3 Most Important Tips for First Year Residents

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Dear Dr. Goodhook,

I started my first year of residency in July, and I’ve felt lost and frazzled ever since. I’m not able to make decisions as confidently as I thought I would, and I’m consistently exhausted. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Since you’re a veteran of medicine, I’m curious if you have any basic tips for new residents. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

Lost in Louisiana

Dear Lost,

Asking old Goodhook for advice is like opening the floodgates after a storm. I have many grounded opinions on what does and does not work for new residents, but beware that my wisdom comes delivered by unfiltered tongue.

Having lived through residency myself (in a different day and age, mind you), I walked away with a few nuggets that are still applicable. That being said, I’ve observed and counseled many young residents over the years, and I continue to learn from them to this day.

First Year Residents Tips

Curiously, that leads me to my first tip…

Murder Your Ego

Finishing medical school is a grand achievement, no doubt. Most will graduate with a puffed chest and revived enthusiasm.

As you’ve already learned, that pride fizzles out the moment you realize you don’t have the answers for everything. It’s dimmed even more when you look down the road ahead and spy your long white coat thousands of miles off in the distance, waving at you menacingly with a limp arm.

Instead of letting this realization dampen your spirits, learn to embrace medicine as a lifetime pursuit of learning. Even when you're an old, curmudgeonly physician like me, you still won't have all the answers.

Above all else, learn to learn from everyone. Learn from the nurses. Learn from residents who are younger than you. Learn from your superiors. Learn from your neighbors.

Step down off your high horse, young resident. Riding a horse too long leads to a strange and laughable gait.

Sleep Quick and Sleep Often

Over time, smart residents become skilled at many things: performing sutures, making quick decisions and learning who to call on in times of uncertainty.

In over forty years of medical practice, however, none of these skills have impressed me as much as the clever resident's ability to cat nap anywhere. It's a skill that would be most advisable to master as quickly as possible.

Learn to identify sleeping surfaces other than beds. Your car seat, so long as the vehicle is not in motion, may serve as an excellent place for naps. A waiting room chair, angular as it may seem, can be surprisingly comfortable if you slouch ever so slightly. Never scoff at a flat, carpeted floor. Pillows are for novices.

You may laugh now, but I can assure you won't chuckle at this advice six months from now.

Accept that Mistakes are Inevitable

This is perhaps the hardest lesson for residents (nay — the hardest lesson for us all). We want medicine to be exact and perfect, but the fact is, it isn't.

Your first few mistakes will be embarrassing and petrifying, if not heartbreaking. Know that this is part of the process, and that everyone makes mistakes.

Whatever you do, don't let your fear of mistakes hold you back, and don't ruminate on past mistakes. Keep pressing forward and never let fear immobilize you.

With respect for your time, young resident, I will leave my advice at that. Now would be the perfect time to practice various napping poses.

-Dr. Goodhook

What tips do you have for first year residents? 

Doctor Career: Sponsors

Though the views expressed above are solely the writer's, Beloit Health supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Beloit Health is making practice purposeful.

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About

Dr. Goodhook was once a stubborn, talented young resident. After 50 years of practice, the old curmudgeon still has fire and irreverence in his veins. His wit and insight are legendary, as are his field notes, collected along the path of his life.

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