Doctor Career: Survival Tips for Your First Post-Residency Job

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Dear Dr. Goodhook,

In the next couple of months, I’ll be starting my first post-residency job. My doctor career is finally taking off. I’m incredibly nervous, and feel like I’m going to forget everything I learned in med school and residency (silly, but true).

I feel like I need to know everything going in, but at the same time, I’m not sure what will be expected of me. Is this normal? Do you have any tried and true advice for a new doctor just starting out at his first job?

Many Thanks,

Neurotic in New Jersey

Dear Neurotic,

Don’t you find it funny that life travels in mirrored cycles? When we’re hobbling old fogies, we need the same care as infants. And when we start our first job, we feel as though we’re having a flashback to the horrific first day of kindergarten.

Perhaps if you carry a photo of your family in the pocket of your coat, you can keep from weeping. That’s what I did until third grade. It worked quite well.

But I jest! Starting the first job of your doctor career can turn your stomach into a sailor’s knot. For any human, this is a difficult experience. But dare I say that accountants have it a bit easier — while they may be in charge of large amounts of money, doctors are in charge of lives.

It’s very intimidating. In fact, it still intimidates me to this day.

However, take comfort in the fact that thousands upon thousands have gone before you. And believe me when I say that they all felt the same way.

Below are my tips, worth their weight in gold. Some are mine, while others come from fellow respected MDs. Pay attention and take notes. You’ll need them for the road ahead.

Starting Your Doctor Career: Tips for the First Several Weeks of Your Post-Residency Job

1. Accept That You Don’t Know Everything

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have is to accept that you don’t know everything. While you acquired an immeasurable amount of knowledge in medical school and residency, there is no possible way that you can know everything — especially the specifics of your employing organization. There will be a steep learning curve. Don’t be a hotshot. Act curious and interested, not smart.

2. Realize That Every New Doctor is Going Through the Same Thing

Take comfort in the fact that hundreds of thousands of doctors have all gone before you, and they’ve all felt the same way. It’s OK to be queasy during your first call as a physician. Try not to pass out.

3. Listen to Your Nurses and Attendings

It’s understandable that you have a bit of a superiority complex (go ahead, admit it). But the fact is, you’ll be nervous during the first several days on your job, and your mind will likely go blank. You’ll forget things. You’ll be in a thorny situation, and you’ll freeze up and go mute. Trust your nurses and attendings, and keep respecting them as you gain more experience. Your job (and your entire doctor career) will be easier because of it.

4. Stay Calm and Don’t Rush

Back to our kindergarten analogy — remember “The Tortoise and the Hare”? Slow and steady wins the race. You may feel like you need to work a mile a minute, but you’ll make better decisions if you pace yourself. Additionally, your colleagues will see you as cool and collected, not frantic and bumbling.

5. Smile

I always find it annoying when people tell me to smile. In fact, I rarely smile. This is one of those tips I’ll pass along from my fellow MDs. Apparently, if you smile regularly, you’ll have a better time with colleagues and patients throughout your doctor career. Try it and let me know your outcome.

6. Ask Questions

Remember: You’re not Mr. Know-It-All. Ask questions and ask them often. No one will think you’re a blooming idiot. In fact, senior physicians will respect you more for being inquisitive. Don’t waste too much time pondering anything. If you’re unsure, ask. Period.

7. Remember to Eat

During your first call, you’ll be very focused on how you appear to others, but you may forget to be focused on yourself. Instead of worrying too much about what others are thinking about your performance, be sure to check in with yourself to see what you need. Likely, you’ll want a snack or a meal at some point. This is very easy to forget, and highly unadvisable. If you forget to eat, you will likely forget to smile. It all goes downhill from there.

Take it easy. You’ll make it through, just as we all do.

-Dr. Goodhook

What tips do you have for those who are just starting their doctor career?        

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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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