How to Survive Intern Year| Tips for New Residents| My Life in Medicine

Hey my darlings! VERY long time no see! I hope you are all doing well and staying safe. Today I wanted to share with you my 10 tips to help YOU Survive Intern Year.

July 1st is fast approaching. This means thousands of brand-new doctors will be roaming the hospital halls all across the nation. Some may even star earlier given that some states were graduating students early to aid with COVID requirements of more physicians in the workforce.

Residency is DEFINITELY not easy. But I recently created a video where I go into these tips so you could also check that out to get exactly the same information. This was all inspired by my experiences as an intern and as a resident. As new interns wish I’d had access to more resources like this that were encouraging and giving me tips on how to survive. As such I decided to do a post as well in case some of you are more readers than YouTube listeners. If that is your case, then keep on reading and find my tips to help YOU survive your Intern Year!

survive intern year

1)  Do not neglect your health

This I believe to be the most important tip of all and the one you are more likely to forget. It is SO easy to dive into work headfirst and focus all of your energy in doing that. But we must NEVER neglect our own health for work. I am a HUGE believer that we need to care for ourselves FIRST so we can give our patients our BEST always. Now this includes ALL aspects of health, and I KNOW not all programs will be flexible to this, but we must do what we can to put our own health first.

I learned a little TOO late in my intern year how important it was to prioritize my health, both physical and mental.  This is something that is so important and dear to my heart because I have struggled with this.   I have been that person that has neglected my health during this time and I definitely don’t recommend that to anybody.  whether it is doing yoga,  taking a nap or  taking a break at work to go eat or go to the bathroom,  meditation, etc. Basically, doing ANYTHING that makes you feel like a human being.

survive intern year

Our health is something that can be greatly affected by the long hours that we work, by our lack of sleep, the fact that we sometimes don’t eat at work, etc. All of these other things can make it really hard to get on with your day and keep moving on. 

For example, make sure that you are going to your doctor’s appointments,  go to your annual exam, go to the dentist, or even  if you need mental health services,  do take time to go to those.  Never forget to take care of yourself. This is essential to survive intern year. 

I like to say that if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t be giving your patients the best version of yourself.

2) Develop a support system

 This is really important whether it be your significant other, your parents,  your friends from medical school or even high school,  friends that you make in residency and from other programs. The key is to just find a support system. These will be people in whom you can confide,  whom you can vent and talk to when you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. 

survive intern year

 There will be times when you feel like you need to let that out  even further. In that case you can also look to see if your programs have resident assistance programs. These are programs that allow you to receive mental health services and this is a good way to receive support.  Some programs do give this option to their residents and it’s usually free and confidential. In some cases, your program doesn’t even have to know that you are going if you don’t want to. 

In the end this is also a good way to also develop a support system that is more private and personal. This will take you back to point one: taking care of your health at the same time. Once again your support system will help you survive intern year!

3) Be comfortable saying “I don’t know” o “I need help”

These are two very important phrases in life, but  especially for incoming interns. Sometimes you will feel like you are thrown to the wolves and you don’t really know what you’re doing. That can be incredibly overwhelming.  You will find yourself in moments where you have a lot of patients and you don’t know what to do. You will be scared, but you will also want people to trust you and trust your judgment. 

As an intern it’s hard to know if you are doing a good job. Most of the time you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes you will be put in a position where you’ve never done that particular thing before or don’t feel comfortable doing it. It is in these times that it’s very important to go to your upper levels, whether it be a second, third, or fourth year. Go to someone that you trust and feel comfortable with. Be willing to say, “hey I don’t know how to do this” or “I have never done it before, can you show me how to do it so that I know for next time?” 

survive intern year

DO NOT  wait until you are in over your head to call for help. Do NOT put yourself in a position where you might need to say those things when it is already too late. Never be afraid to say those things.  I know some programs have a more toxic culture and they’re not really encouraging in that sense. In those situations, it can be really hard to feel comfortable saying “I don’t know”.  But these are things that are going to keep your patients safe and are going to make those around you trust you.  They will know that you are capable of asking for help and that you are doing your best to learn, but also keep your patients safe.

4) Be a team player

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be part of a team and to be an encouraging person. It is crucial that you aim to be  an active participant of your team. 

Try to always be willing to help those around you. Truth is you don’t need to wait until you are told that X or Y things need to be done. If you know that something needs to be done, and you see that your co-worker is busy and it’s something that needs to be done for sign-out, just take the lead and do it.  You don’t need to say, “hey I’m going to help you with this”. JUST DO IT. Then when  they come back and say, “ oh my god I forgot to do this”, you can be the one who says, “hey don’t worry. I already took care of it”. That is a real team player.

Be that person that wants everybody in your team to succeed and achieve their goals.  Be the person that strives to make everybody look good. Don’t do things because they’ll make you look good. Do things that are going to make your whole team, everyone who was involved that day look good. Make them all be responsible and active participants. 

This is especially important  if you’re in a program that has a toxic culture. One where people only look out for themselves. If you do those things, you are going to be that person that inspires change.  You will make things so much better because when people work in a team it’s better for the patient, it makes your work environment flow and it enhances communication. By helping them you help the patients, and you help everybody in your team look good.

5) Be kind/polite

I always strive to be nice and be polite and be kind to everybody. An I tell our students the same thing. The issue is that you don’t know what other people are going through. Some people may be rude to you one day, but you can’t know if  they’re having a rough time, or if something is going on in their personal life that is making them snap at you. Always spread kindness. One of the best things I was ever told was “ you never know who you will be working with in the future”. You want to always try to make a good impression and you want to try and get along with everybody.  

intern survival guide

Of course, we’re human, and that means that we won’t get along with 100 percent of the people we come into contact with.  But even if someone doesn’t rub you the right way you can still be kind and polite. I guarantee that if you at least TRY, you will be known as someone who is always nice and it’s always a good person.

This also includes never talking bad about people behind their backs. You don’t want to be that person that starts and spreads gossip in your workplace or the person people are relived is not working that day.  What you DO want is to be the person that everyone is excited to work with, the one that they are willing to negotiate with. Be the person people want to work with because they know that you are a kind and polite person. 

With time you will learn that this also translates to your patient care. You always want to be kind and polite to them because you don’t know what they are going to learn about you from others and you want to make a good impression.  You want to make them feel safe and cared for and like they can TRUST you to be the best version of yourself.

6) Maximize your opportunities

And I mean  in every sense possible.  Whether it’s  a patient encounter that you can learn something from, or even  someone else’s experience,  take advantage of everything. There is no better way to learn than by living an experience. Make sure you take everything with the most optimistic approach possible.  That way you will be able to get the most out of that experience. 

obgyn intern

You can take those opportunities to learn more about other aspects of health. For example, take a look at all the social determinants of health or maybe learn about other reasons why they might  have this issue. Maybe it’s because they have a problem at home. Take the chance to learn about the psychology behind disease, or maybe  learn a different perspective of patient care. In the end just take the opportunity to learn about everything that you possibly can about that patient. Attempt to maximize every opportunity to 100%.

7) Sleep when you can

Believe me when I say this might be the best tip on this entire list. Let me make some examples for you. Imagine you are in a 24-hour call. You have everything set, and all the things that you had to do have been completed. You have a space of about 2-3 hours where, unless something happens, you don’t have anything else to do. Take that precise moment to close your eyes and take a nap right there. 

I can guarantee that if you say, “oh I’ll  just wait until a little bit later when I’m more tired”, something else will come up and you will NOT be able to take that nap. TRUST me. This has happened to me way more times than I care to admit. 

This also applies for food and bathroom breaks. When you see that window of opportunity, take it right there. If you wait, life will throw you a curveball and you will be screwed.

8) Find a hobby

This might come off as silly or unimportant if you ask other people but finding an outlet in extremely important. For me my hobbies include this blog, my YouTube channel, and my Instagram. These are things that help me, and will help you, disconnect from work. This is what is going to allow you to feel like a normal human being and be able to relate to your friends and family who are not in medicine. Thus, having an outlet will be very helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed

find a hobby

It will also contribute to the things that bring you joy, and thus help maintain your happiness despite the long workdays. These will be things that help you recharge and feel ready for the next day. There are many hobbies out there, from yoga, to reading, of even cooking. Find something that motivates you to get through the rough patches and that inspires you. Find something that drives you to make time for it and nurture it. Whatever hobby you choose, I guarantee it will contribute back to point #1 and help your mental and emotional health.

9) Find a mentor

I feel like I keep saying every point is important but, IT’S TRUE! They all are, and that’s why they have made the cut into this list. Again, this is an important point more in the sense of your professional development. Why? Well because you sometimes don’t know what you want to do or don’t know how to get to your next goal. In those situations,  someone who is higher than you can serve as a mentor. They can help guide you so you can achieve your goals.  

Whether you’re thinking of doing fellowship or not, you can have a mentor. They can serve as someone who can help you with your research or find a hobby. They can help you when you’re struggling or even if you are having a hard time with residency. Sometimes, for example, if you’re having an issue with another resident or person, your mentor can be someone that you can go to. They will be someone you trust and when you have a problem, they can help you solve it. 

So, to find a mentor look for someone that you trust or that inspires you or someone that is in the same career path that you want to go into. The key is to  find someone to be your mentor. Sometimes your program will assign someone to you. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your program. Sometimes you can even find people on social media. On top of all of these options there are resources online. AMA, AAMC, and other national organizations allow you to find a mentor in whatever specialty you are in.

10) Don’t dwell on the negatives, it gets better

In residency, and especially during intern year, when you have a bad day it can feel like the whole world is crumbling around you.  It can be really overwhelming to go to sleep when you just have a horrible day. You begin to feel like you really don’t want to go to work the next day, but you still have to. In our culture you would probably still get up the next day and go to work even if you didn’t feel like it. But all of those things can take a toll on your mood and your health. 

I actually struggle with this point a lot, even as a second year, almost a third year now. Sometimes when I have a bad day, I have a really hard time letting it go and then being very optimistic the next day. But even when it doesn’t feel like it, things DO get better day by day. Each day that goes on you will realize how much you are learning. Believe me when I saw the learning curve is STEEP. 

Even when you don’t believe in yourself, you should know that you DO  have the capacity to overcome every obstacle in your way. Whether is it by yourself or with the help of other, you can get through any hardship. Try your best to not dwell on a bad situation or on a bad day. In the end, it does get better. Like I said I do still struggle with this. Luckily, I have noticed that as the days go on, I feel more confident and capable of getting through the hard moments.

This turned out a lot longer than I expected, BUT there you have it. My top 10 tips for new residents to survive intern year. I hope these are useful for all the incoming physicians out there and that they help you avoid some of the struggles I have faced. Definitely, I can say that I have learned a thing or two from my mistakes. So, my wish is that these tips help you avoid some of the mistakes that I made during the first year or so of residency.

If you are a medical student, resident, attending, or just a person in general, let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for our new doctors!

Thanks for stopping by

XO

Jani

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