Dr. Melody Ong is an emergency medicine resident finishing up her first year of residency. I had the pleasure of meeting her while on residency interviews last year and we hit it off! As we share similar interests, personalities, and opinions on wellness, I knew she would have something to contribute to say about staying healthy. Whether it be traveling to the World Cup to indulge in her favorite sport, or trekking through Patagonia in Southern Argentina, Dr. Ong strives to practice wellness even on her days off. Within her PGY-1 year, she has been able to consistently make time for all the things that help her stay healthy. Here’s how she does it!

  • Name: Melody Ong
  • Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • Current job(s): PGY-1 Emergency Medicine
  • One word that describes how you stay healthy: Balance
  • Primary behavior/activity for destressing: Cranking up my Bose speakers to play a thumping mix from my favorite DJs and occasionally taking a mini dance break!

What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?

  1. Eating and sleeping well. I make sure I eat at least three balanced full meals a day, while snacking throughout the day. Gone are the undergrad days where I could pull all-nighters. When I am not on call for an off-service rotation, I will try to get around 7 hours of sleep as I have found that that is the ideal amount for me. I ensure that my bed is for sleeping only, and I will try not to do work in bed (e.g. read a textbook or use my laptop).
  2. Staying physically active. I try to hit up the gym as regularly as possible. It feels great to sweat and continue on the adrenaline rush from a great shift (or to pound out the frustration from a not-so-good shift). Having been a competitive soccer player for most of my life, I  keep up with the sport by playing regularly on a co-ed team and in pick-up games with the guys.
  3. Music. Whether it is playing my piano, searching for new music on internet blogs, experimenting with music mixing software on my computer, or attending a music event live, music plays an integral part in keeping me mentally healthy. Simply put, I am a music fanatic and I always have music playing through some sort of device! The music I listen to typically includes heavy beats, drops, and strong chord progressions to pump me up before shifts and help me mentally after heavy academic days.

What’s your ideal workout?

My ideal work-out includes a mix of running and resistance-training. I am not currently training for any races so I typically run around 5 km or 25 minutes then work out a particular muscle group (e.g. legs, back, or chest).

melody with her children

Nothing like a quick pick-up game of football in Brazil during the 2014 World cup.

Do you track your fitness? How?

I do not track my fitness and work-outs very formally. I can usually remember what I worked on last and try to make a note on my Google calendar of what muscle group I worked on that day. If I go for runs outside I use the MapMyRun app to log my route, time, and progress. However, it is a bit too cold where I am for that to do that for much of the year!

How do you prepare for a night shift? How do you recover from one?

As a junior resident with limited experience in Emergency Medicine, I am still trying to develop a proper routine for the night shift. We will typically have no more than 2 to 3 night shifts in a row. I always take a nap just before my first night shift. My sleeping routine for the day after depends on what I have planned. If I have something to attend to in the morning, I will stay up, try to get some work done, get my meeting or activity over with, and crash once I get home. If I have nothing planned for the morning I eat a rewarding breakfast and then force myself to sleep. That means sleeping in the dark with an eye mask and ear plugs (it can get quite noisy around my neighborhood during the day).

How do you avoid getting “hangry” (angry due to hunger) on shift?

I usually come prepared with extra snacks, both healthy and the occasional unhealthy one for a sugar boost. I like snacking on cereal, yogurt, and fruits. However, I have to admit, chocolate is my vice and I will allow myself to have a few bite-sized bars from time to time. My scrub pocket is unfortunately too small to stash snacks and I do not wear a white coat, so when there is a break in between seeing patients I run and grab a snack so I can briefly re-fuel.

How do you ensure you are mentally in check?

I can sense when I am out of balance and not in check because it affects my work performance. I will not be on my A-game and find myself getting frustrated and forgetting simple things. When this happens, I take action to get myself back to an equilibrium, so that things do not spiral downward any further. I am very blessed to have an incredibly supportive residency program with seniors and program directors who are always available to chat and help. As residents, I think there is a strong stigma associated with asking for help with many people seeing it as a sign of weakness or failure, or thinking that it will jeopardize future career opportunities. However, I try to remember that my program wants me to succeed and become the best Emergency Physicians out there, so they will provide support me when I need it.

What are the biggest challenges you face in maintaining a longstanding career in EM? How do you address these challenges?

Being able to maintain physical and mental wellness will be one of the biggest challenges I face, especially as I become more senior and eventually start working as an attending. What I am currently doing as a junior resident to stay healthy seems to be working, and I plan on keeping up with these activities so that it becomes second nature. This also helps develop resilience against the unpredictable curveballs that life throws at me.

Best advice you have received for maintaining health?

Remember to give time to yourself. There is only so much time in one day. Studying hours on end or diving straight into work right after coming home from a long day at the hospital is not very effective or productive. Setting aside dedicated time daily to allow for myself to mentally and physically re-charge, even if it is just half-an-hour, is key in helping me maintain health. This then translates in to better productivity and an overall happier self.

Who would you love for us to track down to answer these questions?

Ryan Tam
Chau Pham
Sean Fair

Zafrina Poonja, MD

Zafrina Poonja, MD

Editor, How I Stay Healthy in EM series
Emergency Medicine Resident
University of Alberta
Zafrina Poonja, MD

@zafrinapoonja

Emergency Medicine Resident. Assistant Editor @ALiEMteam. Lover of travel, soccer, and boat shoes.