10 tips to make residency more enjoyable

As a second year resident, I often do not feel like an expert in anything.  Every day I learn more about medicine and realize how much more I still want to learn.  In spite of the emotional, physical and mental challenges that being a young doctor entails, I have remained positive and have grown stronger throughout residency.  As I reflect on the past year and a half, I appreciate the valuable lessons that I have learned that have made my life during residency more enjoyable.  Hopefully, these tips will help you, too, to thrive during residency and life.

1. Build a support system. You need people in your life who you can talk to about work, football, politics or anything else that crosses your mind. After four years of dinner conversations, my husband, who still cannot look at blood without cringing, knows much more about medicine than the average lay person and has provided me an invaluable, non-medical perspective on hospital and patient concerns.

2. Keep your hobbies. Pursuing your passions while in residency, whether you like to play an instrument, paint, lift weights, sing, or write, is not only possible but is also essential. I bake cupcakes on my days off, workout, at least, three times a week at my local gym and read fiction.

3. Embrace your vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to admit to your colleagues that you’re hungry, tired or having a rough time. Being vulnerable is part of being human and enables you to empathize with the people you help every day. Although it took me 24 hours into my third 28-hour shift to admit to my peers that I was tired, I felt much more supported when I realized that everyone else was exhausted, too.

4. Make work enjoyable. Find something about work that you love. Rather than just knowing a patient’s symptoms or disease, I enjoy asking all of my patients what they like to do for fun. I find that we often have similar interests!

5. Be your own patient. Follow your own advice. Eat fruits and vegetables, limit alcohol, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. How can you care for others if you can’t care for yourself?  I regularly try to eat three balanced meals a day, snack on fruit and drink at least two 16 ounce bottles of water while at work.

6. Sleep. Sometimes you just need to go to bed. Stop thinking, stop arguing, stop crying. Things will look better in the morning.  When I am trying to study and find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again, I put away my things and make myself get some sleep. I’ll find time to read it when I’m refreshed.

7. Appreciate small moments of success. Be pleased about minor accomplishments in your daily routine that might go unnoticed. I feel successful even when I do something as simple as getting a frustrated patient to smile.

8. Stop negativity. Remember that you are your harshest critic. When I make mistakes, I correct them, learn from them and move on. I know that I will have several more attempts in the future to get things right on the first try.

9. Exercise. Have a dog, or pretend that you have a dog, and take yourself for walks regularly. You need sunshine, nature and exercise too. I have two dogs that take me for walks every day.

10. Relax and breathe. Recognize that you are confident, competent, and intelligent and that you are making a difference in so many people’s lives. Each day that you work as a doctor is an incredible opportunity. Never take it for granted. Whenever I’m tired, overworked or sad because I’m missing a family event, I remind myself of this and realize how glad I am to be in medicine.

Jessica Deslauriers is an internal medicine resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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