Dr. Martin Huecker is an associate program director, research director, and emergency physician from Louisville, Kentucky. When it comes to setting an example of how to maintain wellness and balance in our everyday lives, Dr. Huecker is definitely crushing it! From fulfilling his academic responsibilities, to staying active with his 4 children, Dr. Huecker doesn’t have any time to waste. His ability to prioritize, stay focused, and mentally reset in stressful situations is remarkable. If you want to learn more about ketoadaptation and sprit training, you’ll have to check this out. Here’s how he stays healthy in EM!

  • IMG_6716Name: Martin Huecker, MD
  • Location: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Current job(s): Associate PD, Research Director at University of Louisville Department of EM
  • One word that describes how you stay healthy: Perspective
  • Primary behavior/activity for destressing: My two favorites: 1) Time outdoors with family where I don’t think about homework, laundry, vacuuming, patients, IRB submissions or anything other than the people I am with. 2) Reading/working in a coffee shop with big headphones, oblivious to what is going on around me.

What are the top 3 ways you keep healthy?

  1. Prioritizing. Amal Mattu illustrated it best: you cannot fit the big rocks in the jar if you have already loaded it with small pebbles. Family comes first. This means time with my kids but also time alone with my wife. I was told early on that it is ok to say no to projects I am not enthusiastic about. Time is a finite resource and we can’t afford to squander it on activities that do not give us purpose.
  1. Exercise and nutrition. The people I work with would likely say this is my number one way to stay healthy. On almost every shift we strike up a conversation about sprinting, paleo dieting, superslow resistance training, blue blocking lenses, or any other lasting or fleeting innovation. In addition, my addiction to reading usually means that out of the 5 books that I am typically immersed in, one of them is wellness related.
  1. Gratitude. This ties in with perspective and a stoic outlook on life. As a physician who performs meaningful work, surrounded by intelligent coworkers, and a supportive family, I really have to use my imagination to feel bummed in any way about life in general. On every shift I consider the perspective of people who find themselves in the difficult role of an ED patient. This way I can empathize and connect with my patients, and it makes me appreciate how fortunate I am.

What’s your ideal workout?

Other than staying active as much as possible and keeping up with the kids, I perform two different workouts. Two days a week I lift weights at HIGH intensity for about 30 minutes. A third day each week, if I possess the fortitude, I sprint. The abundant health benefits of a few all-out 30-second sprints make for probably the most efficient exercise possible.

In the past couple of years I have given recovery the same attention as the workout itself. I workout less days a week, sleep more, eat healthy whole foods and perform mobility exercises. I now enjoy exercise more and have more time and energy to devote to family and work.

Do you track your fitness? How?

I bought a wrist activity and heart rate tracker and returned it after a week. I could never bring myself to record progress with weight training. When I quantify or fixate on data (calories, steps, miles, pounds, seconds), I quickly feel compelled to reject that approach and get back to natural, functional movements and routines. I have been tracking sleep with a sleep app. The app has helped to prioritize sleep, though I try not to pay too much attention to the stats.

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

Preparation: I am still tinkering with the optimal approach to night shifts. With 4 kids, I basically cannot sleep in the day of the night shift. So if I stay up late the night before, to induce a phase delay, I will start that day with sleep debt, which helps for the afternoon or evening nap before my shift. I usually try to get plenty of sleep and have coffee until noon. Then I’ll take an evening nap ending at least an hour before my shift begins, to overcome sleep inertia.

Recovery: My main goal is to obtain as much sleep as possible. However, I have found that if I can stay awake for a few hours after the shift, and take a short nap in the afternoon, I feel more lucid and can fall asleep better that night.

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

This is where I feel I possess a secret to success. I usually do not eat during a shift. I am a big believer in intermittent fasting: 14-18 hours a day with nothing but water and coffee (with cream and coconut oil). After a couple of weeks one can achieve “ketoadaptation” – the body can use its almost infinite reserves of fatty acids and ketones for fuel. I no longer nod off while charting at the computer as the sandwich I ate carries me into a postprandial stupor. I almost forget about eating and feel a focused composure throughout the shift. If I must eat on shift, I go for low carb snacks to avoid the glucose-insulin rollercoaster.

How do you ensure you are mentally in check?

Keeping a balance of priorities in life should keep one poised for the challenges we face at work. The ideal emergency physician remains completely tranquil in the storm of the ER. I try to remain as rational as possible. When I feel stress brewing, frustration with a patient, or contempt for a consultant, I use the stoic technique of detaching and analyzing those emotions and physiologic phenomena to bring my mind back into focus.

I also believe in stress inoculation. We thrive on adversity. Walk the dog barefoot in the winter, go long hours without food, exercise intensely, read complicated books, or if you are really brave help your daughter with high school math! Then you’ll stay mentally in check when a stressful shift tries to undo you.

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

A major challenge is of course balancing work and home life. We all face this.

I am now realizing the challenge of balancing academics with clinical duties. I’ll cover the ED for a night shift, see numerous sick patients, sleep and recover from the brain fog the next day, and then realize how much work has piled up on the research and resident education front. This is a wonderful dilemma to face and from the start I intended to go into academics to contribute something to our specialty.

A challenge we take for granted is the fight to preserve the integrity of emergency medicine. The EM pioneers fought this in the 70s and 80s and now with the profit-driven, corporate healthcare environment we might fight that battle again. All young ER docs should learn the history of our specialty to guarantee a viable future.

For me, addressing these challenges is straightforward. Care about the wellbeing of your patients and residents. Work hard on projects that are meaningful to you. Take care of yourself and your family. Have fun.

Best advice you have received for maintaining health?

From Dr. Dan Danzl: “Don’t schedule anything the day after a night shift.” I used to think I was too young and resilient to follow this advice. Nope, it is pure gold.

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

Scott Weingart
Mel Herbert
Anand Swaminathan

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.