Residency

You matched! Now here’s what to expect when you’re interning

So you made it through the Match process, and perhaps even landed at your No. 1 choice. Now for a bracing bit of reality that comes from residents well-positioned to know: The first few months of residency are not about thriving—they are about surviving.

But you can stay well afloat if you follow these residents’ advice on how to ease the big move to the next stage in your training.

Identify your priorities

Taylor George, MD, is a second-year emergency medicine resident at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. As a medical student, she was able to get to gym on a near-daily basis. In residency, she exercises frequently, but it comes at the detriment of other aspects of her life.

“I exercise five days a week, every week, and it kills me to get that done,” she said. “I do that at the sacrifice of sleep, which you can make an argument for or against. So I either wake up early or stay up late to do it five times.

Dr. Taylor said that, in residency, “flexibility and expectation-setting are the tools” which she has used most frequently.

“Flexibility in understanding that you are not going be able to do everything you used to do and finding a compromise,” she said. “For instance, I used to be a yoga instructor. I would do yoga six times a week, sometimes multiple times a day. In my middle ground, I now go once a week or I try to lead sessions for my classmates when possible.”

Mentally prepare for the paperwork

As a medical student, much of the administrative work wasn’t your responsibility. As a resident, that changes in a big way. One recent study of 41 interns found they spent an average 28 hours a week using the EHR.

Tani Malhotra, MD, is a fourth-year ob-gyn resident at York Hospital in central  Pennsylvania.

“The thing that surprised me the most was the amount of busy-work we had to do as residents,” she said. “Being a med student, you are protected from the busy-work. You don’t have to put in orders. You don’t have to put in notes for every discussion you have with a patient.

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Create—and stick to—a routine

Early on in his residency, Ben Meyer, MD, realized that rotations are far more rigorous.

“In med school, my time commitments were more variable so I had less of a routine in terms of when I got up, what I ate, what I did after work on a weekday,” said Dr. Meyer, now a postgraduate year 2 resident in diagnostic radiology at Froedtert Hospital a few miles outside Milwaukee.

To adjust to the rigors of residency, Dr. Meyer has created a routine that allows for ample time for sleep and exercise.

“Developing a routine has been helpful,” he said. “I go to the same gym classes Monday through Thursday as long as I’m not taking call that night. That routine has been beneficial in terms of improving my work-life balance and reducing stress through exercise.”

Plan your getaway

One advantage to residency is the freedom to enjoy vacations that are not bound by a medical school calendar. Residents say you should plan ahead and use that time away from work wisely.

“The months of December to February every year, I feel more burned out than any other time of year,” Dr. Malhotra said. “I just feel a little bit tired with the work, and usually a second wind comes once the weather starts to get better.” 

To beat the winter blues, she plans a January trip, typically revolving around a medical conference in her specialty. “It takes me out of the rut of the same old bread and butter, and gives me the opportunity to learn new things and meet people. It helps that those conferences are in warmer places.”