Tips for Thriving During Intern Year
Currently, I am a neurology resident and neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. As a neurology resident, I conducted my intern year rotating within internal medicine. In less than 2 weeks, I will be a PGY-2 neurology resident. As I reflect over my experience, it has been a year of tremendous excitement and extreme difficulty. I have grown into becoming a more independent physician-scientist. For those transitioning from medical student to physician, here my words of wisdom to help make it a smooth transition.
Create a checklist of all the non-clinical tasks that you need to complete before orientation and give yourself plenty of time to accomplish these tasks.
There are several useful moving checklists online. You will learn to love checklists as a physician. Prioritize your checklist tasks in order of importance and urgency. Once you have a checklist, start looking for your apartment right after the match. I asked for apartment recommendations from current residents in my program. After Match Week, I was able to visit Rochester in order to secure a living space. Do this as soon as possible, the best apartments, especially those closest to the hospital, fill up quickly. Afterwards, I spent some time searching for a reputable moving company to help me move my things from my hometown of Lexington, KY to Rochester, MN (aka the North Pole). Once I arrived in Rochester, I performed tasks on my checklists (i.e. updating my driver's license, registering my vehicle, updating my mailing address, setting-up automatic bill-pay, etc). You will be so happy that you took care of these tasks before orientation so that you can dedicate more time to your new job title!
Know what is expected of you as an intern and work toward completing these tasks in a thorough and efficient manner.
Now you are a doctor. You will be making decisions regarding a patient's lives and it can be a very daunting sense of increased responsibility and accountability. A common saying is that intern year is like drinking from an opened fire hydrant. I was overwhelmed in trying to figure out which books read, how to admit/discharge patients, how to input orders, etc. I relied heavily on the people around me for advice. I created a group chat for my co-interns where we shared knowledge and helped each other. I constantly asked attendings, chiefs, and senior residents what my day-to-day clinical responsibilities were as an intern.
I wrote out these expectations and worked toward becoming more thorough and efficient. My job as an intern was to know the most about my patient, see them daily, communicate with family, other providers, or support staff, input orders, write notes, and attempt to make management decisions.
Early on, I was not expected to know how to manage patients on my own because that is the goal of residency. Once I embraced this fact, I was able to be more kind to myself.
Create a running list of all of your positive encounters with patients, staff, colleagues, etc so that you can read them when you have low points.
Intern year is extremely difficult because there are so many changes as noted above. You are no longer a medical student and you are now a doctor and your responsibilities have drastically increased. It has been shown that it is common for interns to hit low points from around October to February. During these times, it is easy to lose sight of why you became a physician and get caught up in all of your weaknesses. These notes will help you remember that you are great and that you help patients!
Be kind to yourself when you do not know something. It is not a sign of weakness but an opportunity for growth.
Nobody is born knowing how to practice medicine. We must all learn how to become doctors. Even the most seniored attendings who seem to know everything were once nervous interns. I started out in the MICU and there were a lot of things that I did not know. I felt like an imposter. I was very nervous that I would be seen as incompetent for not knowing things. But this was not the case at all. As interns, we are expected to complete the expected tasks on our patient, ask questions, and read up on patients. This is how interns become independent practicing physicians. Once I started seeing my lack of knowledge as an opportunity for growth, my training growth was exponential and this was noted on my evaluations.
Trust the process. See these knowledge gaps as opportunities for growth. Ask for help when you need it.
Find creative ways to incorporate healthy habits into your daily clinical routine.
One of my goals during intern year was to develop healthier habits. I started using a service to deliver my groceries weekly so that I would have fresh fruits and vegetables. I also started meal planning on my off-days in order to have healthy meals ready for the week. Rochester is a very bike-friendly town and I lived close to the hospital. Therefore, I started biking to work (not when there was 5 ft of snow on the ground) as part of my daily exercise routine. In months that I was unable to bike due to frigid temperatures, I used my under-the-desk elliptical at my clinical workstation for exercise. I also used a fitness watch to help me track my progress and work toward my goals of running a bike-a-thon for charity. As an added bonus, I downloaded apps that reward users for exercising in the form of gift-cards and monetary awards.
Connect with your loved ones on a routine basis.
My partner, family, and friends are mostly concentrated in Kentucky. Therefore, my partner and I had to start doing a long-distance relationship. At times during intern year, I felt very homesick. Therefore, I started becoming more intentional in connecting with my loved ones. I scheduled phone meetings with my partner, family members, and friends.
With my family, we have scheduled time for family chats on Zoom and FaceTime so that we can stay up-to-date with each other all at once. I started planning for vacations months in advance. At the urging of my younger sister, I created new social media accounts so that I could keep up with my loved ones. She taught me how to tweet, tag, and hashtag.
Intern year is a very difficult and rewarding transition in medicine. It will fly by and in thirteen months, you will be seniors to the next wave of interns.
Keep an open mind, stay curious, and ask questions. Remember to enjoy your intern year!
Welcome to the practice of medicine, we are all here to support you.
If you have additional question or if you’re interested in neurology or neuroscience, contact me on my Facebook page (@Dr.Ighodaro), or Twitter (@Dr_Ighodaro).
See you in the wards!