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How I Thrive: “I practice good sleep hygiene, being sure to turn off electronic devices before going to bed”, with Ming Zhao & Dr. Sheila Dugan

I am a bit of a sleep fanatic. The perfect night for me includes eight hours of restful sleep. I practice good sleep hygiene, being sure to turn off electronic devices before going to bed. I often use audio-guided meditation along with yoga poses that relieve tension in my chronically tight body parts like my […]

I am a bit of a sleep fanatic. The perfect night for me includes eight hours of restful sleep. I practice good sleep hygiene, being sure to turn off electronic devices before going to bed. I often use audio-guided meditation along with yoga poses that relieve tension in my chronically tight body parts like my hip girdle.

As a part of my series about what high achieving women do to thrive, I had the pleasure to interview Sheila Dugan, M.D.. Dr. Dugan is a professor in the Rush University departments of PM&R, Preventive Medicine and Neurological Surgery. She is a co-investigator on the SWAN study, the ALIVE! project and the WISHFIT study and served as the Career Development and Training Core Director for the Rush Center for Urban Health Equity.

She is the Medical Director of University Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation where she sees patients with pain and musculoskeletal disorders and performs EMG/nerve conduction studies. She co-directs the Rush Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health. She is board certified in PM&R, Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Pain Medicine and Sports Medicine. At Rush, she chairs the Rush Women’s Leadership Council and serves on the ADA Committee and Diversity Leadership Committee.

She serves on the board of the Foundation for PM&R and the Women’s Health Foundation. Past positions include President of PASSOR and board member of ACSM.


Thank you so much for joining us Dr. Dugan! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path and to where you are today?

Asthe sibling of a brother with a cognitive and physical disability, I always knew health care would be my career path. The model of our family was teamwork and hard work. Leadership was expected and honed as a member of varsity sports in high school and college. I also attained valuable leadership skills as a member of a rehabilitation medicine team first as a physical therapist and later as a physician. I always strive to make the most of all opportunities and to take advantage of my capabilities. For me, leadership was necessary to be the voice for others of limited voice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting part of my journey to leadership is related to finding a voice for diversity equity and inclusion. In the almost 40 years since I graduated high school, the needle has not moved very far related to increasing the number of women in leadership positions. There is no need for additional studies. The evidence is in that although women make up the majority of the workforce in health care, they are not represented at the levels of leadership. I continue to use my voice in my leadership role to bring resources to changing the system. There’s nothing wrong with women. We need to break down corporate structures and conscious and unconscious bias that continue to suppress the creativity, passion, and excellence of women in leadership in health care.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

When I was a young physician, I had an emergency that I was responsible for handling. I needed an urgent consult by the gastroenterologist on call. When the phone was brought to my ear and a female voice asked, “May I help you.” I asked for the gastroenterologist on call thinking that this female was an administrative assistant. When the female voice said, “I am the gastroenterologist on call” it struck me that I was looking for a male to help me. Here I was, a female physician, showing my unconscious bias.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work life?

The most fantastic work environments include those that allow each team member to bring their unique capabilities to work every day. There is a level of respect that must be shown amongst each other, allowing individuals to be their true and authentic selves, which will make for the most effective outcomes. Acknowledgment of successes more so than failures also breeds gratitude and a sense that everyone and every effort counts.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I am a bit of a sleep fanatic. The perfect night for me includes eight hours of restful sleep. I practice good sleep hygiene, being sure to turn off electronic devices before going to bed. I often use audio-guided meditation along with yoga poses that relieve tension in my chronically tight body parts like my hip girdle.

As I age (gracefully I hope), I find that yoga is the perfect physical activity for me. In particular with accumulated orthopedic problems after years of competitive sports, I need the flexibility and attention to posture in order to avoid chronic pain problems that interrupt my activities of daily living. I look forward to focusing on balance to avoid frailty, which is a common age-related outcome especially for women

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

I have had the great fortune to undergo mindfulness meditation training. I try to practice mindfulness during my day, whether while walking between meetings or while eating. I am a big fan of fresh salads at least once a day and try to remember to notice the color, tastes and smells of my food. When I make a comment about some lovely aspect, my fiancée will say to me “Are you doing that food theater thing again”. We laugh but realize we have both noticed what we are eating and are grateful for it.

Another energy and inspiration sustaining practice for me has been stopping for coffee with my close friends in my neighborhood several times per week. I think of them as my personal board of directors. They have known me for decades and have seen my successes and challenges as a professional and person. These are the kind of friends that you can tell your secrets about inadequacies as well as your aspirations. There is no need to put on airs, like sisters but without the sibling rivalry.

Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

I make a point of practicing gratitude in my daily life, not only for the innumerable opportunities I have had, but to acknowledge the moment-by-moment love and support I get from those around me. This can be my staff, my trainees, my patients, or their families.

I’ve had the great fortune to work with Pastors on the West Side of Chicago in combination with community members attempting to address the life expectancy gap between the Chicago’s Loop and the city’s West Side neighborhoods. The Pastor’s mantra is to trust in the spirit when it comes to ongoing resources to support our work. I am continuously amazed by their compassion and their trust in a positive energy that will help address this ongoing health and equity gap.

When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?

For me, what food I put in my body is key to accelerating a bad day or changing direction. It’s so easy to grab junk food when you’re tired or crabby but the outcome is worse for your physical and mental state. Grabbing a salad or some fruit or nuts is key to changing direction for my mind, body and spirit.

All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

I share the feeling with my team I call out my own state of happiness and the reasons for it and thank them for their contributions

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

I reach out to a sibling in order to get a boost of love and support.

Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.

Once on a national board, the chair had a great approach to limiting the negative energy that can occur when a narcissistic person takes over a meeting and continues to bring forth “I” statements rather than “we” statements. When there was an open discussion, the board chair set a timer for five minutes, at which point the table could vote to continue or complete the conversation, limiting the negative impact of a narcissistic voice. If the voice was left unchecked, it could take all the air out of the room. I found this practice to be very refreshing and gave control to the “we” thinkers.

You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?

Well I have complained over the years about commuting, but the transition that you can undergo in the car is a great way to change hats and prepare for reentry. In fact, as my son got older the car was a great place to have family conversations. And, when I was able to do pick up and drop off, I was able to get to know my sons friends and teammates better.

Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

One of my favorite leadership books is by Nancy Schilling, author of “Unconventional Leadership.” I could relate to her as a Midwesterner. I appreciated her ‘roll up your sleeves’ attitude. And most prominently, I appreciated her focus on diversity and inclusion which is essential to fighting health in equity in Detroit as it is in Chicago.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My focus would be on love, the idea that we cherish one another and we bring our best selves into our work environment every day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite sayings is “no rehearsing and no rehashing,” which I learned in mindfulness training. To me, reducing the amount of energy I spend going over past mistakes, lost opportunities, or spending time on worries of the future and what might or might not have been, results in a clear focus on what I can control today. I frequently share this quote with those who report to me, but also in the clinical setting for patients with chronic pain or those who have to manage significant illness and its sequelae.

What are the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

The best way readers can follow me, is by following my fantastic place of work, Rush University Medical Center. In particular, follow us as we launch the Center for the Advancement of Women in Health Care. You can also follow us at the ALIVE project, which chronicles our health equity work on the West Side of Chicago.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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