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Surviving Intern Year

Hello everyone! I am Dr. Natasha Bhalla, a first year (almost second year!) surgical intern going into Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery . All across the country, interns will be beginning their residency around this time. Here are some tips on what to expect and perhaps even how to survive your first year.

1. Expect it to be difficult.

When I look at the responsibility that a fourth year medical student versus an intern is given, I realize the vast, vast difference. A medical student is seen as someone that an Attending or a Resident is expected to teach. Some days in the hospital that is very difficult. An Intern, on the other hand, is someone who is expected to move the surgical case along or help stabilize the ICU patient so they can be downgraded to the floor. Essentially, they are expected to be the one to keep the day moving along.

2. You are expected to learn. And fast!

That is an unfortunate truth about Intern year and perhaps all of residency. I remember interacting with the IM chiefs during the beginning of my Intern year. They expected their Interns to carry 7-10 patients (which is a lot) and know how to put in orders, manage the patients' hyperkalemia, hypokalemia, etc. on Day 3!

If an intern did not learn how to do all of that by Day 3, they were considered a "bad intern". Crazy! But true.

My tip for this – take notes, and lots of them during your first few months. I wrote everything down initially: what I needed to do that day, how to manage common medical issues, how to put in orders, how to discharge the patients. I looked crazy to my co-residents but they were the ones asking me later how to do all of these various tasks. I also was more liked my seniors because my ability to know what to do, and how to do it, made their life easier.

3. Do not make any social plans on weekdays.

I only made social plans on weekends when I definitively knew I was not on call.

What I am trying to say is that life in the hospital is unpredictable. When you are a surgical resident, you do not know if a surgical case will get added on as emergent at 7 pm.

As a medical resident, you do not know if you will receive an admission 10 minutes before sign out and your senior will want to teach you how to admit a patient. Essentially your life belongs to your seniors and to your residency. The sooner you accept it, the easier your life becomes. It changes with time of course. But initially, it is the best way to learn and gain the trust of your seniors and attendings.

4. Becomes friends with your co-residents and nurses.

They are your allies. If you are aiming to be in the medical profession, you likely exhibit some degree of a type A personality. That may mean that you have trouble asking for help. I struggled with this one a lot. Despite all your note taking and dedication to your residency, your co-resident or nurse may have knowledge that you lack. They may have managed a particular surgical complication before you've experienced it, or they may have had a particular senior before you that explained a procedure.

Knowing what to expect or how to handle a situation will make your senior's life a lot easier. By extension, that will make your life easier. So discuss things with your co-residents and nurses! Ask them if they know how to handle something, and learn from each other's experiences. 

5. It is maybe okay if you are not reading as much about your field.

Coming out of medical school, you are used to spending hours in a day studying and reading. Intern year is about learning about the hospital and keeping things moving. Even if you put in 30 minutes of reading versus the 4 hours you are used to, you are still doing great.

At the end of day, it is a great year and when you look back at how much you learned, it is amazing!

Good luck to everyone starting their intern year!

If you need someone to speak to you, I am more than happy to be available. I can be reached at @dr.natashabhalla on Instagram.

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