Article Image

The Bittersweetness of Finishing Intern Year

It’s the end of my intern year, and I am tired.

It’s been a long year, but overall, I think a good one. I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on this non-reproducible time, because I’m certainly not the same person now, personally or professionally, that I was when I started. I’m also in an interesting position as a preliminary intern, about to work my last day as an intern and an internal medicine resident, and then start right over as a dermatology “intern,” albeit with a year (well, only a year) of clinical experience.

People do try to prepare you for intern year, but I think it’s kind of like being a parent: you don’t really get it until it happens. My first day as an intern actually reminded me of a slightly less intense version of bringing my son home for the first time. There’s a bunch of excitement in the face of the unknown, mixed with this sense of abject terror at the prospect of being responsible for another human life. (Fortunately, as an intern, you have a bunch of help from more experienced mentors; with parenting, help isn’t always guaranteed.)

I thought I was relatively ready for the physical demands and lack of sleep — practice makes perfect! — but I wasn’t really ready for the mental exhaustion that sets in when you’re constantly running around putting out fires, answering questions about logistics while trying to figure out how everything works in a completely new system, sneaking a minute here and there to read about how to diagnose and manage a bunch of different medical conditions, quadruple-checking your orders while second-guessing yourself, and then not being able to stop worrying about your patients when you get home. And maybe the sleep stuff, too. That’s what gets you from “tired” to “exhausted,” and that can be hard to manage.

There are definitely some highs and lows on a day-to-day basis, too. There are those days when everything just clicks, and then there are the ones that remind you how much you really don’t know. But, combined with the exhilaration, and exhaustion, and pride, and defeat that carried me through, what I truly feel about this year is gratitude (mixed with a tiny bit of relief). I was fortunate to be able to begin to learn what being a doctor really means. I also had some truly incredible colleagues who helped me push through the challenges — some necessary and some less so — and that’s not something I take lightly. I am grateful that they welcomed me unquestioningly into their fold, held my hand through learning how to do just about everything, and that they were always being there with a smile or hug or silly joke when I needed it (even if they didn’t know I needed it). It’s because of them that I’m really struggling to let go of this year, even though it was time spent in a specialty I won’t practice again.

As I’ve mentioned before, the nature of our work doesn’t often give us a lot of space to process loss or grief, including any feelings we may have that are related to the strong personal relationships we form with our colleagues. This transition is no exception for me, and seems like it might be worse than some of the others. In the coming days, I’ll finish on a Friday, and then have a few days to move to a new house in a new city with my family before starting my new job on July 1. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to denial as a coping mechanism thus far, and the hullabaloo that comes with moving with small children gives me a good excuse to avoid processing this. But when I have to deal with it — and it’s coming — I know it’s going to hurt. It will be a big change not seeing each of their faces every day, and I’ll especially miss the easy comfort we’ve developed that’s based on a shared knowledge that this is really hard, but we’re all in it together.

There’s a wonderful expression in French that I’ve used liberally in situations like these, and I’ll rely on it again here. Instead of goodbye, one can choose to say “à la prochaine,” which roughly translates to: “until the next time I see you.” It’s a lovely sentiment that refuses to acknowledge that we might not see each other again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, on that day when I hang my stethoscope on the wall and drop my dermatoscope in my pocket, there’s no doubt I’ll be excited about adding a few more incredible people to my circle. But I’ll also be remembering and sending my infinite gratitude to this first group of humans who challenged me to be better and made my life infinitely more interesting just by being in it.

And I can’t wait for "la prochaine fois" (the next time).

Amy Blake is an internal medicine resident and a 2018-2019 Doximity Author. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she is or has been affiliated.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

More from Op-Med