To the residency applicant in the room,
Can you believe your time in medical school is almost up? Soon enough, you will exchange that short white coat you’ve had for something a little longer.
As interview season gets on its way, you may be experiencing a handful of feelings. Perhaps it is the joy of finishing a chapter and entering a new one. Perhaps it is nervousness as you realize that residency means fewer weekends and longer days. Perhaps it is excitement as you realize that you will have patients of your own to manage. Perhaps it is gratitude for all the days you thought you couldn’t make it. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above.
On my first day as a resident, not long ago, I myself cycled through each of these feelings. That morning, I put on my green scrubs and went to my first rotation — the notorious ICU. Besides getting a little lost in the hospital, inducing a bit of stress hormones, the day was full of events. From introducing myself to patients, to evaluating them and making a plan, to ordering medications, all of it was surreal.
At that time, I felt paradoxically lost in a place that felt familiar. In medical school, I had done an ICU rotation; yet as an intern, the flow was faster and with a different viscosity. Nurses came to me and sought my advice and direction. Respiratory therapists told me the arterial blood gas results and asked me what I wanted to do next. I was asked by my seniors to write the notes and come up with the plan. The responsibilities of a resident, I realized, were upgraded.
As a relatively new resident, I know how it feels to know where one is going but not know what to expect once one gets there. To help guide fellow soon-to-be interns through the transition, I have compiled four lessons I have learned so far:
1) Residency is a marathon, not a sprint.
We all want to get to the finish line quickly. We are ready to become our own bosses and not be under the shadow of another doctor. But like a marathon, you cannot expect to run without some training. Residency is not an overnight event that will teleport you to the end goal. You must practice and find what works best for you. Trial and error, correction and improvement are all part of the process. Jog for a bit and then find the pace for you. That is how it was for me in my first rotation. I noticed that my pre-charting needed some improvement, so I made the appropriate changes.
2) Treat those around you with kindness and respect.
Stress is bound to test your patience, my friend, but do not project that onto others. Remember that everyone has a battle they are going through, and a little act of kindness and respect can make someone’s day. Appreciate the work others do for the team.
Remember: Medicine is a collaborative effort, and nurses in particular will be your right-hand people. I have personally met so many talented nurses who show love for others, know a good deal about their patients, and even help me out a little extra, like calling the lab to speed up lab values. Colleagues like this can make your life so much easier. It’s important to treat them with the respect that you would want for yourself.
3) Your time at work and outside matter equally.
A laundry list of responsibilities will fill up your inbox and can wreak havoc. So, do yourself a favor and draw a line between work and life outside of it. You deserve to clear your mind from the stress load you encounter on the job.
When you’re at home, try to focus on being present. This allows your brain to take a break from the cortisol stress that work can bring and releases happy hormones.
When you’re at the clinic, go outside for a few minutes to absorb some sun rays and appreciate nature’s gifts. Don’t get me wrong, it can be difficult to do this at first, but if you try day by day to tweak your boundary lines, you’ll get to the point where you can fully distance work from your personal space. Doing so will bring peace in the times that you most need it.
4) Residency can be a scary place to be part of — but it doesn’t have to be.
It can be scary to, for example, choose medications — which one of these medications is best? or, should I hold off on meds for now? Know, however, that as you get to see more patients, you will feel more comfortable with medicine. Personally, I still have a lot to learn — but I know that the baby steps I am taking will soon mature. My confidence in myself has begun to trump the weight of being scared.
I encourage you not to let the things you have yet to do stop you from reflecting on the things you’ve already done. In moments of self-doubt, remember: You have already accomplished so much.
Incoming residents, I leave you with this: Although residency will bring its own challenges, it is first and foremost an era to enjoy and learn from. Allow yourself to embrace your fears and accept your mistakes. Give yourself permission to learn. Do not limit yourself, and instead push yourself to grasp for more. This is the time to absorb all that you can. You are so close to the finish line — keep jogging.
Do you have additional tips for getting through residency? Share in the comments below!
Dr. Ricardo Chujutalli is a family medicine resident in Orlando, FL. He enjoys reading, playing chess, and exercising. He received his Masters in Business Administration from La Sierra University and Masters in Bioethics from Loma Linda University. Dr. Chujutalli is a 2022–2023 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.
Illustration by Diana Connolly