Life hacks for medical residents: One fellow’s collection

Troy Parks , News Writer

For several years, Gwynne Kirchen, MD, sought out more efficient ways to complete everything in her life as a medical resident. In one year’s time, Dr. Kirchen became a senior resident, then chief resident of her program and a new mother. “Balancing all these responsibilities at once, I quickly realized I needed to streamline as many things in my life as possible,” she told AMA Wire®. And her colleagues turned out to be her best resource for ways to be more efficient in accomplishing daily chores.

Dr. Kirchen is now an anesthesiology and pain medicine fellow at the PREDICT Pain Lab of the Medical College of Wisconsin. At PREDICT, “there are a lot of female physicians to bounce ideas off of and get advice from,” Dr. Kirchen said. “I just ask a lot of my colleagues how it worked out for them and what they do and try to kind of collect those ideas and apply them to my life.”

One of the overarching themes from everyone’s advice for residency life has been “to automate as much as you can, whether it’s putting your bills on automatic [or] signing up for the staples you need for groceries,” Dr. Kirchen said.

“Whatever you can do to hire out and offload responsibilities, that’s good,” Dr. Kirchen said, but of course, a training physician “may not have that kind of expendable income to hire cleaning people or a nanny to help with pickups and drop-offs.”

“What worked for me a year ago is different than what works for me now—both as my baby has grown into a toddler and as my work responsibilities have changed from internship through fellowship,” Dr. Kirchen said. “I think there's value in keeping an open mind and keep trying out new ways to find efficiency in your life.”

One of the simplest solutions for Dr. Kirchen and her family was a slow cooker that can cook a meal during the day while she and her husband are at work. “My husband is not a physician, but he works full time,” she said. A slow cooker only requires prep the evening before or the morning of and, with the right recipes, the meal will be ready to eat when everyone gets home at the end of the day.

Dr. Kirchen’s family also tried meal-delivery services, including HelloFresh and Blue Apron, which can save trips to the grocery store but is about $60 per week for a two-person, three-meal plan. “You can often get a big discount on Blue Apron [or] Hello Fresh when you try it out for the first time, which makes it a really good deal and a good time to see if it's right for your family,” she said. “I also find it encourages me to make a more well-balanced and healthier meal than I would on my own. Anyways, how many nights in a row can I make tacos?!”

“We’re currently using Pepperplate. My husband is taking the initiative on that,” Dr. Kirchen said. “You can look on Allrecipes or any of those websites” and select meals that go to the Pepperplate app. “You come up with your meal plan for the week and it makes your grocery list,” she said.

Another way to save time is to skip the grocery store by using delivery services such as Peapod. But many grocery stores offer cheaper delivery through Instacart, depending on your location.

For Dr. Kirchen, Amazon Prime’s subscribe-and-save option has been the best way to avoid trips to the store. After signing up, you can select how often you want certain items to be delivered, she said. And with five or more items, a 15 percent discount is applied. “Every month, I get a package of diapers, I get a package or wipes; I even have stuff like [Glade] Plugins that I put in the bathroom or kitchen.”

For residents who balance building a family with their training, Dr. Kirchen recommends sharing a calendar. Though there are shared electronic calendars, “I’m actually going back to old school where we literally have paper calendars in our house that we all keep things on, because I’m finding it harder to keep track of things on apps,” she said. “You all can just look at the calendar at the start of the week and see what you have going on.”

But the apps work for some. “I have a lot of colleagues that really swear by that,” Dr. Kirchen said. “Or you can find apps that you can [use to] share to-do lists.”

Some of Dr. Kirchen’s colleagues also use date-alert apps to remind them to update a passport, pay credits cards or bills, “or those sorts of things that can get lost when you’re busy,” she said. “One of the challenges as a health staff is you may work a week of nights, or all weekend. It’s easy to lose track of even what month it is, so these kinds of things can be really helpful.”

Dr. Kirchen said her husband has been extremely helpful in sharing the responsibility and the credit for completing everyday errands and tasks. “I guess my other big life-hacking tip is to have a partner who is helpful,” she said. “I told my husband about this interview and he said, ‘I think I should do the interview since I’m the one who figures this out.’”