What you should know about physical wellbeing

Doctor at work

We encourage healthy behaviours

We encourage healthy behaviours such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, no smoking and moderation with alcohol. Compliance with guidance on appropriate health screening determined by your gender and age is also important.

Lack of adequate sleep, as well as long hours, can contribute to fatigue. Advice may be needed from your GP or an Occupational Health Physician on managing sleep deprivation in the context of long hours and shift work.

While certain physical attributes such as height and weight may be genetically determined, many diseases are determined by lifestyle, which is linked to healthy behaviours, which can be modified.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as cancers and diabetes are chronic diseases of slow progression which impact on physical health and wellbeing for many years. Lifestyle is a very important risk factor for all of these conditions (e.g. behaviours such as smoking, alcohol intake, diet and exercise). Stress can also be a factor. Making time for exercise in a busy working week can be challenging but also rewarding for both physical and mental wellbeing.

Doctors frequently impart lifestyle advice to patients but looking after oneself and seeing oneself as a role model for others (including patients) can be more powerful than words of advice!

A healthy body is one in which you feel good and which allows you to do the things you need and want to do.

Eating Healthily

Busy doctors often skip meals and rely on a quick fix of high carbohydrate food or drink for energy, often supplemented with caffeine. It can be hard to motivate oneself to prepare a nutritious meal at the end of a long stressful day.

There are many resources now available on the web and elsewhere that will help you achieve a healthy diet without spending hours preparing food.

Knowledge of the food pyramid is important. The Nutrition and Health Foundation’s interactive food pyramid is a useful tool to remind you of what constitutes a healthy diet. Take a moment to calculate your BMI on the same website! 

Healthy lifestyle habits of exercise and diet established during school and college are often abandoned during the early years of training due to long working hours and lack of availability of good quality food when on call. We recommend bringing healthy food/snacks with you to the hospital, especially when on call.

Fruit and Vegetables


We now know that sleep is an active state and that quality sleep is essential for high level cognitive function as well as motor function, mood and physical health.

Sleep can be elusive for doctors working long hours on shift or on call. This is particularly the case when you need to combine work with social life, family life (and small children) and/or the academic demands of a training post (research and exams).

Lack of sleep is significantly associated with depression in doctors but whether by cause or effect is unclear. The relationship between sleep loss and cognitive performance in doctors is well documented, as is its impact on motor performance. Long term sleep deprivation associated with shift work is associated with physical ill health, particularly affecting the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.

Sleep deprivation also has a negative impact on accident rates with needlestick injuries being more likely in doctors who are sleep deprived. Weight gain and reduced libido are also common.

Here are some facts about sleep:

  • Generally speaking, humans require 7 to 9 hours of sleep but some require as little as 4 and as much as 12!
  • A short (10 minute) nap of REM sleep can improve problem solving ability.

You may need to ask your GP or an Occupational Health Physician for advice on managing sleep deprivation. For more tips have a look at the twelve simple tips to improve your sleep.



Maintaining optimal health through exercise brings benefits both to physical and emotional health. It is essential to make time for it, especially when life is busy and stressful.

The Nutrition and Health Foundation’s interactive exercise pyramid along with their exercise diary is a helpful aid to incorporating an appropriate exercise level into the working week.

Work and the body

Work is generally good for us. According to this consensus statement by health professionals, work can promote good physical and mental health, help to prevent ill-health and play an active part in helping people recover from illness. But in order for this to be achieved, hazards in the work environment need to be appropriately controlled.

The main physical health problems encountered in work are musculoskeletal in nature (i.e. back pain and injury, neck pain etc). These are less common in doctors than in other health professionals (e.g. nurses) who are more engaged in patient-handling activities. You are encouraged to contact your GP or Occupational Health Department (OHD) for guidance in managing these problems if they arise. Frequently, work-based physiotherapy programmes, accessible through OHD, are provided by employers.

Frequent hand washing, which is necessary for safe patient care, can sometimes impact on skin health and occupational health staff can advise you on the prevention and management of occupational dermatitis.

Protection against potential occupational infections (e.g. hepatitis, influenza, TB) can be achieved by appropriate vaccinations which should be available on site through OHD. Advice is also available on management of potential exposures to infection e.g. needlestick injury. For more information, visit the HPSC website.

Professional competence.

Choosing a GP

We strongly encourage all doctors to have their own general practitioner (GP) who they can go to for advice if they are unwell.

The relationship with your GP should be primarily a doctor-patient relationship, rather than a friendship.

We recommend that professional boundaries are adhered to, including payment of fees for services rendered.

View the National GP Directory for NCHDs, Trainees and Interns


The discipline of ergonomics (derived from the Greek words for work and natural law) concerns itself with optimising the relationship between work and the worker, by adapting the workplace to the human rather than requiring the human to ‘fit the job’.

Poor ergonomics (often due to using equipment that is poorly designed, poorly positioned or inadequately maintained) contribute to the growing problem of workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These are acknowledged to be multifactorial in origin but good ergonomics undoubtedly reduces the risks.

Any task that requires the adoption of a static posture (even if initially comfortable) for long periods will incur the risk of a MSD (e.g. back pain, neck pain). Frequent breaks from such postures (e.g. every 20-30 minutes) help to reduce risk. This can be particularly challenging for those working in prolonged tasks where high levels of concentration are required (e.g. long surgical or endoscopic procedures). One is unlikely to think of one’s own discomfort in such situations. Musculoskeletal symptoms associated with work should be reported to the Occupational Health Department (OHD) where prompt assessment can be arranged.

Those undertaking research or study outside of the workplace frequently do so at poorly designed workstations (e.g. at home). Following some basic guidance and taking the time to set your work station up properly can greatly improve comfort and reduce risk of problems in the longer term.

Look after your wellbeing with RCPI

As part of our Physician Wellbeing programme, we offer a range of courses and workshops, specially tailored for doctors, to help you manage stress and workplace challenges.

Contact Us

RCPI Physician Wellbeing Programme

Tel: +353 1 863 9700

Through our Physician Wellbeing programme we are providing support, training and information to doctors at all stages of their careers.