How to be a star intern, from a former nurse

This is another installment on how to ingratiate yourself with your new colleagues as a freshly minted MD intern (or medical student, for that matter). These are just observations on behavior that nurses tend to notice, which can really make a difference on how you’ll be received.  I hope some of my suggestions are helpful in making you appear like the Star Intern that you know you are.

Introduce yourself. There is nothing more annoying than having a new batch of people pulling charts off the desk or using the staff washroom without staff having a lick of an idea who they are. Half the time your name tag is either not visible or in such small print that we can’t tell if you’re here to deliver the wound-vac machine, take bloods, or admit the patient. Make yourself known to the staff. Introduce yourself to people in a polite, humanoid way, and be clear about your role. Say what year you are in, how long you’ll be in the department, who your attending is, whether or not you still watch The Bachelor … whatever, just let people know your story.

Do this especially with people like the charge nurse or the nurse who is taking care of your patient. They deserve to know who is doing that rectal exam on Ms. Jones.

Never assume that anyone knows you’re the new intern, medical student, or attending. They probably never got the memo, or if they did, it is tacked on the same board with staff party photos from 1997, the ACLS guidelines that advise a precordial thump, and the Thanksgiving pot luck sign up sheet. Talking about food brings me to my next point.

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food” according to G.B. Shaw. A special amount of love will be reserved for you if you contribute sustenance to the insatiable, gaping maw of the staff appetite.

The culture of food is central to the communal harmony (and sometimes survival) of the unit.  And blood sugar levels are directly correlate to measures of civility. We are well aware that you are run off your feet, working 30hr+ shifts, living on a line-of-credit, and sleep deprived but hey–if you are regularly feeding at the trough then consider making the odd contribution.

This sounds obvious, but I can count on one hand the number of interns or residents who actually brought food for the staff. Something as simple as a bag of oranges, crackers and hummus, money for the coffee fund … anything is highly appreciated. We’re happy to keep you going when you haven’t had a meal for countless hours, just show a little appreciation and return the favor once in a while.

Try not to bring things that people put their hands in like giant bags of chips or other MRSA receptacles. Germaphobes delight in individually wrapped morsels of chocolate or hands-free access, like fruit on toothpicks.

Remember, at the hospital food = friends. I can safely predict the staff will be dazzled with your thoughtfulness.

“Albinoblackbear” is a nurse turned medical student who blogs at Asystole is the Most Stable Rhythm.

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  • Lorette Lavine

    This is such important advice…I would also stress that the nursing and ancillary staff are working regularly on the unit you are working on so if you are respectful of that fact,  your work as an intern will be full of learning experiences that you would not ordinarily get.

  • EmilyAnon

    A slight hijacking of the message, but some of the tips to docs in training can apply to patient encounters too. Such as:

    “Never assume that anyone knows you’re the new intern, medical student, or attending.  Please be clear  about your roll”

    “….your name tag is either not visible or in such small print”

    Please be truthful.  You may feel that the only way to get a patient to cooperate with your training is to lie to them about your level of experience.  Withholding the truth because the patient never asked is deception too. It won’t take long for the patient to figure out the pretense.  And it will only build scepticism and resentment. Not just to you, but possibly to all their future medical encouonters.

    Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about bringing food to win over the patient.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t want to start a nurses vs residents discussion because obviously both professions have their roles in healthcare, but this series of articles is so frustrating to read as a current resident.  I am several years away from being an intern and several years away from being an attending and I know that most of the nurses I work with have many more years of experience and hands on clinical care than I do, and certainly did as a first day intern.  And I’m grateful to the nurses who have worked beside me and helped me when I needed it, but I didn’t get into medicine to play popularity games and bribe passive aggressive nurses into liking me by bringing them acceptable snacks.  And I’m sorry that I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine, I probably introduced myself when I got work, which was before your shift started and will end long after you’ve gone home to sleep, while I put in orders and respond to pages (many of which are not necessarily needed at 3AM).  If you, nurses, are truly aware of the job of the intern, then why do you make it so hard to work with you? 

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