Many people wonder what it’s like to be an intern and how to succeed during your first year as a physician. Is it really as bad as everyone makes it out to be? Are you able to sleep without constantly thinking about your patients and the diagnoses that you may have missed? Were you compassionate and empathetic enough toward the family of the patient who was dying? Did your attending scold you for forgetting something like the SIRS criteria after you worked six straight 12-hour shifts in the ICU?
The truth is, you will be tired. At times, you’ll feel like you can’t do it anymore. You’ll feel emotions you’ve never felt before. You’ll have sleepless nights, and you’re going to feel bad about things you may have missed on rounds. There will be days where you want to give up. There’s no way around that. But if you’ve read my previous stories, you’ll remember that adversity is never a reason to give up on your dreams.
But, enough scary talk for now. Let’s get back to the original question: What’s it really like to be an intern? It’s freaking awesome! You’re a doctor now. This means you can prescribe medications and put in real orders. Nurses will turn to you to ask what to do next and, if they can trust you, they’ll complete the order in time. Yes, you read that sentence correctly – if they can trust you. This is entirely understandable.
Think about it this way
For example, consider a pilot who just passed his licensing exam. He‘s logged 100 hours and thinks he’s ready to fly for Delta, Southwest or American Airlines. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Sure, you’re a doctor now. Everyone refers to you as “doctor.” Therefore, everyone should listen to you.
However, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.” You can’t expect everyone in the hospital — nurses, CNAs, pharmacists, case managers, or even the janitor — to trust your judgment right away. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to say ridiculous things occasionally that make no sense. For this reason, you should be friendly with all medical personnel because you never know when they’re going to save your rear end (which is more often than you might imagine).
How do I succeed?
Now onto the second question: How can you succeed as a PGY-1? My colleagues and I in internal medicine are all competing for the same specialties. Consequently, specialties are super competitive, so the other interns in your program can’t really be your friends. It’s just too cutthroat. However, I can tell you right now, the intern that’s always throwing his ‘teammates’ under the bus is not who you want to be. An egotistical attitude hurts everyone involved – the individual, the fellow residents, and the program itself.
Moreover, you may know your stuff. Maybe you know more about medicine than anyone around you and are able to answer all your attending’s questions when you go on rounds. The people you’re trying to impress will notice this. Let them notice you. Think of it this way: Would you rather hire someone who brags that they know everything and argues with his teammates? Or, would you want to hire someone who is a team player and is humble? The answer is clear. Nobody wants to hire someone who can’t play well with others.
All things considered, the key to success as an intern is to be a great teammate. Medicine requires teamwork, and your colleagues aren’t your enemies. Exceptional patient care is what we all strive for, and being selfish doesn‘t allow for that. As a young intern, there will be times when you feel lost. You have to realize early on that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. You’re surrounded by diligent and compassionate colleagues that share your goal of helping those in need. All in all, if you remember this and utilize your teammates, you’ll prosper as an intern.
If you don’t believe me, just wait until you’re working the night shift in the ICU. When you and your senior resident are swamped with crashing patients, new admissions, and multiple procedures, you’ll have to make quick decisions. The decisions you make could save someone’s life. Consequently, don’t ever feel ashamed about asking for help. I suspect that veteran ICU nurses can teach you a thing or two things that you won’t find in textbooks.
Alexander Lake is an internal medicine resident.
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