Survival tips for new interns – 2020 Edition

It is never easy starting a new job.  For medical doctors, July 1st typically marks a transition to a new role: medical student to intern, intern to PGY-2, or senior resident to attending.  Some aspects of these transitions are easier than others, but there will always be challenges in medicine.  This year includes another level of complexity for the transitioning medical crew, notably COVID-19.  What a mess.  Not only do doctors have to master their trade, they also have to stay alive and figure out how to treat disease that our profession knows very little about.
Those of you in a hospital-based practice or are still in training, kudos to you.
Looking back at my own experiences as an intern, I wish that I had a list from my future self to follow.  But a time machine doesn’t exist [yet], so I’d figure that I could share some of my experiences that could have made my own internship a bit simpler.

Take care of yourself

Self care is ironically neglected in medicine.  Patient care, presentations, studying, and whatever else it takes to get through the wards often get prioritized. Residency is taxing no matter how you spin work hour restrictions.  However, you are in it for the long haul.  Don’t forget to take care of yourself.  This means:

  • Get adequate sleep – No intern ever gets enough sleep.  There are simply too many tasks to contend with, and obligations to fulfill.  Somehow we all manage, possibly because most doctors in this point of our careers are still young and have enough energy to power through on inadequate sleep.  Just because you can power through on minimal sleep doesn’t mean you should.  Don’t forget to find a free weekend to rest.
  • Implement an exercise plan — I wish I had done this during my training years.  This is difficult especially if you were never one to exercise even if you had free time.  However, we all know that physical activity is mandatory for good health.  Start slowly if you normally do not exercise.  Walking, yoga, stretching, or even brief exercise warmups are a great start.  You’ll sleep better, and feel better.  That’s why you tell your patients to exercise, right?
  • Don’t forget to eat — This also means trying to eat as healthily as circumstances allow.  That occasional binge on potato chips is probably okay the night before you present grand rounds, but you’ll feel better if you eat better.

Work hard

Medical training is probably the only time in your medical career where you will be learning and working in a protected environment.  What this means is that you have like-minded peers who are going through the same highs and lows, and mentors who could help guide you.  Some of the most challenging yet gratifying experiences we will ever encounter will be during training.  There is a time limit on your training, so don’t lose sight that working hard during this time will carry you through your entire career.  

Are you lost yet?

Don’t forget that you work with sick people

Yes, you are a physician.  That means there will be bodily fluids, ways to contract and spread illness, and basic rules that you ought to follow.  Many of my colleagues would wear their hospital shoes through their homes.  Don’t do that.  Here are a few more recommendations for hygiene:

  • Change your clothes — It doesn’t matter whether there is a pandemic in the world—it is always a good idea to keep your hospital work clothes and shoes separate from everything else.  There are plenty of contagions and simply filthy substances that healthcare workers encounter in their daily routine.  Some can impact your health, others simply should not mingle with the carpet that your children crawl on. While you’re at it, consider taking a shower right when you get home or even at work before you leave.
  • Keep that mask on — If you are working in an area where there is a risk of aerosolized contagion, keep that mask on.  This includes sign-outs between teams even if you are not directly in an area with patient care.  The less you are touching your face and eyes, the less likely you can also transmit disease.  Don’t be like that person who takes off his mask while talking. 
  • Hand hygiene matters — Sure, some of us have been guilty of scarfing down that breakfast sandwich during morning rounds or carrying that coffee while you’re rounding in the ICU.  It doesn’t mean that you should make a habit out of it.  Hospitals have cracked down on this over the past decade, but it is still important to be cognizant of what our hands touch and where we are working.  Yes, hygiene hypothesis has validity, but most of us will get plenty of exposure through raising kids!

There is light at the end of the tunnel

Don’t forget that there is a finite time for internship and residency.  Work hard and you will be prepared to build upon your experience for the rest of your career. 

For those of you who survived internship, what other tips do you have for the newbies?

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