Reflecting on the first month as a new physician

July as a newly minted intern: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The only analogy I can make is you feel like a middle school kid sitting in a PhD course, desperately trying to back-learn everything in a language of acronym alphabet soup you’ve never heard before.

If medical school is drinking from a fire hose, this is trying to sip from Niagara Falls. You have no idea about the subject matter, even less idea about the system and logistics of things, and you just hope you learn where the bathroom is soon because you’re about to wet yourself you’re so terrified that you’re a mouse click away from killing someone.

You feel like your body is a clenched into a fist every second (and there’s a lot of them) you’re in the hospital, and you say “I don’t know, let me ask my senior” so many times a day you think you’re really just a glorified (and redundant) intermediate in a game of Telephone that would be easily eliminated if hospitals would just implement two-way texting instead of pages. You are thoroughly convinced that if your patients remember your name, it means you are not pre-rounding early enough.

You are mentally drained, physically exhausted and emotionally taxed every day and just try to recharge enough for the few hours you have home to get yourself to go back for another round the next morning.

All that being said, it is also one of the most rewarding times of your life. Because right when you think you’re about to fail, your senior or fellow or nurse catches you. To them, you cannot be more thankful as they keep you from slipping from practicing medicine to practicing manslaughter. You learn fast, adapt quick and soon you start taking your first baby steps into being not a complete drain on the team … and maybe even doing some doctoring along the way.

Your first patient (as an official doctor) who brightens up when they see you enter the room shows you why you’re willing to be this beat. Because no matter how tiring, it’s an incredible privilege that they’ve given you the trust and responsibility for their care … and that they choose to not hate you as you assault them with pointy objects, torture them with devices and procedures, and wake them up before the sun begins to creeps in their tiny window.

They are vulnerable and afraid, and you are vulnerable and afraid. But, you plow forward for the both of you. You start to remember things you’ve learned from eons past, you get resourceful to make up for your many deficits and ultimately, you’re challenged, learning, and most importantly, growing.

Amy Ho is a resident physician.

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  • QQQ

    Good luck young lady! Get ready to see the ugly side of medicine and your not going to like it!

  • Suzi Q 38

    I can’t say:”Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.

    Hopefully, if you accidentally injure “kill” someone, h/she would have been so acute h/she would have worsened died anyway. You are human; you will make mistakes, and negative results will happen. There are some patients that, no matter what your best efforts have been, it has not made a difference, that is how sick the patient was.

    This is why, in the past, I have hesitated to have interns care for me during the months of July, August, or even September.

    What i did realize, though, was that they wanted to care for me and did “care.” This is huge. A good, positive, intern in my “corner” can “turn” my dismal course of medical events around. Why?

    It is because they are scared that they have respect for my condition as a patient who needs their help. They will most probably do their best, which, may or may not be enough.

    Now I have a different attitude: I appreciate new doctors like you.
    You are here to learn from not only other doctors and fellows, but patients like us. We have a lot to “tell” you, if only you would ask.
    Please ask us not only how we feel today, but what symptoms are we feeling and what has changed, if anything. I also appreciate how careful you and others are when treating me.

    I know you can not believe everything and everyone…but look at us and understand that some of us are telling you what is wrong, and unfortunately no one was listening. You may catch many serious conditions this way.

    If I need you to do so, please research my possible conditions, as not doing so may cause me to worsen and my new life may not be what I expected at 58. This prudent action may ultimately save me from a wheelchair, or worse….death.

    Don’t play “hot potato” with difficult patients like me, unless you have to.
    This just wastes my precious time that I do not have.

    Good luck. You are going to do well.


    July 1 1983. My newly minted 2nd year medicine resident, who the day before was an intern, but a seasoned one gave me a tour of the CCU at the VA; the elevator that did not work, the stairs where I was to transport patients, the intern call room to stay alive or dead unless working… and the ‘doctor’ bathroom which was unisex.
    It had the usual urinals and 3 or 4 stalls, some with doors.

    The thing forever impended in my mind was what she said then:
    “When (not if), you have to cry, use that last stall…
    BUT, no matter whatever happens, Alway Answer Your Pager… remember that if nothing else.”
    That resident was a wonderful woman.

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