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The 5 Things You Should Learn During Residency

During medical school and residency, we focus on learning all the medical knowledge we need to become adept and proficient physicians. So many of us push through to the end of residency, to achieving that proficiency, while sacrificing our self-care. And then we aren't prepared for what comes NEXT. We are not prepared mentally and/or physically for #attendinglife. Dr. Kristin Yates joins us on the blog today to discuss the habits we should learn during residency in order to care for ourselves as we grow into our attending roles.

Medical training is grueling. Long hours. Limited control of your schedule. Constantly feeling like you have more to learn but wanting to just make it through at the same time. When I was in residency, we didn’t really talk about what life would be like for us once we were attendings. I’m not sure if it’s because we thought we would never make it or if we just had no idea where to even begin. Now that I am a few years removed from residency, I understand the benefit of future planning and the importance of working on this during residency.

You will eventually become an attending. When you get there, you will want to know what’s next. That is exactly what happened to me. I had worked towards the goal of becoming a physician for over 15 years. Once I was finally an attending, the nagging thought remained. What’s next?

Here are the 5 things that you can incorporate into your residency training that will not only prepare you for life as an attending, they will help you to survive the demands of residency.

1. Visualization:

The act of creating a mental image of something, usually with the goal of improving performance or gaining mental clarity. Top performance athletes and successful entrepreneurs have been using visualization for decades. There have been studies done with athletes that have shown better performance of a sport-related task after simply imagining themselves performing that task repeatedly. Simply imagining something will form neuronal pathways that help with actually achieving it.

What does this mean for you and physicians in general? It means that you are able to visualize yourself either at a future moment in time, or performing a procedure, and actually be more likely to accomplish whatever it is you imagine. Is that not one of the most amazing things you have ever learned?

Here are the steps:

After you have identified 2-3 goals that are important to you, put them in a place that you will see every day. At the start of your day, review these goals so that you take consistent steps towards them throughout the year. Consistently visualize like I have described above. The more that you do this, the easier it is for your brain to find ways for you to reach these goals

2. Time Management:

You are always working, and when you’re not working, you’re studying or sleeping or trying to spend time with your friends/family. If you are anything like me, you are also able to find time to scroll through social media, watch crappy television and have a few cocktails. What I realize now is that there are some activities that are just not worth my time.

Can you identify “mindless” activities that you spend 30-60 minutes on every day. Write them down, along with the time of day that you are most likely to do those things. I encourage you to commit to taking that time and spending it on something more useful. That could be a walk, going to the gym, journaling, meditating, reviewing your goals.

3. Targeting Stressors:

Much of the stress that we feel is a result of our thoughts. What makes you stressed when you are thinking about it? Use the 3Rs (example below) to reveal what thoughts are making you feel stress. This is within your control to change


Pay attention to your thoughts, write them down.

“I am stressed out because I have to present this case to M&M. I will probably look ridiculous in front of everyone. Someone might ask me a question and if I don’t know the answer than everyone will think I’m stupid. The attendings won’t want to work with me and then I’ll probably fail out of residency”


Are the thoughts true? Are they absolutely true?

If you are prepared then you will know most answers. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers because you are a resident and are learning. People don’t fail out of residency for not knowing a question at M&M


Pick a new thought that creates a positive/neutral emotion and start retraining your brain by inserting that new thought whenever you think the old one.

I am prepared. I am ready to present. I will do my best.

4. Buffering:

This is when you are distracting yourself from feeling uncomfortable emotions. You don’t want to feel stressed so you have a glass of wine. You are missing your family because you haven’t seen them for 2 weeks so you eat ice cream. We train ourselves to buffer away our negative emotions. This can lead to unhealthy habits, weight gain and depression.

What do you buffer with? Pick one or two of those things and try to decrease it by 50%. The next time you have the urge to eat, drink or mindlessly scroll on social media, journal instead. Write down what you are feeling. Just get comfortable with the discomfort. Pay attention to what you are feeling. Notice how long it lasts.

5. Healthy Habits:

Alleviating stress and eliminating buffering is easier said than done. Adding routines that encourage a healthy body and mind are the key to success with all things described above. The habits that have had the most impact for me have been gratitude, mindfulness and intermittent fasting.

If these concepts are new to you, as they were to me not that long ago, I encourage you to incorporate one thing at a time. When that feels routine, it’s time to pick the next one. Finding a mentor that has been successful at several of these practices will help you to implement them into your life so that it is a lasting change.

You are a physician. That job comes with huge responsibility. You will only be able to properly shoulder that responsibility if you have your feet firmly planted on the ground, your mind properly managed and a healthy body to keep you going.

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