Here are some examples of what my husband (an entrepreneur turned life coach) and I do to protect ourselves and our young children from outside pressures. Our strategy is to arm ourselves with some key defense tactics such as enhanced nutrition, physical and mental fitness training, stress reduction and goal setting.

Let’s start with meals. Dodging the plethora of unhealthy drinks and meals offered at work cafeterias, hotels and restaurants was crucial and may have had the single greatest impact on our health as a family. The goal was to eliminate processed foods, fried foods, sugary drinks and those with artificial sweeteners [2]. We soon realized that we had to develop some “On the go” options such as raw vegetables, mixed nuts, fresh fruits, and good fats [2]. Water is our go-to drink.

We then developed a mental fitness strategy incorporating meditation, mindfulness and positive affirmations to stay focused on our goals and reduce stress [3,4]. We immediately saw the positive effects in every aspect of our lives including parenting, marriage, and career. Just 15 minutes to decompress at critical times in the day will have a big impact.

We also started waking up earlier in the morning, before the kids rose, to do a 15- to 30-minute High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) routine [5.6]. We even have a workout for the beach, hotel room, stairwell at the hospital—no excuses! We have a version for pretty much ANYWHERE.

Finally, adequate sleep [7]. In order to get adequate sleep, however, we had to free up some time. This is where staying focused and efficient comes in. Upon closer examination, I found that many commitments made over time were not getting me any closer to my two-, five-, or 10-year goals. Constantly forcing myself to stay on track and focused now allows me to objectively triage offers and responsibilities and only commit to those that position me on the path to achieving my personal short- and long-term goals.

Although my strategy is just one example of many, I hope that it will serve as a catalyst for some of our readers. I encourage my fellow health care providers to put the same thought, research, and hard work towards optimizing your own overall health and survival as you have done for your patients and while building your careers.

Nathalie Dauphin McKenzie, MD, MSPH, is a gynecologic oncologist at Florida Hospital Medical Group in Orlando, FL.

Suggested reading

  1. Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018, online January 17, 2018. 
  2. Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? Mark Hyman, MD, 2018
  3. Understanding Stress and Mental Fitness: Techniques for Building Resilience, Jaymie Meyer, corporatewellnessmagazine.com
  4. Yoga, Meditation and Mind-Body Health: Increased BDNF, Cortisol Awakening Response, and Altered Inflammatory Marker Expression after a 3-Month Yoga and Meditation Retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017; 11. Cahn et al.
  5. Where Does HIT Fit? An Examination of the Affective Response to High-Intensity Intervals in Comparison to Continuous Moderate- and Continuous Vigorous-Intensity Exercise in the Exercise Intensity-Affect Continuum, M. Jung PLOS Dec 2014
  6. Science Shows Only This Workout Can Actually Make You Younger. Jill Brown, Huffingtonpost.com, May 2017
  7. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, Mathew Walker, PhD, October 2017