HealthJune 16, 2020

Debunking myths about life as a first-year resident

By: Ajibike Lapite

If you’re an incoming first-year resident, you’ve probably heard a lot about what to expect. But which residency narratives are myths and which are facts?

I remember the first resident I worked with in medical school who felt more like a peer than an individual who could impact my grade. I asked him for advice at many points as I navigated the residency application process. After Match, I reached out to him to see what his perspective was on life as a first-year resident.

He responded, "Spend time outside of the hospital while you still can."

While you still can. Could he sound more ominous? My classmates and I maximized our fourth-year experiences out of fear that life would stand still during residency. I remember what I imagined would be my lifestyle as a first-year resident. Now that I'll soon start my final year of residency, I'm well-acquainted with this way of life.

On Instagram, I asked soon-to-be medical school graduates to share their biggest fears about the start of residency. Here, I'll unpack the truth about common myths surrounding this time.

Myth #1: You're unprepared for residency

"I'm worried all of the knowledge leaked out of my brain since CK and I'll be the worst doctor ever."

Medicine is a field for "forever students"; there's always more to learn. Of course, the learning curve for residency is no joke. Admittedly, you can't be 100% prepared. This isn't because you didn't spend enough time with your patients during your clerkship year or because you didn't spend enough time in the library. Our skills as physicians are directly correlated with our clinical acumen, which is shaped by our experience. Medicine is dictated by experiential learning.

It's common to worry that you're not as sharp when you start residency because fourth year feels like an intellectual vacation. So here's the truth: A lot of what you memorized in medical school isn't applicable to your daily life as a resident. Your focus as a resident is to understand the clinical picture. Transporters and equations that you used to know and don't remember at the start of residency aren't important and don't mean that you aren't prepared or as clever as you used to be.

Myth #2: You'll be too busy to maintain relationships

"Is it even possible to maintain relationships during the craziness of residency?"

Time constraints in residency are no joke, and communication with the individuals who matter to you has to change. Your dynamic in the majority of relationships will shift due to the nature of your schedule. But having fewer interactions doesn't mean that the quality of those interactions has to suffer.

Perhaps it isn't possible to text all of your loved ones on a daily basis, but maybe you can transition to scheduled phone or video calls that are ultimately more fulfilling. At the end of the day, it is possible to maintain your relationships, and you will have time and space in residency to build and create new relationships as well.

For more tips on surviving your internship, check out the Washington Manual.

Myth #3: Residency is where personal wellness goes to die

"I've heard that residency team rooms are filled with unhealthy snacks, that stress eating is common and that abnormal work hours and decreased sleep hygiene aren't compatible with personal health. Can I still work out and eat healthily?"

To be frank, the residency lifestyle isn't a slam-dunk for pristine health. We know the cornerstones of health are mental wellness, a balanced intake, an appropriate sleep schedule and exercise. The routines you had before are unlikely to fit in the space of residency. But that doesn't mean you can't maintain a healthy lifestyle as a resident.

It's true that resident workrooms frequently feature bagels and donuts; it's also true that you don't have to eat a box of 12 donuts. It's true that sleep schedules flip all the time in residency. And it's true that you can't spend two or more hours in the gym every day. The definition of wellness has to shift in the context of residency.

To speak from personal experience, it's possible to find the time to work out for one to two hours a day (even on an inpatient stretch), but it requires a lot of discipline, from embracing early morning workouts to missing out on happy hours. It's definitely possible to maintain a balanced lifestyle as a resident, even if it does come with some degree of sacrifice.

Myth #4: Patients deserve more than what you're able to give

"I'm afraid of not being the doctor that my patients and their families need me to be."

I think this fear comes from the purest of places. But it's important to realize that as long as you bring your best to your work, you're bringing enough to the table.

It's common to worry about looking and feeling incompetent as a first-year resident. Your first year of residency is a time with new roles, new responsibilities and new experiences. In the space of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's even more of an anxiety-inducing transition given the risks healthcare workers face. Your first year of residency will be met with highs and lows. You'll adjust to your new normal, as all of us have before you, and you'll identify which aspects of the life you had before are necessary for your happiness.

This period of time is riddled with change, but some things will remain constant - and one of those constants is you. Remember that you're a human first and a physician second. Residency can be an all-consuming time, but it isn't the end of your life: It's the start of your career.

Ajibike Lapite
Lippincott® Medicine
Lippincott is a leading international medical publisher of professional health information for practitioners, faculty, residents, students, and healthcare institutions with a full suite of essential medical products, from books and journals to digital solutions.
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