“There I was, blissfully unaware of my health, working like a dog, putting out fire after fire,” says Pittsburgh neurologist Neil Busis, MD. It was 2012, he was a step into his sixth decade of life, running a solo practice, and he had just gotten this funny feeling in his chest.
“Not real bad pain or an elephant on your chest,” but still, not something he had ever felt before. A couple weeks and three more episodes later, a stress test revealed ST changes, and he underwent a cardiac catheterization. Six week later he lay in a hospital bed with “two pair of cardiac drains, two pleural drains and a cardiac pacer. They split my sternum. I’d had a double CABG.”
Busis shared this story in April 2017 in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology as part of their Live Well series of lectures and activities. The Live Well initiative came out of the work of done by the AAN’s Burnout Task Force, which Busis helped start in 2015. The task force was created in response to the growing problem of physician burnout among neurologists “to research the issue of physician burnout—what it is, how it happens, and what can be done to deal with it effectively and improve work-life balance.”
The Live Well slogan is “Taking care of your patients starts with taking care of you.” Busis hopes sharing his story will help others find their way. “I literally transformed my life.” He did it by focusing on his own personal wellness. In 2012, he says, “I decided then that I was not going to be a re-do heart patient.” But, “I didn’t understand anything about exercise, work-life balance or diet. When I was in medical school, they didn’t teach that back then.”
He started his journey by hiring a nutritionist. “She taught me about nutrition and about portions. ‘You’ve got to have breakfast,’ she said. ‘And most breakfast is dessert.’” Today he uses the nutrition app MyFitnessPal. “I have logged everything I have eaten since 2012,” says Busis, who now weighs less than he did in high school. The app gives you a nutrition breakdown and helps you set goals. It has a social media element to share your progress, get encouragement, and share recipes, and its GPS allows you to find restaurants nearby and put in menu items.
After getting set up with his food, Busis joined a nearby gym and hired a personal trainer, Tony. “He did core work. Three times a week, for half an hour. If it wasn’t a person, and if it wasn’t on my calendar, I wouldn’t do it. I go before work. If it is the first thing, I prioritize it.”
Busis gives fitness apps and monitoring technology credit for helping him stay motivated. This, he says, even though the evidence suggests that personal fitness apps are like home fitness equipment—neglected and unused. “But that’s what helped me.”
Now he monitors everything. “For activity, the thing I like the best is the Apple watch which I wear everyday. It personalizes your goals for exercise for movement and for standing. The idea is to fill in the circles. It will give you last week’s numbers to help you fill in goals for the next week.” He also monitors his weight, blood pressure and sleep using devices that sync to his apple watch.
All of this helps, and he adds, “learning new things” is another remedy for burnout. “I am 66 now, and I think I’ll work into my early 70s.”