“30 minutes? That’s enough to stay well” | Emergency Medicine Wellness Week

In Education & Quality Improvement, Featured, Mentorship, Working in EM by Zafrina PoonjaLeave a Comment

A typical day in the life of an Emergency Medicine physician:

You wake up without an alarm after eight hours of undisturbed sleep. You enjoy a fresh cup of french press coffee while reading the morning news on your smartphone – along with a freshly baked croissant of course! Then you go to an hour long yoga session followed by a relaxing massage. Finally, you meet your friends for lunch at a local farm to table restaurant and spend the afternoon lost in your book at a local cafe…. You’re the embodiment of emergency medicine wellness!

Does any of this sound familiar?

Probably not – between grueling shifts, academic commitments, social commitments, and spending time with family and friends, it’s difficult to find time for yourself. There just never seems to be enough hours in the day! As emergency physicians, we are faced with the challenges of shift work and high rates of burnout.1 Emergency residents are also subject to these challenges, not to mention the pressures of a residency.2 Therefore, finding the time to stay well has never been more important. While there are many different wellness strategies, it can be challenging to not only find what works best for you, but to find the time to implement them.

Emergency Medicine Wellness – From the Experts

Knowing that finding time can be a problem, we surveyed wellness experts (emergency medicine physicians and residents) in the community and asked, “If you only had 30 minutes, how would you spend it to stay well?”

Here’s what they had to say:

“While thirty minutes isn’t a lot of time, the harsh reality is that there many days when 30 minutes is all we have. So why not make the most of it.”

Physical Activity

“Twenty minutes of running completely resets my mind and gets me ready to take on the next shift or research task.” – Dr. Catherine Varner

With only 30 minutes on the clock, physical activity seemed to be the go to answer. Why might that be? Keeping up fitness is versatile. It can happen in so many forms and in so many different spaces. Whether it’s power walking around the neighbourhood, or hitting the local gym for 20 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of resistance training, something is better than nothing.

Don’t have a local gym near by? Not to worry. Here’s a couple of suggestions for workouts, you can do without a gym membership:

  • Go for a quick run (indoor or outdoor)
  • Circuit Training
  • Yoga Workout
  • TRX home workout
  • Quick game of street hockey (why not incorporate the kids)

Exercise is an opportunity to gain mental clarity, to be in nature, to escape, to connect with others, to feel like you are part of a community, to meditate, and an activity where you can see tangible growth.” – Dr. Taku Taira

Brent and LilySpend time with family

This can be as simple as sharing a meal together, or getting in one more bedtime story before your shift. They don’t even have to be humans! Our very own Dr. Thoma likes to spend his thirty minutes with his puppy, Lily.

Spending time with people who matter to me, helps me smile, re-group, and re-engage.” – Dr. Sara Gray


“I practice a breathing meditation regularly. There are lots of thoughts, emotions, ideas, worries, and feelings percolating in my mind. To get a break from this, I spend at least 20 minutes per day meditating. Two great resources to begin with are two apps: HeadSpace and Calm.” – Dr. Sam Ko

Whether it’s practicing mindfulness meditation or keeping a gratitude journal. Taking the time to be present and reflect on the day, can do wonders for the mind.

“Honestly the best thing I’ve learned is that 30 minutes of planning will save you 60 minutes down the road. So for me that means checking my calendar for upcoming activities and planning accordingly. Oh wait, I’ve done my prep and still have 5 minutes to spare? That’s more than enough time for a quick mindfulness body scan. Using my ADHD version, I’ll take 2 minutes to go head to toe and bring awareness to each part of my body. If I notice any tensions or pain, I’ll stretch or consciously relax certain muscles (shoulders especially). Then I’ll check-in emotionally for feelings of stress, exhaustion, frustration, etc. Thirty minutes is the exact amount of time you should take everyday to do some planning, tidying, and a self check in. Your future self will thank you.” – Dr. Ali Turnquist

Little Luxuriesemergency medicine wellness

Taking time to get that massage, manicure, specialty coffee, wander through your favourite bookshop – these small gifts we give to ourselves drastically improve our overall health and well-being, and really give you a feeling of having taken a break from your day to day stresses.




The better we feel overall, the better we can dedicate time to our work, our patients, and our colleagues.

So the next time you have a free 30 minutes. How are you going to spend it?  

Tomorrow head over to ALiEM for the Wellness and Resiliency in Residency series on ALiEM featuring the topic of Debriefing Critical Incidents by Dr. Arlene Chung

Want to hear more from our wellness experts, check out the posts on ALiEM’s Healthy in EM series by Catherine Varner, Taku Taira, Sara Gray, and Sam Ko.

This post was copyedited by Jesse Leontowicz (@jleontow)


Kuhn G, Goldberg R, Compton S. Tolerance for uncertainty, burnout, and satisfaction with the career of emergency medicine. Ann Emerg Med. 2009;54(1):106-113.e6. [PubMed]
Kimo T, Ramoska E, Clark T, et al. Factors associated with burnout during emergency medicine residency. Acad Emerg Med. 2014;21(9):1031-1035. [PubMed]

Zafrina Poonja

Zafrina Poonja is a resident in the University of Saskatchewan Emergency Medicine program and an Assistant Editor at Academic Life in Emergency Medicine where she coordinates the "How I Stay Health in EM" Series.

Fareen Zaver MD

Fareen Zaver is an Emergency Physician based in Calgary. She is the Co-Director for the CanadiEM Digital Scholars Fellowship and is the Lead Editor/Co-Founder of ALiEM Approved Instructional Resources - Professional (AIR-Pro) series