Nothing compares to the apprehension of starting residency.
OK, that’s not true, but it’s really high up there on nerve-wracking firsts.
I remember my first day as a resident. In a matter of a few hours, I went from being human furniture to being asked to make life-altering decisions. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. Here are some pieces of advice that I wish senior residents would have emphasized before I started this journey.
Be prepared: Mentally
This should be obvious to any person with a type A personality (i.e., most physicians). Nevertheless, it’s vital to have the tools of the trade before you start seeing patients. Your program will likely provide you 1 to 2 white coats and maybe a stethoscope, but those alone are only good if you’re trying to play dress up. I found buying a white coat clipboard helpful in medical school and absolutely necessary in residency. As a psychiatry resident, having a pocket copy of the DSM is standard. It’s 2016, so carrying a lot of books around is unnecessary and impractical. Download the apps that you’ll need for your specialty. I have Epocrates, Medscape, UpToDate, Micromedex, and ICD-9 and ICD-10 downloaded to my phone, to name a few. Why fumble around on rounds when you can quickly find out what you need in seconds? This doesn’t mean you can forgo other necessities like having a cartload of black ink pens, emergency ibuprofen, and pocket Kleenex around!
Be prepared: Physically
It’s not until your life consists of working at 6 a.m., chugging coffee like it’s a contest, and scarfing down lunch at 4 p.m. that you realize how important knowing where a bathroom is. Heed my words: Learn where all the clean staff bathrooms are located. Personally, I have a favorite bathroom for emergencies while on rounds, a spacious one to relax in, and heck, even one that’s insulated so I can have a good crying session on particularly rough days.
Bring snacks. I’m not saying bring a bag of chips or cookies, because there’s always unhealthy food around hospitals, ironically. What I mean is bring something with protein. Illness doesn’t take a break for lunch, and humans are inherently unpredictable. It’s irresponsible to neglect your physical health while working with patients. Would you want an overworked and underfed doctor making important decisions for you?
That being said, also remember to hydrate. If you think water fountains are gross, then get acquainted with a water bottle. I personally carry around a water bottle and make it a goal to drink 32 oz. in an 8-hour shift.
Be prepared: Socially
There’s a reason people say you don’t attract flies with vinegar. No matter how smart you are, you can’t succeed in medicine if you don’t work as a team player. In most settings, the most important and vital team members are nurses. Nurses can make your day run smoothly or bring it to a grinding to a halt.
Just as many residents feel overwhelmed by being the “middlemen” for medical students, auxiliary staff, and attendings, nurses feel the same pressure from physicians and patients. Treat them like you would want to be treated: greet them when you pass by, say “please” and “thank you,” communicate what your patient care plan is, advocate for them when you see them being treated unfairly. Not only will they treat you with respect and help you along the way, you’ll feel more connected to the team and enjoy the time you spend in the hospital.
You thought it would be all love and flowers, right? Wrong! Being nice doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone you meet. Be careful how much of your personal life you share with co-workers, including other residents. I had to decide before I started what I was comfortable disclosing at work. I don’t care if anyone knows that I’m married, have pets, and was raised in Florida, but I become antsy when people ask about what side of town I live on, what my political leanings are, and even what I do for fun. Most coworkers have good intentions and are asking because they genuinely want to connect, but medicine is a business, and people are always trying to get ahead in some way. I learned the hard way that there should be a clear divide between work friends and friends outside of work. The point: you can be friendly without disclosing certain aspects of your personal life or closely held career aspirations.
There’s nothing more rewarding than being a physician. Take a second each day to think about how many people worked hard for the chance to do what you do, then … get to work!
Nora Ekeanya is a psychiatrist.This article originally appeared in the Healthcare Career Resources Blog.
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