How doctors who deal with germs all day long avoid getting sick

Continuous stress has been shown to suppress the immune system. But that's nothing compared with what these doctors go up against each day

Pic courtesy: Men's Health
Pic courtesy: Men’s Health

Dodging a cold can be pretty challenging when you’re working in an office. As soon as one person starts coughing, you can usually be sure it’ll get around the office faster than a bad email chain from Steve in accounting. If that’s not enough, continuous stress has been shown to suppress the immune system. But that’s nothing compared with what these 5 doctors go up against each day.

So, how do stressed-out medical professionals who spend all day surrounded by germs avoid getting sick? We asked them to find out.

Avoid unforced errors

~ Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD (Family practice dentist in Stony Brook, NY; professor at New York University College of Dentistry)

Sure, as a dentist, Dr Wolff has a bit of an unfair advantage.

“I wear a mask,” he says. “But I wash my hands and use Purell a lot.”

Overdoing it with hand sanitizer can dry out your hands, but hand washing remains one of the most effective things you can do to cut your risk of catching other people’s germs.

Of course, he says, keeping your immunity up is as much about the things you don’t do as the things you do.

“I avoid tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, and chew as they create havoc in the immune system,” he says. “Lastly, don’t tax your liver with too much alcohol.”

Go with your gut

~ Travis Stork, MD (Emergency physician; author, The Lose Your Belly Diet)

Diet is a key part of how Dr Stork keeps his immune defences up. He advises to eat foods that are good for both you and for the trillions of beneficial bacteria that inhabit your gut, which play a huge role in supporting the immune system.

“I eat at least one probiotic food every day (think: yogurt, kefir, or sauerkraut),” Dr Stork says. “I also focus on foods with lots of fibre and nutrients, like fruits and veggies—your gut bacteria love them raw.”

Dr Stork enjoys whole grains, but avoids refined grains like white bread and pasta, he says. “Too many simple carbs and my immune system craps out.”

Take a load off

~ Adnan Nasir, MD, PhD (Dermatologist in Raleigh, NC)

A lot of people don’t realize that stress can have a significant effect on lowering your defences. And this is an area Dr Nasir views as crucial in keeping his force field humming along.

“I believe that stress shared is stress halved,” he says, advising that you talk about your problems with friends and colleagues.

“It helps me to have supportive colleagues who can relate to the day-to-day demands of medicine,” he says.

Don’t lose yourself

~ Prediman Krishan Shah, MD (Director, Oppenheimer Atherosclerosis Research Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Center)

A 2013 study found that people who derived joy from a deeper sense of purpose exhibited more robust immune systems than those who relied on material pursuits to make them happy.

“This is what helps me keep my immune defences strong,” Dr Shah says, citing a genuine love for his craft. When he succeeds in helping a patient get well and recover, that’s a significant source of positive reinforcement, he says.

Give your body what it needs

~ Ted Epperly, MD (President and CEO, Family Medicine Residency of Idaho)

One of Dr Epperly’s key strategies for avoiding illness is keeping up with his regular workouts. “Exercise is important to my immune system and my mental health,” he says.

Of course, there’s a line to be toed—overtraining can have the reverse effect when it comes to immunity—which is why Dr Epperly places just as much emphasis on rest as he does on pumping iron.

“It is important for me that I try and get at least 7 hours of sleep per night,” he says.

Dr Epperly also believes that a good sense of humour can go a long way: “It helps me keep things in perspective.”

Source: Prevention