Articles and Case Studies

Looking After Our Own Health

05 Dec 2014

by Dr Steve Hambleton

Outstretched hands offering support

The common belief is: “We don’t get sick, we treat sick people – and besides, we are too busy to go to a doctor.” Attitudes are changing and we are all off to a good start, but there is more to do.

It is vital that doctors and other health professionals look after their health and have their own GP. We need to be healthy to offer the best care to our patients, and to experience rewarding and satisfying careers.

“Research has consistently shown that doctors with healthy personal lifestyle habits are more likely to impart healthy behaviours to their patients.”

Sharing stories

Our own health issues were once taboo, but that is now changing. It is good for us to get together in the light – in the open – to share stories and to learn from each other’s experiences.

I have two short stories. One is about a highly respected colleague who developed chest pain in the middle of the night. He was an ex-smoker, morbidly obese, and with many other risk factors.

He woke up with central chest pain feeling sweaty and clammy – what did he do? He concluded he was suffering from indigestion and did not want to bother the ambulance or look foolish in front of his colleagues. So he waited until morning before he sought attention for what turned out to be a coronary occlusion.

The next is my story. Given that my major exercise is punching the keys on a computer, it is important for me to take my own advice about staying fit and getting regular exercise.

So I took a holiday recently and realised that fitness and I were not on the same page.

Upon walking up a “very steep hill” on Lord Howe Island, I took my pulse and found it was 192. If you take the standard formula for maximum heart rate of 220 – minus your age – mine is 168.

Was that a vague chest pain I was feeling? Then and there, I promised my wife that I would see my GP. I realised it was time for a check-up and time to restart the exercise program.

Staying well is not just about physical health

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Research has consistently shown that doctors with healthy personal lifestyle habits are more likely to impart healthy behaviours to their patients.

Work-life balance is important. It could be music; it could be writing; it could be bushwalking; it could be spending time with your family – but it’s not all about work.

I also find voluntary work very empowering and that is why I find the time to be the President of the AMA Queensland Foundation which has financially supported many worthwhile causes, including the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service. I should also pay tribute to the emerging medical profession for really highlighting these issues within the AMA.

Adopting a multidisciplinary approach

It is important that we adopt a multidisciplinary approach, especially in areas where stressors and barriers to health care are similar.

A good example of this is bullying and harassment in the workplace, where health professionals may witness events but don’t feel empowered to intervene.

The evidence is clear that workplace bullying contributes to poor employee health, including the physical and psychological manifestations of stress and depression.

However simple resilience programs can teach us effortless strategies to reduce and manage workplace bullying and harassment.

Overall, it is vital that healthcare professionals help one another to stay healthy, and offer support, encouragement and advice.

Dr Steve Hambleton
AMA Queensland Foundation President and former Federal AMA President

For more information on the work of the AMA Queensland Foundation, visit:

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