Imagine how it feels to be deep under water when you never learned how to swim. That is exactly what the first few days of residency feel like. As time approaches for residency programs to transition to new interns, I can’t help but think about my first day as a resident. I don’t remember much, honestly, but I do remember that it was scary. But the first day passed, the fear resided, and I learned an incredible amount throughout that year. So, from someone who’s been there, here are 10 tips for all you aspiring, young, intelligent people who are about to fly on this great journey on July the 1st.
Its OK to Feel Dumb
No matter how many times you have heard this, you need to hear it one more time. The learning curve in residency is steeper than you thought. You may be the smartest student in your medical school, but be prepared to feel dumb. Make sure you focus on “learning” and not bumming on the fact that you don’t know something that you should have. If you follow this simple rule, you will learn more than you hoped for!
Don’t Judge Your Worth
In my first few months of residency, while I was sweating and making stupid errors, I was told by a superior that I wasn’t capable of this job. I still remember how bad that made me feel. I took it to heart and wasted a few days sulking in the fact that I may have entered the wrong profession. One simple reminder: Don’t judge your worth based on your performance in the first few months. This naive, inexperienced version of you is not a reflection of who you are as a clinician. Give yourself time!
On several occasions, on busy services, you may be expected to dive right into the crux of things, head on, guns blazing. Always give yourself a few moments to orient before you do that. Understand where and how everything should be done before you put yourself into the position of that responsibility. There is absolutely no shame in saying, “I don’t know!”
First year of residency is mostly about documentation and documentation. It is okay to be efficient in whatever you are assigned to do, but be aware to take out some time to interact with your patients. Connect with families. Do not bury the compassion that inspired you to do this into a huge pile of papers. Consciously find gratitude!
Scrutinize and Repeat
This first year is where you will be most prone to making errors. As you learn and navigate through a new system, scrutinize and double check everything you do and ask other people to do that for you as well. Don’t pretend like you know something, even if you don’t, just to avoid embarrassment. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I remember the knots inside my stomach every time I was asked to face a new situation, enter a new rotation, or answer a question that I hadn’t heard about before. Relax! You got this. Panicking will not get you anywhere. Remind yourself every time you face something new that you are not alone in this and can always seek help.
The biggest mistake I made during my intern year was worry about what impression I would make on others. I would walk, talk, and react a certain way just because I wanted to fit in and be liked so badly. Remind yourself that you will be spending three years in the same program, and willingly or unwillingly, you will fit in! Don’t put yourself under so much pressure now, just go with the flow. And people will start liking you for who you are!
Ask for Feedback
The first year of residency is all about learning to become the best version of yourselves. Don’t forget to ask for feedback. If you keep going on the same pace that you started at without giving yourself the chance to improve, all your hard work could go futile. So, if someone doesn’t offer feedback themselves, make sure you ask for it.
It may be the busiest time of your life, but you need to take out time for yourself. Don’t overextend yourself; take ten minutes and grab a bite!
As hard as intern year is, it is the only year in residency where you get the most supervision and have the least decision-making responsibility. There are others who will be constantly checking on what you do, making sure you don’t mess up. Enjoy this luxury and make sure you make this experience worthwhile.
Good luck on this new journey. You made it through long, grueling years of medical school — you can do this too!
Saba Fatima, MD, originally hails from Karachi, Pakistan and is currently training as a pediatrics resident in Philly. She has a passion for children and writing, and she hopes for a world where no child has to die because they cant afford to live. She is a 2018 Doximity Scholar. She tweets @SabaFatimaAli and blogs at https://sabafatimaali.wordpress.com/.