How our jobs are killing us

Editor’s note: Today’s Post is from our PhREI Network founder, Daniel Shin MD, at The Darwinian Doctor.

There is no question that the Physician lifestyle is stressful. You work long hours, experience continuous emotional trauma, sleep little and eat poorly. But many of consider this part of the “job”… Dr. Shin points out that our “jobs” are more than stressful they can actually be deadly if we don’t pay attention.

We all know that we need to sleep, exercise and eat better. Mindfulness and gratitude are also important for our mental maintenance. Dr. Shin provides a great reminder with this post that we need to take care of ourselves… That may mean working less or simply incorporating new behaviors into our routines, such has packing lunches and taking the stairs. Either way, it is important to take care of your personal and mental health.

Working less and FI may help but only if you use your new found free time on personal activities like travel, rest, exercising etc…. Don’t fill your free time with different work…. Real Estate, Blogging, coaching, these will just result in the same problems. Learn to find your balance….

Originally published May 30, 2021 by The Darwinian Doctor

In today’s post, I talk about how our jobs are killing us, slowly but surely.

How our jobs are killing us

I’m turning 40 years of age later this year. As I’m now middle aged, I’ve decided to try to take my health more seriously.

So a few weeks ago, I visited a primary care physician.  We talked about some nagging hip pain, my worsening heartburn, and my historically high cholesterol levels. 

The physician I saw was a trim male with salt pepper gray hair, and could have been anywhere from his late 40s to his mid 50s.  He was great.  We addressed all my problems one by one, and then I visited the lab for some bloodwork.  

Here are the lab results that concerned me:

  • Fasting glucose: 110 mg/dL (normal 70-99)
  • Total cholesterol: 204 mg/dL (normal < 199)
  • LDL cholesterol: 137 (normal < 99)

If health is wealth, I’m getting poorer

These labs show that I’m prediabetic and have high cholesterol.

My labs have been trending this way for a while, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. But to actually see the numbers on the screen was a big wakeup call. Now I’m newly committed to eating better, sleeping more, and exercising more.  

But as I’ve considered how to actually pull this off, one big stumbling block comes to mind:  my job.

Jobs aren’t just about the pay

Let’s start out by stating the obvious — I’m very lucky to have a job at all, especially a surgeon job that pays me well.  I get a lot of satisfaction from my job. But as I consider the effect my job has on my ability to achieve a healthy lifestyle, I start to feel less fortunate.

Because the quality of a job isn’t just about how much it pays you for your time and effort. It’s also about how well that job supports your desired lifestyle and well being.

Unfortunately, there are a few ways that my job negatively affects my health. 

My weight

I’ve been carrying around an extra 10-15 pounds for the last 5 years, ever since I started my job.  My job isn’t all to blame, of course. But it doesn’t help. 

Although I move around in the clinic and I typically am standing in the OR, my job is very sedentary.  I spend much more time with my toosh planted at my desk, charting on the computer, than I do walking between patient rooms.  

My commute is much better now that I have my Tesla (especially after Covid-19).  But I’m still spending about 8 hours a week driving back and forth to work. I drive even more when I’m on call and bouncing between two hospitals.

So between the time I’m just typing in the EMR or in my car driving, I’m sitting for the vast majority of the week.  

With the low quality of food options at work (and the fast food while on night call), I’m usually struggling to keep my weight at a healthy level.  

Our jobs are killing us by making us overweight

We know that being overweight is bad for your health.  In the United States, up to 70% of us are overweight and therefore have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Read more on this from the CDC.

But did you know that it also increases your risk of cancer?

According to a study out of the UK of over 400,000 people, being overweight is associated with a higher risk of many cancers. Specifically, there’s a higher risk of cancer of the liver, kidney, stomach, pancreatic, bladder, and gallbladder cancer. Also, colorectal cancer, endometrial, uterine, and breast cancer risk is also higher.

The more overweight you are, the higher your risk of these cancers.

Read more from BMC Medicine

Long work hours and stress

My work schedule is fairly set at about 50-60 hours a week, depending on my call schedule.  When you add on the commute, that’s a reliable 60-65 hours a week I devote to my job. And since taking on the Chief role in my department, I’d say my average stress level at work has increased by about 30%.

Those extra hours of work directly translate into a bigger paycheck, which I’m using to fuel my real estate empire.

But at what cost?

Our jobs are killing us with overwork and stress

Interesting research this year has shown that working more than 55 hours a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of heart attack.

Read more from the World Health Organization.

How about work stress? Compared to the folks who don’t have work stress, you’ve got about a 10-40% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to a review of the data in 2015.

Read more from Current Cardiology Reports

Not all of my stress is from work, of course.  I get a good bit of stress when I’m trying to lock down a real estate deal, for example.  I also experience some level of background stress from the weekly countdown to my next blog post!

But if I had to think about my stress as a pie chart, I’d attribute at least 75% of my day to day stress to my job.  It turns out that running a department of surgical subspecialists (while also taking care of patients of my own) is not a walk in the park!  Even with really incredible support from my administrative team, it’s a tough balancing act between department finances, access to patient care, doctor satisfaction, and human relationship drama.

Sleep 

This is a big one.  When I’m on overnight call at the hospital, I probably get about two hours of sleep on a really bad night and 6 hours of sleep on a good night.  Perhaps it’s a surgical emergency that needs my consultation, or a flurry of midnight nursing calls for pain medication or antacids.  Regardless, when I’m on call I don’t sleep very much.  

But according to my iPhone, I don’t sleep much in general anyway.  I’m not on call every night, so I can’t blame that.  But I do stubbornly put off sleep at night to unwind from the stresses of the day. As we discussed above, the vast majority of my stress is job related.

Average time in bed
Average time in bed

Our jobs are killing us with sleep deprivation

Unfortunately, sleeping less than 7 hours a night is really bad for you.

A study out of Japan collated the data, and showed that sleeping 6 hours or less a night gives you a:

  • 1.3x higher risk of developing congestive heart failure
  • 1.7x higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus
  • 1.65x higher risk of dying (all causes)

Read more from Current Cardiology Reviews

Sound familiar?

If your work hours and sleep numbers are similar to mine, take note of the data above.  I think it’s safe to say that our jobs are killing us!

Our jobs are making us more likely to get cancer, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and just flat out die.

But realistically, we all need the money from our jobs to pay the bills.  And many of us genuinely enjoy and find satisfaction from our jobs.  

So what are we supposed to do?

Financial independence

If you’ve read any of my writing, this is no surprise.  Achieving financial independence will put you in the driver’s seat.  You can choose how much, or how little to work.  You can find that perfect balance between professional satisfaction and personal fulfilment outside of work.  You can finally break free from your golden handcuffs.

I plan to achieve this within the next 10 years, despite a moFIRE level of discretionary spending.  

Real estate and stocks are my chosen vehicles on the journey to financial independence, but they don’t have to be yours.

Spend less than you make.  Invest your money.  It can be as simple as that. 

For the finer details, think about your desired timeline to FIRE. This will help determine the appropriate level of risk and effort for your investing. 

Read more: The 3 simple steps to achieve FIRE

But what do we do now?  

For most of us, it will still be quite some time before we’re financially independent. But you don’t have to wait to make healthy changes to your current work day.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve been trying to do, or might plan to do in the near future:

  • Take the stairs
  • Pushups and situps in between patients
  • Drink a nutritious shake on the way to work
  • Bring healthy snacks to prevent hangry carb loading
  • Practice mindfulness to decrease stress
  • Cut back on extraneous work hours 

If you think about your day to day, I bet you can also come up with a short list of small changes that will slightly improve your health.  A lot of slight improvements can really add up over time

Actually cutting back on work hours can be tough.  As a leader in my department, I need to strike a balance between demonstrating an inspiring work ethic and also showing a commitment to work-life balance and health.  It’s a tough needle to thread.

Conclusion

Much of what I related above probably applies to you as well.  I hope you understand now how our jobs are killing us.

Collectively, our jobs contribute to our country’s weight problems, high stress levels, and sleep deprivation.  These factors contribute to higher rates of everything from heart attacks to cancer and death.  

If you don’t want these things, join me in taking action to a healthier work week and financially independent future.  

–TDD

Do you have a healthy work week, or are you in the same boat as I am? Please comment below and subscribe for my weekly newsletter!

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