Today is the first day for all those newly graduated young docs starting internship. I remember my first day as a doctor well. January 20th 2020, I showed up to orientation fresh-faced, in my new clothes and well executed makeup. On the outside looking well-put together, on the inside I felt apprehensive.
From experience as a medical student, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy year, but I was also ready to finally start and practice as a doctor.
I made many mistakes that year, and I don’t mean medical errors (though I did make a few), I mean life mistakes.
So I’m writing this in the hope that it helps an intern or two out there right now.
Things I’d tell my intern self, if I could go back in time
1. Medicine is all about team work
Perhaps this was a personality thing, but I was always one to shoulder all the responsibility in any scenario. Maybe being the eldest daughter of an immigrant family also led to this sense that I was always the one that had to make things right in situations.
I wonder if medicine tends to select individuals with a hyper-inflated sense of responsibility. Wanting to save the world and help everyone?
When I was an intern and resident, I felt that everything that happened to my patients was on my shoulders. It was a heavy weight to burden, but I carried it with me for years and I carried it home.
Anything that happened to the patients under my care was on me, if something was missed, I had missed it. If something happened, I should have been able to prevent it.
After years in medicine, I’ve realised how wrong this is. Medicine is all about the team. None of us are the sole reason a patient heals, and we are also not the sole reason for someone becoming unwell.
It’s a team effort of senior doctors, nurses, allied health and more. You don’t need to shoulder this burden alone, share it with your colleagues and know that medicine works when we all work together.
2. Ask for help, and ask for it often
Similar to tip 1. The only time I’ve regretted things in medicine is when I didn’t ask for help.
Especially as an intern, we don’t know what we don’t know.
If you’re unsure, ask your senior. If you’re alone with a patient that you’re worried about, call for a rapid response or MET call/code. No one gets upset over ‘over-calling’ emergencies, and the senior can always step it down if they think the patient is okay.
If you’re overwhelmed with ward tasks and not sure how you can fit it all in, ask your fellow JMOs for help or learn which nurses can do certain procedural skills. Even one added pair of helping hands can make all the difference on a busy day.
It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help from your colleagues. It’s brave and the smart thing to do.
3. We’re learning (and mistakes happen)
As an intern, I had never really made a mistake in my life before.
Failure wasn’t a thing. I had never even failed a test. As a high-performing individual, I figured internship would be more of the same.
However, medicine is an imperfect science. People do not present as textbook presentations.
We deal with a lot of uncertainty, and as a junior with less experience, navigating this uncertainty can be challenging.
Coupled with time pressures, fatigue, understaffing…even the best of us make mistakes.
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad doctor or a bad person. Learn from mistakes and work with your colleagues. As doctors we will always be learners. Be kind to yourselves and be kind to others.
4. Being affected by the job is normal, we’re human
You may not know it, but doctors are really good at acting tough.
What you also may not know is that we’re all at some point affected by what we see at work.
Being a doctor has a lot of highs, relieving pain, curing people, diagnosing a mysterious presentation, delivering a baby…
Yet, on the flip side there are also lows. Finding incurable widespread metastatic cancer, telling a family their loved one has died, palliating a patient, and bearing witness to the pain and suffering that happens inside the hospital walls.
Being affected by what we see is very normal and very human.
It does not make you weak, it means you’re alive.
It’s okay. You’re not alone.
5. We need to care for ourselves, our health matters
Doctors’ health matters. We do not need to sacrifice ourselves to save the world.
As an intern, I had a period of not eating well, losing weight, insomnia, and withdrawing from my friends.
It may seem obvious, but I was not caring for anyone well in that state.
We deserve to take good care of ourselves, and healthy doctors mean a healthier community.
Physically – make time for eating, hydration, sleep, sunlight, and movement.
Emotionally – stay in contact with your support network, and make time for things you enjoy doing.
Also know when and where to ask for help if you need it.
Struggling in internship and in medicine at any stage is ok. You’re not alone in how you feel.
You’re not weak or less of a doctor than others you see.
We are all fighting our own battles, and some people may seem put together, but they really aren’t deep down.
Asking for help is a great thing. There is help available right now, if you need it.
Click here to see the many resources available now for medical students and docs.
Feel free to reach out here too.