Advice for Young Physicians I Wish I’d Gotten

May 6, 2011

It is this time of the year that I welcome medical students into my practice. And for the medical students about to enter residency and the residents about to enter private practice, I can certainly pass along some friendly advice.

Finally, springtime has arrived. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green and everyone is happy. For my private practice, our daily volumes usually tend to go down 5 to 10 percent on average during spring and summer.

It is this time of the year that I welcome medical students into my practice. The somewhat lower daily patient volumes allow me to have an extra few minutes with the students per patient. This practice has been well received by both my office staff and patients for several years now.

As the students come and go, I am often asked the same questions during their exit interviews. "Do you have any advice for a young physician in training, Dr. Litton?" For most physicians, we usually respond with such answers as: read about your patients, take time for yourself, try not to work too hard, etc. Those are just general directives that were given to me when I was in training. However, for the medical students about to enter residency and the residents about to enter private practice, I can certainly pass along some friendly advice that it would have been nice to know back then.

We all thought we were busy in medical school. The daily task of reading and preparing for the next day in medical school is like preparing for a college final exam every day. For the medical students, I would advise them to always read about the patients they have seen that day. When I see a patient with a certain medical condition, I find myself reflecting back to the medical school days when I saw my first patient with said condition. I would also encourage the students to start a daily exercise plan and do their best to stick with it. There is no better way to unwind at the end of the day to relieve stress. Even though the days seem short and the minutes seem scarce, the next step they take into residency will find themselves even more pressed for time.

During residency, my fellow residents and I would jokingly yearn for the days of medical school when all we had to do was study and show up for rotations. Residency brings with it new daily tasks, both physical and mental. Not only are the same requirements still applicable as in medical school such as constant ongoing study, but now the young physician actually has patients he/she is responsible for caring for. The weekly work hours limit was not in effect when I was in residency (the rule went into effect the day after I finished!), however since time is now more valuable, residents might feel even more pressure to make every minute worth it. Pay attention to your attendings in residency and pick certain qualities from each one that you like and try to assimilate in yourself each desirable quality to be the best physician you can be. Make sure you do not develop any sloppy habits and do not skim through patients quickly as these habits will only get worse as time goes on, as I have seen in fellow residents in the past.

For those physicians entering private practice, you have now reached the beginning of your journey. The years past have only served to prepare you for your journey. I would say that my first year in private practice probably had the steepest slope, in terms of my learning curve in medicine. If I had to give one bit of advice to new physicians, I would say please do not let yourself get accustomed to working long hours from day one. Of course we need to be there for our patients on a daily basis, but do not make a habit of working endlessly and sacrificing your time with family. Do not become preoccupied with thinking that you will not be successful if you do not work 100 hours per week. Take good care of your patients and show them that you genuinely care for them and their outcomes. Do not let yourself get rushed. If the office opens at 8 a.m., be ready to go at 7:45a.m., and do not get in the habit of making your patients wait. Remember their time is just as valuable as yours. If you follow these steps, the word-of-mouth advertising your patients will do for you will be priceless.

Since hindsight is always 20/20 and Monday morning quarterbacks always call the right plays, please feel free to add your comments so that our younger readers can benefit from others' experiences.

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