Congratulations! You made it through medical school, got your MD/DO degree, and can officially be called doctor! One day, you’re a student. The next, you’re a doctor and with that come the responsibility, trust, compassion, and professionalism associated with our career. But how do you transition?
It starts with your mindset and then deciding to be the best doctor you can be. Your thoughts inspire your words, which direct your actions.
I knew that my first year of being a doctor would be challenging, but I also envisioned that I would get the most of my experience and try to stay mindful and grateful. Now that I ‘m going on my second year, I’m writing this article to inspire you that you will survive and thrive during intern year. Here are seven lessons I learned as the new doc on the block. Share, and enjoy!
1. Maintain a positive outlook. Having a positive mindset helped me emotionally. For my to-do list, I draw circles, put a smiley face when I complete the task, and say to myself, “You go girl! Did it!” or something fun in my head. The more tasks, the more smiley faces, and the more smiles in one day. Silly? Maybe, but it works for my mood. Other things I do include saying three things I am grateful for, saying genuine compliments, and doing activities to stay healthy. I even refer to my article “10 Tips on How to be Happy in Medical School,” which was published by the American College of Physicians because some of those tips still apply now.
2. Have a support system. You will experience a lot of different emotions during intern year: stress, exhaustion, awe, anxiety, excitement, wonder, relief, humility, humiliation, gratitude, etc. It is fine to feel vulnerable and talk about how you feel to someone you trust. Mental health is important. If need be, seek counseling/therapy and have healthy ways of coping with stress and burnout. Develop relationships where you can be yourself and de-stress. Cherish your loved ones, and lean on them for support, understanding, and motivation. Share this journey with them. You are not alone.
3. Have a growth mindset. Growth happens when you’re uncomfortable, but believe in yourself. Confidence grows. Competence and progress do happen. There may be times when you question your capabilities and qualifications, but remember that you are constantly learning and can do things you weren’t capable of doing before. Efficiency increases. You may write everything down and struggle to see five patients, but in time, you’ll know eight patients. Writing notes will be faster. You’ll remember more. When it gets tough, ask for help, be mentally strong, take steps forward, and be patient with yourself. Stay on course and keep at it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you push yourself for the better.
4. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Expect the best of yourself. Observe the qualities in your role models and integrate them in your practice. Be open to feedback and accept it graciously as ways to improve. Ask for advice, be proactive, and stay curious. Also, know that we all make mistakes. Own up to them, accept the responsibility, learn, and do better next time. Continue to reflect on your accomplishments for the day and what you can do better tomorrow.
5. Say yes to you. Time is one of our most valuable resources, so say yes to things that bring you a sense of purpose and increased quality of life. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to others. It may bother you at first, but it allows you to prioritize and exercise control over your schedule. Practice saying no to low-risk events, and see how you feel. Be genuine, and you can even offer an explanation like “I worked a 24-hour shift/I’m on call/I worked nights and would really like to sleep instead of going out.” Most people are understanding. While we make sacrifices for our career, we should remember that medicine is not our entire life. Take care of yourself, and do what makes you smile. Have fun whether it’s spending time with family, traveling, scuba diving, singing, or kayaking. Live your life, be present, create meaningful memories, and say yes to you. You deserve it.
6. Learn to let go. Difficult people exist. Good news: you can control your reaction to a person/situation. It’s great to be in-tune with your emotions when you interact with difficult people. These instances will challenge your character, reputation, and values. Breathe, label that emotion, pause, gather your thoughts, and then speak professionally. Don’t take things personally, and try to build a thick skin for yourself. Forgive, but don’t forget. Be assertive, reasonable, and understanding. Be mentally tough and resilient. Think: Will the issue matter in 5 minutes, 5 days, or 5 years? If need be, vent appropriately, hit a punching bag, or cry, but let it go and move on.
7. Make small changes. Making small changes consistently can result in the formation/maintenance of habits. Be disciplined. Despite my busy schedule, I challenged myself to improve. I read/listened to personal development articles/videos weekly. I woke up at my first alarm, put on a morning meditation video for 5 minutes while I was still in bed, and then got up after that. I did 10 burpees, 50 high knees, or 25 squat-star jumps to kickstart my day. I kept in touch with family. I exercised at least 15 minutes a day (usually more) even if I was exhausted. What are some ways you can make small changes to improve yourself?
This first year of being a doctor is full of many challenges, blessings, and lessons. Embrace the experience, see opportunities for growth, and change for the better. Relish in your accomplishments, be proud of yourself, and stay humble. Best of luck to you, doctor! Now go save some lives.
Tracey C. Isidro is a medicine intern.
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