Dr. Chau Pham has got wellness locked down! Throughout her life, she has always somehow created an environment of wellness while adapting to various situations. Most recently she used these skills to weather the many challenges of being a new mother. Despite having two little ones at home, she still wears many other hats, including the Director of Medical Missions for the national charity, Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam. In person, Dr. Chau Pham has an incredible lightness of being and is totally zen! Here’s how she stays healthy in EM!

  • Name: Chau Pham, MD, FRCPC, MBAIMG_5206 2
  • Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Current job(s): Attending Emergency Medicine physician. Director for the Section of Ultrasound within EM. Coordinator of the High Performance Physician Program for EM. Director of Medical Missions for a national charity, Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam. Wife to my wonderful husband and mother to our two little boys (one 23 months and one 6 months old)
  • One word that describes how you stay healthy: Perspective! The demands and the desire for balance between my professional career and personal life are a constant challenge, but maintaining a healthy perspective on the priorities in my life has helped to insure good physical, emotional, and mental health.
  • Primary behavior/activity for destressing: The ultimate stress reliever for me is to spend time relaxing with my hubby and children. My husband is a really laid back and funny guy and his outrageous outlandish jokes are a real de-stressor!

What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?

  1. Mind. Emotional and mental stability builds the foundation for my overall health. I have always found that emotional and mental preparation are vital in helping me to become more proficient at acknowledging, processing, and letting go of strong feelings that may hinder my professional or personal life performance.
  1. Body. I was never much of an athlete growing up but one thing that I do love is running. Although I am not a fast runner, my mental stamina can often push my body to run in order to relieve any stress. I do love the challenge of running in the half marathons. A funny story that I recently encountered which definitely chipped away at my pride but surely demonstrated that my mind does lead my body is my most recent participation in the half marathon this spring. After three years of not running or having any other forms of physical training since I had my two boys in 2013 and 2014, I naively decided to register for the half marathon thinking that I could train for it. Needless to say, I ran in the marathon this year without a single training run and my body definitely took the brunt of this very poor decision. I fell so behind that my hubby who was also running, finished his race and was “dropped off” (that was how far back I was) to finish the last stretch with me. As a young Mom, I know it is essential to stay active in as many formats as possible for my own health, and at this point, I can say beyond any doubt my two little guys definitely have me on the run hourly!
  1. Soul. I try to live my life first in my commitment to my God, my husband, our children, and our family, and with this perspective, I am able to deliver the optimal caring for others in my professional and personal settings. Only within this very personal healthy environment, am I able to offer the highest level of performance in my profession.

What’s your ideal workout?

Spending time with my boys! Their combined weight is almost 45 pounds and if I was to count the numerous times I pick them up throughout the day and night, or go chasing after my two year old toddler, I am blessed with the most exhilarating daily workouts! However, the best part of this workout is the spiritual rejuvenation I get from the joy of spending time with my kids, and from laughing at the priceless moments that they share with me daily.

Do you track your fitness? How?

No, I do not track my fitness. However, with my current situation at six months post partum, I can say that the best measure of my fitness is being able to slowly fit into some of my pre-maternity wardrobe :)

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

Preparation: I often try to get a few hours of sleep in prior to my night shift just to give me the extra boost for the night. As well, especially for night shifts, I try to arrive at the ED 30-40 minutes early so that I can go through the EDIS board to see what the waiting room has in store for me and to review patients that I know will be handed over to me. This pre-handover process helps give me a better idea of who are the critically ill that will require a thorough reassessment, the number patients pending consults, and what the ED flow in general will be for the night.

Recovery: I often will come home for a few hours nap before getting on with my day. However, if there are meetings or teaching sessions post night shift, I will stay up and crash early for bed at the end of the post night day.

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

I struggle with finding the time to eat on a busy shift as I often feel the anxiety of leaving the floor to even go into the back room to have a quick bite – especially when it is a chaotic shift. I always pack food to bring to my shifts in order to avoid leaving the department to buy my meals. I always have small bags of nuts and dried fruits or a protein bar to help tie me over if the opportunity does not present itself for a sit down meal break. Avoiding “hangry” on shift was a real problem for me when I was pregnant with both of my boys, as I was hungry more often. Having a package of arrowroot cookies in my pockets saved me from many hypoglycemic hangry situations!

How do you ensure you are mentally in check?

Mental preparation has become an absolutely essential process for me prior to the start of all of my shifts.  I allow myself to mentally prepare my behavior and reactions to the stressful situations that I may encounter at work or at home after returning from a long shift. It serves as a good reminder to always bring “my best player to the game” in order to be ready for the challenges and chaos that I may face during a shift. I try to keep in mind that it is important to forgive myself when I do not perform according to my own expectations or meet the performance bar. Forgiving, but not forgetting the key lesson learned from my mistakes, is vital for enhancing my performance in the future. At the same time, I balance my moments of defeat by remembering my achievements, the big ones and the little ones, and especially those achievements in my relationships with others, because they keep my confidence and energy levels higher.

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

I have always loved the balance of clinical and academic, as well as administrative work in Emergency Medicine. As the demands in my professional career and the reality of my new role as a Mom continue to grow, the biggest challenge for me is the philosophical importance I place on maintaining an effective balance between my personal and professional life. However, reality and philosophy are sometimes a difficult combination; I am challenged daily to determine which commitments I can accept in light of my philosophical priorities. While this remains a difficult reality for me, I live my life with intention and try with everything in my power to remember that my personal life must remain my primary priority because I am of little value to anyone in medicine if I am not content with my personal life.

In order for me to accomplish all of my tasks in the areas of my work and home life, the most crucial part of the equation is to ensure that I have an open channel of communication with my partner so that we are always on the same wavelength. By always keeping each other in check, we can readjust our priorities to support one another. As well, through regular self-reflection, I often try to determine if my registered “priorities” in terms of time and effort match personal goals and deliver a desirable balance between personal and professional time.

Best advice you have received for maintaining health?

I realize that I am a product of my past. My personal life journey began as a five-year-old fleeing Vietnam without my parents and contracting and fighting tuberculosis for two years in a refugee camp. The wonderful people who showed me unconditional love and support have shaped me, and this has been the key to my future. I know that life and living are privileges and thus that I must always live my life with intention. This is what drives me each and every day in all facets of my life.

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

Joe Bednarcyzk
Carolyn Snider

Zafrina Poonja, MD

Zafrina Poonja, MD

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


Emergency Medicine Physician @ Vancouver General Hospital. Assistant Editor @ALiEMteam. Lover of travel, soccer, and boat shoes.