Dr. James Huffman (@jameslhuffman) knows how to keep well and keep it real! Despite multiple work commitments, he still finds time to engage in his interests, keep fit, stay well, and spend time with his family and friends. With a recent new addition to his family, Dr. Huffman has learned how to maximize his time. Constantly trying to find new ways to be effective, Dr. Huffman is a true example of how wellness can be integrated into your day. Here’s how he stays healthy in EM!


  • Name: James Huffmanprofile photo
  • Location: Calgary, Alberta
  • Current job(s): Emergency Physician (Foothills and Rockyview Hospitals), STARS Transport Physician, STARS Airway Course Director, Clinician Educator at University of Calgary (UME Simulation program, PGME – EM Residency Program, Attending physician in-situ/interprofessional simulation program)
  • One word that describes how you stay healthy: Prioritization
  • Primary behavior/activity for destressing: Running or playing hockey

What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?

  1. Prioritization. I am still working on this, but when I do it well, everything seems to be better. As the saying goes, saying yes to something means you’re saying no to something else. I find that as I say yes to more and more things, I am saying no to more important things like work deadlines, personal health, family time, and time with my support network. For me, determining how many opportunities I can say yes to while being a healthy, productive person who is proud of my work is key to staying mentally and physically fit. Side note: This is why it took me several months to get around to writing this post!
  1. Efficient workouts. As much as I love long bike rides and men’s league hockey – I used to play on three different teams! – I found that these activities took up too much of my time all at once. I needed to find something that was much easier to fit into small blocks of time, but still gave me a good workout. Currently my go-to activities are running (super efficient) or hitting the gym right by my house.
  1. Plan and track my nutrition. It sounds simple and basic, but meal planning and nutrition tracking does wonders for my health and fitness. Planning out meals ahead of time keeps me from making poor choices at the grocery store and overeating. To keep my diet on track I use the calorie-counting app, MyFitnessPal.

What’s your ideal workout?

Preferably something outdoors with minimal setup or prep time. Running, especially on trails, is probably my favorite. With the strange schedule that results from juggling shift work and family responsibilities, I only get small chunks of time so I need to use them efficiently when they’re available. Running is perfect. I can throw on my shoes and have a satisfying workout in a short amount of time. As much as I love hockey and biking, by the time I pack up my gear, drive to the location, get the workout in and get back, it takes at least three hours. Getting that much time all at once is a rarity in my current schedule. Running is also awesome because it’s a great for travelling – it’s a great way to see a new place and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Lastly, the gym I use for cross training is a kilometer away from my home so I can run there as a warm-up and make my workouts more time efficient.

Do you track your fitness? How?

The two apps that I use to track 99% of my fitness routine are (I have no financial conflicts of interest… these are just apps that I like because they works super well for me):

  1. MyFitnessPal – a super functional calorie tracker that let’s my friends keep me honest.
  2. Runmeter – one of many great run tracking apps out there. It also tracks cycling, hiking, etc. I find it integrates well with MyFitnessPal and Apple Health. Plus, they have some of the best customer service I’ve come across from an app developer.

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


  1. I try to do something active during the day of my night shift (for example a run in the morning or afternoon before going in).
  2. I try to get 3 hours of sleep just before going in (this might get shortened depending on childcare/family issues). If I get less than three hours I wake up groggy, so I really try to protect this time and my family knows that this is part of my routine. For example – if I’m working at midnight, I’ll sleep from 19:30-22:30, wake up, shower, snack then head in – planning on arriving at 23:30 to go through mail, etc. before the shift.
  3. Before heading in, I have a healthy snack with some complex carbs and protein to keep me from getting too hungry overnight. I used to pack a “lunch” but once I started tracking calories, I realized this was one of the places I routinely fell down on my nutrition/diet. So now, I have a snack before going in and take a piece of fruit or some carrots to munch on if I’m fading part way through the night.

During Shift: I definitely make sure to take a break about 3-4 hours in to snack on that fruit. I leave my water bottle out in the open in a place that I know I’ll be several times throughout the shift. This ensures that I drink at least a liter of water before the shift is done.

Recovery: I head home safely, have breakfast with the family, and then off to bed for 4-5 hours (to total 7-8 when combined with the 3 hours of “pre-sleep” I did the night before). All of my post night shift sleep takes place in a quiet, cool, dark room with earplugs. My phone is banished from the room so I won’t be interrupted. When I wake up I try to do something active.

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

As above – healthy snacks and meal planning whenever I can. I try to drink 1L of water each shift. When I’m with a resident sometimes I task them with reminding me when we need to eat. That’s my cue to sit down and do some more formal teaching (either a topic or a case). I also try to call my wife once per shift to check in and that serves as a reminder to eat/drink something.

How do you ensure you are mentally in check?

This might seem ridiculous, but I remember watching a hockey instructional video by Wayne Gretzky as a kid with one of the first “real” teams I played on. I listened to him talk about how getting ready in the exact same way every game helped him focus on the upcoming game (right down to the toppings on his hot dog, the order he put his equipment on, and the way he tucked in his sweater). That stuck with me and I do the same thing. I love routine and from the time I arrive at the hospital, I get ready the same way every time. Right before starting, I think about how I’m going to pace myself, do my best, and remember that even though this is routine for me, I need to respect that it might be a patient’s first ever experience with the ER.

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

This question is tough as I still consider myself quite junior in my career. The longer I practice the more I worry about burnout and losing the human side of emergency medicine. Not only have I read about these challenges, but I have seen some of my colleagues go through them so I feel like it is a real possibility. I already notice that I don’t bounce back from night shifts as well as I did 8 or 9 years ago.

Advice I received from several mentors early in my training was that having an area of interest outside of clinical medicine really helps to mitigate both burnout and disenchantment. So far, I think it’s true. It also helps that I believe that we owe it to our departments and our patients, to give something back. To me, this means that I have to do more than just work shifts – administrative work, education, and even clinical sub-specialties help us contribute uniquely to our group and emergency medicine. I focus my non-shift time on two areas – prehospital medicine (with the STARS helicopter EMS service) and medical education (specifically simulation and airway training). These are fun areas for me, so they keep me engaged, make me a better clinician when I’m working in the hospital, and allow me to work with colleagues and friends on a much more personal level.

Best advice you have received for maintaining health?

Choose your priorities wisely and do those well. Everything else will fall into place. From a mentor and good friend.

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

Adam Cheng
Demian Szyld
Walter Eppich

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.