Residency can be a fearful time in a doctor’s career, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. Here are some tips for recent medical school graduates as they begin their training.
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Medical students across the United States have been celebrating their graduations, marking the moment they transition from being career students to being actual doctors. As July 1st approaches, we all know what that means: these recent graduates will now be doctors. It can be a fearful time in a doctor’s career. We’ve all heard horror stories of the abuse interns endure as well as the coming lack of sleep and personal time to do simple things, such as eating meals. As doctors, we’ve been through this rite of passage, but it doesn’t need to be as fearful as most of us experienced. Here are some tips for recent medical school graduates as they start training:
1. Don’t be afraid to talk to the attendings. Yes, there are some who are, well, just not nice. But they are the ones with the most experience and knowledge. The fact is that most attendings really want to train students and residents in the right way. It is just the few who rather not be bothered that cause the misery for everyone. If you don’t speak up, you won’t know which ones can help you.
2. Support each other. We all know how cut-throat medicine can be. We competed to be accepted into medical school, and we compete to get into the residency of our choosing. However, trainees are all going through the same struggles and having support can make it easier.
3. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. I have seen many make the mistake of assuming an answer rather than admitting they don’t know, even to the point that it affects patient safety. Your higher ups will respect you much more when you admit what you don’t know and rightfully claim what you do.
4. If you are unsure, get another opinion. Before you write that order and the nurses carry it out, be sure what you are ordering. If there is any doubt in your mind, ask your senior residents. That is what they are there for.
5. Be human. It is so easy in training to forget that patients are real people. Often, they become that diabetic in room XYZ or the motorcycle accident in the ICU. Refer to patients by their real name. Try to understand what they are feeling (no one is answering their call bell, their food is cold by the time it is brought to them, etc.) rather than just their diseases and management. Many of these other complaints can be quite distressful to patients, even affecting their clinical course. Maybe that sudden jump in blood pressure caused by being woken up to have blood drawn.
6. Study what you see. No matter how much you know, you don’t everything and there is still much more that you need to know. Reading about the cases you see is the best way to retain that information, not only for board exams but for real life clinical practice as well. Once you smell the odor of pseudomonas, for example, you never forget it. Reading the description of the aroma without having experienced it is just not the same.
7. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. We all expect some rough treatment when we enter residency, but often the worse abuses come from ourselves. Many people often recommend sleep, yoga, meditation, and many other forms of “wellness” to overcome stress and burnout. As a doctor, I can vouch for the fact that when a resident doesn’t have time to do these things, they really don’t have time. Yet, we must not lose ourselves in our training. As much as we strive to learn medicine, we must carve out time for our own personal health. We need activities outside of medicine to balance the horrors we see every day.
While residency marks the beginning of doctorhood, new residents still have a long road to follow. Keeping these tips in mind can help make the path less treacherous.