Dr. Heather Farley is an emergency physician from Newark, DE. She has the unique position of being the Director of Provider Wellbeing at the Institute for Learning Leadership and Development (iLEAD). Dr. Farley is definitely a champion of wellness. From staying active, to eating healthy, and ensuring she makes time for herself, she definitely makes wellness a priority. Her attitude of trying new things and always challenging herself, is something we should all try! Here’s how she stays healthy in EM!


  • Name: Heather Farley, MD, FACEPheather farley
  • Location: Christiana Care Health System, Newark, DE
  • Current job(s): Director of Provider Wellbeing, Institute for Learning, Leadership, and Development (iLEAD). Emergency Physician, Christiana Care Health System. Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.
  • One word that describes how you stay healthy: Self-care
  • Primary behavior/activity for destressing: Playing with my 2 dogs

What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?

  1. Exercise. I am pretty religious about getting in at least 45 min of cardio (running, swimming, or biking) 5 days/week. I am trying to work in more weight training, but I find that less enjoyable, so I’m still struggling with finding the right balance.
  2. Eating healthy. That means lots of veggies and healthy fats. I try to limit my carbs, and go heavier on protein, good fats (I love coconut milk in my coffee), and vegetables. I have found that I have more sustained energy, and less irritability than when I eat a diet heavier on carbs. I say “try”, because my achilles heel is chocolate. And graham crackers. And Goldfish. It’s a work in progress….
  3. Vacation. My husband and I use all of our allotted vacation time every year. Yes, we use 1 week to attend a conference, but other than that we prioritize using the rest of the time to get away. We find “stay-cations” less effective, since it’s so easy to get sucked into work obligations or doing household chores. We try to find places to go that don’t have wifi so that we can truly unplug. Otherwise my husband has to lock my iPhone in the hotel safe— I can’t be trusted not to check my email! This dedicated time together helps us reconnect, and remember what’s really important in life.

What’s your ideal workout?

For me, it’s a good week if I have been able to get in a good combo of running, swimming, and biking. It’s a great week if I have also improved upon prior times or distance.

Do you track your fitness? How?

I don’t formally track my fitness.

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

I am fortunate that in my new job I have not had to do night shifts since June. They are definitely harder at 40+  than they were at 30! I’m not sure I ever found the ideal prep or recovery strategy, but I did make sure that I didn’t schedule anything that required any significant mental or physical energy for the next day.

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

I don’t rely on being able to find food or time to eat at work, so I pack healthy snacks that I can eat periodically throughout my shift (bananas, trail mix, protein bars). However, whenever possible, I do try to take a 10-15 min break to leave the clinical area, decompress, and actually eat my food instead of inhaling it. This just takes a little planning and coordination. Unless you are actively managing a critically ill patient, you really can (and should) step away for 10 minutes. The lab/radiology studies to be checked, phone calls to be made, and charting to be completed will still be there when you get back, and you will be more focused and efficient if you have given yourself a much needed brief break.

How do you ensure you are mentally in check?

I think it’s important to know what brings you joy. I really like learning new things. Every few years I take up a new hobby, try out a new sport, or take a class in something I’ve always wanted to learn more about. Changing it up every once in a while challenges me, gives me something to look forward to, and gives me perspective.

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

I think we are so used to putting our heads down and powering through (since as far back as we can remember), that we forget that we are in this for the long haul. We think we just need to push through this next semester, this next rotation, this next week of tough shifts. But eventually we need to realize that there is no end game. It’s important to make whatever changes you need to make in your professional and/or personal life so that you are happy and healthy NOW, rather than assuming it will get better later. Medicine is hard, and EM is particularly difficult. We work in a chaotic environment, are continually asked to do more with less, endure physically grueling rotating schedules, and are exposed to an unending stream of human suffering. Practicing EM can be very rewarding, but working in this high risk environment day after day can also take its toll. Having a hard time handling it long term is the norm, not the exception, and it’s not a sign of weakness to realize you need to make some changes in order to continue to enjoy a satisfying EM career and personal life.

Best advice you have received for maintaining health?

Put yourself on your calendar. We put our shifts, our meetings, our multiple other deadlines and responsibilities on our calendars. If you allow your calendar to fill up with the things you “have” to do, you won’t have any time left for the things you want to do. So take 5 min each week or month to block out time for you. Whether that’s for exercise, date night with your significant other, a concert with friends, make YOU a priority on your own schedule. Then guard that time with your life!

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

Anne Zink

 

Zafrina Poonja, MD

Zafrina Poonja, MD

ALiEM Assistant Editor,
How I Stay Health in EM series
Emergency Medicine Resident
University of Saskatchewan