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Thoughts for New Interns

I really can’t believe my first year of residency is over! This year has gone by so fast. The saying I first heard in medical school, “the days are long but the years are short”, continues to be extremely true. Being a doctor is such an amazing, crazy, weird job. I honestly still feel like it hasn’t sunk in that I get to do this for the rest of my life.

Even though I am excited to be a senior resident (in most specialties this refers to a resident that is in their second year of residency or further), I honestly still don’t feel fully convinced that I really have concrete helpful advice to share.

But, I still wanted to try to share some thoughts I think would be helpful for the new interns starting residency today.

Trust the process.

Look to your senior residents. Trust that you will end up competent like they are someday if you put in the work. This is so much easier said than done. It’s normal to think that you’re the exception that may not make it through or may not be progressing like everyone else is. I am guilty of a serious case of imposter syndrome as I’ve shared before, but I do always find it helpful to look to my senior residents as examples. Some residents also seem to get anxious about getting enough exposure to various procedures or more rare patient presentations. Just know that in the end things will even out, there’s no reason to try to “steal” procedures or experience from your peers; we’re all on the same team.

Not all important skills can be measured.

After 8+ years of premedical and medical school education, which is largely based on tests and numbers, not having that tangible measurable feedback to mark your progress as you go through your intern year can be difficult at times. You will likely have to shift your mindset about your growth as a person, and as a doctor. Although residencies will have some tests, it’s important to remember that the number from that test has little to do with other important skills. Your patients will never know your numbers, but they will remember if you listened to them and explained things in terms they could understand. Your nursing/RT/tech/support staff relationships are so important both for patient care, and for being a good leader in the department; but how could you measure that? Remember that your only competition is the version of yourself that showed up to work the day before. All you can do is your best, and your best will look different each day.

Know that there will not be one magical moment in which you finally feel like a “doctor”. The growth and the learning happens subtly over time.

A positive attitude goes a long way.

We know that this road is going to be difficult. Whenever I find myself feeling negatively about the amount of work or the hours, I remind myself that these are the years that I want to and need to put the time in, so I can serve my patients well later. During interview season, I don’t remember which program said this but the saying really stuck with me. Someone said when things are overwhelming and busy, you won’t “rise to the occasion”, you will “fall back on your training”. I’ve repeated this to myself a handful of times this year when I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. These are the 3 years of training and experience that I will fall back on, so working hard and seeing as many patients as possible will serve all of my future patients well. That being said though, there is nothing wrong with venting and leaning on your co-residents when you need it. Just try not to make a habit of focusing on the negatives.

Be proactive, for your patients’ sake.

Making the extra phone call to the case manager, social worker, to the laboratory, etc. can go a very long way in moving your patients’ care forward now that you’re “the doctor”. Be proactive about reaching out to the patient’s family members. These extra few minutes can provide valuable information about the patient’s current presentation, and is very fulfilling when you can help calm worried minds.

Spend time with your co-residents, and include your partner if you can.

Every time I have the opportunity to spend time with my co-residents, I come out of the conversation feeling better. Hearing others on this same crazy journey normalize your anxieties and experiences goes a very long way. I am also very grateful to be at a program that emphasizes including our partners and spouses as much as possible. We spend so much time at work, that it can quickly start to feel like our lives don’t involve our partner. Having the opportunities for your partner to develop friendships with other spouses and the residents helps so much by keeping them involved in as many aspects of your life as possible.

Just keep moving forward.

When I asked my senior residents how they handled the increased responsibility of 2nd and 3rd year, most of them had the exact same verbiage of “you just do it”. I think this is true of most of the residency experience; you just show up, do what needs to be done to the best of your ability, and come back the next day a little more experienced. It can get overwhelming if you try to think about how much learning you have between now and being an attending, so just take things one shift at a time.

Being a resident is truly a privilege…and at the same time also an enormous sacrifice.

Getting to be in patients’ lives when they’re at their most vulnerable, getting paid to take care of people, getting to show up to work and do something you love… is such a privilege. Remember all of the years you spent, “all the blood sweat and tears”, waiting for this day! At the same time, spending sometimes 80 hours a week at the hospital, missing important milestones and daily moments with your loved ones, feeling distant from your family, putting some aspects of your life on hold…is an immense sacrifice. It is such a unique experience to have such opposite feelings about the same thing. You will have really exhilarating highs, and excruciating lows…sometimes all in the same day. Everyone will handle this roller coaster differently. Brace yourself, and be grateful for those who have faith in you even when you lose faith in yourself. Hold onto the things that keep you strong, and forgive yourself for the days you are weak.

One moment you’ll be wishing you were a senior resident and knew what you were doing already; and the next you’ll have new interns asking you for a few words of advice.

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