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Advice for Starting a Medical Residency


Having been a resident not that many years ago, here is some advice for the new doctors as they take on the world.

July marks the arrival of new resident physicians onto the hospital floors and into the exam rooms in their bright, new, long white coats. Mixed emotions of excitement and fear permeate the air. During orientation interns attempt to cram hospital routines, order sets, and program protocols into their already full brains. They want to do it right from the beginning, impress their attending physicians, and cure their patients.

Residency symbolizes becoming a real doctor, no longer students; these new doctors make treatment decisions and counsel patients. Having been in those shoes not that many years ago, here is some advice for the new doctors as they take on the world:

1. Nurses will teach you as much as attending physicians.

They are in the trenches day in and day out with your patients holding their hands and hearing their concerns. Nurses can be your best friends on the floors, providing hints to patient conditions and showing you the ropes. They know where the bathroom is, which attending physicians expect phone-call updates, and the telephone number to the lab. Nurses also know your patient's condition: When they call because your patient doesn't look good, go up and check on that patient.

2. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" and ask for help.

This is training and it is okay to ask questions. Ask your attending physicians, ask your nurses, ask your fellow residents. Why do we do this, how do we do this, when do we do this? All of these questions make you a better doctor. It's no longer just about book learning.

3. Read.

Of course, there is still reading. Invest at least eight hours a week to reading about your patients. Having a patient's story will help you remember a particular condition. You will collect those conditions and stories as you go on and this will create a library for you. Stay current with your specialty journals. Find one that is easily accessible and pertinent to your field. Read it religiously. Additionally, learn which point-of-care resources your colleagues find useful and add those to your resource library.

4. Balance.

Although much of your life will revolve around patient care, journal reading, and writing notes, it is vital to remember to have a life outside of medicine. Even if you can only carve out a small amount of time, don't forget what you loved to do before you became a doctor: reading, hiking, or taking in a movie. Physician burnout is real, but can be helped when you remember to make time for a few non-medicine activities. Keep in touch with friends and family, have a support network to help you when being a physician becomes overwhelming.

5. Do not underestimate your power outside the exam room.

Doctors can use their voices to help patients not just in the role of physician but also in terms of advocating for patient resources and rights. Find something you believe in and get behind it. There are numerous advocacy groups at local, state, and national levels as well as state medical societies and specialty groups providing opportunities to give back to your community.

July may seem daunting with a myriad of patients, required lectures, and an ever-growing pile of journals waiting to be read, but every year another generation of physicians survives it and you will too.

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