Dr. Anand “Swami” Swaminathan (@EMSwami) is an emergency physician at the Ronald O. Perelman Emergency Department at NYU and Bellevue hospitals in New York City. He is the co-host and assistant editor of EM:RAP, course director for The Teaching Course, and editor-in-chief for the Core EM site. Despite being stretched among numerous projects, Swami does his best to stay sane and healthy by helping raise three children with his amazing wife, and finding time to exercise and eat well. Check out how he stays healthy in emergency medicine!
- Name: Anand Swaminathan
- Location: New York, NY
- Current job(s): Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Ronald O. Perelman Emergency Department
- One word that describes how you stay healthy: Prioritization
What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?
Exercise body and mind everyday, spend time with my family, and try not to take things too seriously.
What’s your ideal workout?
Long distance running. I make time to get out for a run almost every morning regardless of my schedule. Occasionally (1-2 times a year), I’ll take a day off, but I find that running keeps me centered and makes me more productive. I never run with music because long distance running allows the mind to wander and (if I’m lucky) enter an almost meditative state.
Do you track your fitness? How?
I use a GPS watch to ensure I’m running as far as I think I’m running and to maintain a reasonable pace, but I don’t keep track of mileage from week to week. Too much time spent tracking exercise turns it into a chore.
How do you prepare for a night shift? How do you recover from one?
The honest truth is I’m still working on figuring this out. But every month I think I get a little better at it. I work 3 nights in a row when I do nights. The day of my first overnight, I wake at the usual time, go for a run, and spend as much time as I can with my kids. After lunch, I take a nap (60-90 minutes) and then do run of the mill family stuff, eat dinner, put the kids to bed, and then take another nap (90 minutes). After that, grab a coffee, snack, and head in to work.
After my overnight, I go for a run (and when possible, watch the kids for a bit to give my wife a break and let her get in a workout as well). After that, breakfast and off to bed. I’ll wake up to have dinner with the kids, and spend some time with the family before grabbing a nap.
After my last overnight, I find that if I sleep too long during the day, I can’t sleep at night. So I sleep a couple hours during the day and then do my regular activities the rest of the day.
Having a cool, dark, and most importantly, quiet place to sleep is critical for all of this to work. With three kids running around, my wife and I invested in a small office in the basement where I can hunker down for that quiet rest without interfering with the family going about their lives as well.
How do you avoid getting “hangry” (angry due to hunger) on shift?
Lots of snacks. It used to just be whatever I could get my hands on, but now it’s healthy foods like cut up vegetables, salads, yogurt, and granola bars. These snacks not only keep my blood sugar up but mentally, I feel better about myself for being healthy.
Though it’s not food, plenty of fluids is crucial too. It’s easy to get dehydrated working a string of overnights. Plenty of water and occasional caffeine to keep things moving.
How do you ensure you are mentally in check?
Before I start a shift, I take a couple of minutes to do some yoga breathing. This helps to clear my mind of all of the things going on outside of work, so that I can focus on taking care of the patients in front of me, and teaching the residents. The last thing I need during a busy shift is to be distracted by personal issues. I shut off my email alerts as well. The key is to focus on where you are and what you are doing.
What are the biggest challenges you face in maintaining a longstanding career in EM? How do you address these challenges?
There’s a real crisis coming in medicine. We’re already seen good doctors burn out and move on to other things. Over the years, I’ve realized that it’s not the patients that are causing this, but rather non-clinical expectations. Administrative issues can often drain our time and mental capacity. Since this is unlikely to change in the near future, what are we to do? When I get frustrated about nuisance emails, idiotic documentation, training requirements, and pointless meetings, I focus back on why I went into EM in the first place: the patients. We have been given an incredible honor and duty to serve people. Everyday, we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. There are few people outside of the world of medicine who get to say that everyday when they walk in to work. When I focus on that, everything else slips away. As long as I do what is right for the patient in front of me, I’ve had a good day.
Best advice you have received for maintaining health?
Define your priorities clearly. This has to be individualized. There were a couple of years early on out of residency, where I was traveling a lot and was always tired and stressed at home. I’ve taken a lot of time to prioritize family and then build everything else around that.
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