Transitioning from medical school to residency isn’t easy, but it is exciting. Seasoned residents shared what they wish they knew about residency so new residents and medical students know how to prepare.
Take your education into your own hands
Travis Meyer, MD, a radiology resident at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, said new residents should take every opportunity to learn. That includes reading about their cases, even if they think they are too busy.
“The more you read about the pathology each of your patients presents with, the less you will have to read in the later years when you have no patient corollary,” Dr. Meyer said. “Residency is much more independent learning than medical school and much less structured. It’s up to you—what you put into it is what you get out of it.” He also suggested asking often for feedback instead of waiting until the end of a rotation when the evaluation might not be great.
“Approach your [senior] resident and attending and ask to have a formal, five-minute, constructive criticism feedback session at the two-week mark,” he said. “They will appreciate your willingness to learn, and your ability to work on the things you need to improve. Don’t accept ‘good’ as an answer—force them to give you specifics of cases where your management, differential diagnosis or documentation/communication could have been better.”
Actively make social connections
Everyone is nervous in the beginning, said Megan Gayeski, MD, an anesthesiology resident at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “You might be starting over in a place totally foreign from where you worked before. You have a bunch of new people to meet whom you will have to depend on for the next few years,” Dr. Gayeski said. “Yes, it’s scary, but you can get through it. Every physician has, and that will only help you relate to your patients, who themselves are nervous about being sick.” Dr. Gayeski also recommends unwinding at the end of the day. “Make friends with people who aren’t doctors,” she said. Work is stressful enough, and if you only talk about work even when you aren’t there, you never really have a chance to relax.”
Seek out mentorship and be a team player
For Nicole Lee, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, mentorship was crucial. “I went through my entire first year of residency as if I were a zombie,” she said. “I felt alone and over-worked. I became closer with one of the staff, who is now one of my best mentors. She helped me to understand the importance of family time and how to ‘learn on the go,’ instead of trying to read for hours at a time after work, which often meant I fell asleep while reading.”
Perhaps most importantly, experienced residents recommend having a positive attitude and being a team player. “Learn as many names as possible, and say ‘hi’ whenever you can,” Dr. Gayeski said. “You never know whose help you might need during the day (or night). A friendly face might be just what you need after a rough day.” And don’t forget: Your co-residents and co-interns are there to help.
“You are no longer competing for a grade or a residency slot,” Dr. Meyer said. “Helping them out when they need it, and accepting help back, is crucial. Always remember this is not about you—the patient comes first. You all work as a team and leave your pride at the door.”