Surviving your first year of residency

October 23, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Gap Medics students with their mentor inTanzania.jpg Even if you were a top-notch medical student, residency is a whole new ball game. Being a good student does not always translate to excelling during residency. That does not mean you won’t or can’t do well. It means you have to take several things into consideration in order to survive and thrive in your first year of residency.

The number of hours you will put in each week vary. Certain residencies are more demanding than others. But your first year will likely be time consuming regardless of your specialty. You may have to adjust your schedule and learn to work efficiently on little sleep. It is also helpful to learn to nap and eat any time of the day.

Additionally, try to get a little exercise at least a few times a week, which will help you to unwind.

Start your residency by realizing you are in for a big change. Don’t compound the change by making additional big decisions during your first year of residency. For example, you may want to hold off a year to buy a house, get married or have a baby. Life will be hectic enough as you adjust to being a first-year resident without adding other major life changes. 


Being well prepared is the key to success

It is also essential to get organized from the start. You will see lots of patients and have many tasks to perform. You need to attend rounds, order and review lab tests and see patients. With all that you will be juggling, it is easy to get mixed up. At the start of your residency, develop ways to stay organized and keep track of all you have to do. Whether you use apps, a written planner or leave yourself notes, find ways to keep yourself on track.

Staying on track also means being well prepared each day. If you are presenting a case to your senior resident, know your stuff. Review labs, patient history and previous physician and nursing notes. Faking your way through things won’t work. Your preceptors have been in your shoes, and they can tell when you are unprepared and guessing.

Technology is your friend. Apps can be a great way to have vital information at your fingertips. There are apps for drug reference and calculations, advanced cardiac life support care, patient education and more. Apps can be invaluable when you need to reference something in a hurry. 


Mistakes are inevitable

Keep in mind, no matter how prepared you are mistakes are inevitable. You are in your first year, and there is a lot to learn. Medicine is not always textbook, and experience plays a huge role in becoming better at what you do. You can only gain that in time. You are not incompetent if you mess up. Every resident does. Learn what you can from it. Shake it off and move forward.

Never lie about something you did or did not do. For instance, if the attending doctor asks you if you checked the patient’s lab results and you did not, don’t lie and say you did. It can be tempting to fib a little and say you did something to avoid getting reprimanded, but lying is not a good idea. It could be dangerous to the patient, makes you look bad if you are caught and makes others not trust you. Always take responsibility for your actions or lack of actions.   


Everyone is nervous  

It is perfectly normal to be a little apprehensive and nervous when you are starting your residency. You may be dealing with critically ill patients, and you are still figuring out what to do. Everyone feels anxious occasionally. Even if you feel scared doing a procedure or dealing with a difficult situation, try not to show it. Patients will pick up on your fear, which does not instill confidence in your abilities. The good news is things that seem overwhelming at first, will become second nature in time.

Keep in mind, there may be times when you are in way over your head. If that occurs, ask for help. You are not expected to know everything. Residency is a time for learning and you can’t learn everything all at once. You don’t want to risk hurting a patient when you don’t have a clue what you are doing. Don’t do something dumb to look smart.   


You got yourself into this

Residency can be grueling. Hours can be long, and the work can be intense. First- year residents will make sacrifices, such as missing family gatherings, holidays and other special occasions. You may also feel you are under scrutiny from senior residents, which also adds to your stress level. It is normal to want to vent to your friends and family about how tough your residency has been. Everyone feels the need to blow off steam and complain a little. But avoid whining in front of senior residents, hospital staff and attending physicians. Being a physician takes hard work and sometimes long hours. Supervising physicians need to know you have what it takes. 

Regardless of how stressed you get keep perspective during your first year. It can be hard to have perspective when you are sleep deprived and feel like you are working all the time. But residency does not last forever. Try to appreciate the people you meet along the way including the staff, doctors and patients who will all play a part in making you a good doctor.

Lastly, take a step back and realize what a privilege it is to graduate from medical school, become a doctor and care for patients. Being a doctor can be exciting, complex and rewarding. You have the opportunity to take care of people when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable. During your career as a physician, you will play a part in improving patient’s lives. You may ease suffering and in some cases, you will even save lives. That’s pretty good for a day’s work.