Residency Life

5 tips to help resident physicians shift from intern to PGY-2

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

5 tips to help resident physicians shift from intern to PGY-2

Jun 27, 2024

For resident physicians, moving from internship to PGY-2 represents a significant change in responsibilities and expectations.

PGY-2s move into a supervisory role and are often the most senior physician in a clinical setting throughout much of their shift. Second-year resident physicians also take on new responsibilities as educators and learners.

The change in role can be a pain point in residency for many physicians. How can it be done successfully? Two physician fellows whose PGY-2 days are not so far behind them offered their insights. 

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As an internal medicine intern, David Savage, MD, PhD, spent much of his time as an intern on documentation and filling orders. When he moved from his first year of residency to his second, he realized quickly that he could free up time by leaving those tasks to others.

“You have to shift your mind-set to that of a supervisor,” said Dr. Savage, now a medical oncology and hematology fellow and immediate past speaker of the speaker of the AMA Resident and Fellow Section Governing Council. “Rather than feeling personally obligated to put in all the orders and write all the notes. You will quickly realize that somebody else is taking on that task.

“You have to be comfortable with delegating,” he added. “Your interns are going to do those things. You also have to realize what their limitations are at first. You have to double check things, but you don’t have to do it for them. After a few weeks you’ll find they are getting the hang of it and you spend much less time checking their work.”

Dive deeper:

For Karen Dionesotes, MD, MPH, the transition to PGY-2 represented a total change in both role and setting. In the first year of her psychiatric residency, she spent her first year at a different hospital working on a number of rotations related to internal medicine.

“As an intern, I always had a senior resident and usually an attending to run things by,” said Dr. Dionesotes, now a fellow in geriatric psychiatry. “Then you go to a setup where if you are on call overnight—you are essentially running an entire psych hospital. That was a huge shift.

“From that first day of my second year, our group resident chat was always talking about what was happening. Your co-residents and your classmates are a resource. I also knew that when things are toughest, I could rely on my chiefs.”

Dive deeper:

The role a second-year resident takes as an educator and a leader is often times new. To do it effectively, Dr. Savage said the best way to understand his strengths and weaknesses in those arenas was simply to ask.

“There’s going to be a lot of trial and error. If you try to teach in a method that works, hone in on that and stick with it,” Dr. Savage said. “If you teach in one way and you find people are zoning out, and they find every excuse not to sit down with you for a half hour because they don’t find it effective, you can ask for feedback from your interns and medical students.”

In such cases, PGY-2s can ask their learners:

What am I doing that is not working for you? What can I do to make these interactions better for you?

“These are questions that will help both you and your trainees. Because of that, they’ll probably be willing to provide real time feedback.”

When it came to honing his skills as a leader, Dr. Savage said he would have conversations with his attendings about their observations of his ability and areas for improvement.

Dive deeper:

While Dr. Savage may have seen the portions of his day dedicated to administrative tasks become less frequent as a PGY-2, there were new responsibilities. Among them: Working with other members of the care team.

“Because you are the more senior person on the team, now there’s a lot of people that are going to want to talk to you. The social workers, the case managers, the consultants for the specialists you work with. You have to create time for all these other people that are also very important for patient care. They need to speak with a senior physician to know what’s going on with the patients.

“It’s important,” he added, “to form these cohesive relationships with your pharmacists, your social workers and case managers and making time to speak with them is important part of the role.”

Dive deeper:

While you might be the most senior physician in a patient-facing setting for long stretches of time, it’s OK to have questions and to turn to someone more senior under most circumstances.

“A big part of medicine culture is that you are not supposed to call to wake your attending up,” said Dr. Dionesotes, an AMA member who recently finished her term as an alternate delegate to the AMA-RFS. “But I’ve had several attendings on the first day of a rotation say to me, ‘I don’t care about what time it is, call me whenever you have a question.’

“In the end you are a trainee who is still growing. You can make mistakes. But we are talking about people’s health. It’s not worth not reaching out.”

Dive deeper:

The AMA’s Facilitating Effective Transitions Along the Medical Education Continuum handbook looks at the needs of learners across the continuum of medical education—from the beginning of medical school through the final stage of residency. It is the latest publication from the physician experts who are part of the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium.

The learner sections help medical students and resident physicians acclimate to the various settings and expectations in the medical training environment. The faculty sections then provide blueprints for transition programming, as well as resources to help students and residents navigate challenges in transitions. Download the handbook now.