Caring for Herself Lets Her Better Care for Others

April 22, 2019 09:50 am David Mitchell

When Shani Muhammad, M.D., was slow to recover from a nagging ankle injury, she went to see her own primary care doctor. That visit ended in the emergency room -- not because of the persistent ankle pain but because her blood pressure was dangerously high.

[headshot of Shani Muhammad, M.D.]

"It was through the roof," she said.

Muhammad said her weight peaked during residency following the birth of her two children. She hoped she would be able to devote more time to her own fitness once she completed her training, but that didn't happen. Instead she found herself suffering from headaches, stomachaches and stress.

"I wasn't able to give myself the kind of attention that I was telling my patients to give themselves," she said. "I couldn't even take a walk during lunch because my employer had ideas about what I should be doing during lunch. I felt very disingenuous. I was like, 'How can I be someone's primary care doctor?'"

Muhammad began working out on her own and eventually started a CrossFit program. Five years after that ER visit, she's lost 50 pounds.

"I'm stronger than I've ever been and happier about the way I look," she said. "This is what I talk to my patients about."

Muhammad starts her day at the gym at 5:30 a.m. for a one-hour workout five days a week. She follows that with 20 minutes of meditation at home and a 45-minute walk around her neighborhood.

"It's made a huge impact on my well-being," she said. "I won't allow anything to compromise my routine."

Muhammad's work schedule hasn't gotten less busy -- she works one full-time job and two-part time jobs while holding local and national leadership positions -- but she said her wellness regimen has helped improved her focus and organization, and allowed her to build up her mental and emotional reserves.

"Everyone needs to find a way to prioritize themselves," said Muhammad, who is a member of the AAFP's Commission on Health of the Public and Science. "You can't be efficient in your job -- and enjoy your job the way you should -- if you aren't well. I had to find a different way to work."

Muhammad does all her work from her home in San Ramon, Calif. Her full-time job is medical director of special needs programs, utilization review and complex care patient management programs for Health Integrated, a care management company based in Tampa, Fla. She is responsible for utilization review of Medicare and Medicaid plans, conducting interdisciplinary team rounds with nurses and social workers for high-utilizing, high-risk and medically complex patients. She also works part-time for New York-based Oscar Health Insurance, reviewing things like inpatient requests and prior authorizations.

Her clinical practice is working as a telemedicine physician three days a week for SteadyMD,(www.steadymd.com) which aims to provide primary care online. The company's physicians have fewer than 600 patients each and are available by phone or text in addition to video visits that last longer than traditional 15-minute office appointments. Patients are matched to physicians based on their interests, health goals and conditions.

"This is supposed to be a different experience than when you are one of 26 patients a physician is seeing in one day," she said. "I really like it. I'm not slammed. For the first time, I feel like I have all the time I need with every patient."