02 Apr The First 6 Months
The first week is a steep learning curve. The next 2 – 3 months are an even steeper learning curve. My first few months of residency began with intense palpitations every morning after waking up bright and early – usually around 4:30am – in preparation for another day at the hospital. I would mentally run through my list of patients while getting ready, creating check boxes, to-do lists, and coming up with seemingly well-informed, structured plans for said patients. During morning rounds, I was expected to communicate these plans, with expectant and evaluating eyes fixed on me, and all it took was one simple question from my attending to make me realize that my well thought-out plan could be better thought-out.
The good news is that this pressure does eventually subside. The moments of chart-checking a new admission with multiple comorbidities and wondering how you will begin to address each of their problems are gradually replaced by a burgeoning trust in your knowledge, your skills, and your continued growth as a new physician. Eventually, you find that angst and dread is replaced by determination to face new challenges and the realization that you are actually enjoying this journey. So what does it take to get there?
Some might argue that the sheer process of going through the motions of residency means that you will eventually have an idea of what you should be doing, and that in itself is anxiety-reducing. I beg to differ. To paraphrase words of advice from my program director during orientation, residency is a time period in your life when you must be aggressive about your learning. I have found this to be true. Upon reflection, the source of the growing confidence in my clinical skills stems from actively seeking to know where I was wrong when corrected – often times not too kindly – by my seniors. In a moment of exasperation after I had ordered the wrong imaging study, one of my chief residents told me that during the early phase it is important to ask, ask, ask – even those questions that you know are inherently stupid – because eventually you will run out of questions, stupid or otherwise. It is imperative that you speak up when you are unsure, and use every moment as an opportunity to learn.
It is equally as important to take care of yourself. I have learned that sleep is a priority, and gone are my college days when I could pull several all-nighters in a week and still be a functional human being. I now have a strict 9:30pm bedtime, and have come to cherish this new normal. Additionally, maintaining prior hobbies and self-care routines provides moments of respite and ensures you recharge and rejuvenate every so often. It is, after all, a marathon not a sprint. It is for this reason that I continue to tend to my indoor garden, and maintain my habit of frequent home-cooked meals in the hopes of advancing my (likely imaginary) career as an amateur chef. Yoga, meditation, and weekly bubble baths have long been a cornerstone of wellness for me, and my practice has been vital in ensuring I maintain my sanity this year.I continue to uphold my habit of always having a non-medical or surgical book that I am reading for pleasure, which tends to provide a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Lastly, find your community – be it your family, friends, fellow residents – and be intentional about cultivating these relationships. My co-interns have been instrumental in making me realize that we are all in this together, and that my struggles are not unique to me. Be open to learning and discovering new things, honing your craft, and most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
Dr. MuyokaMaina, MD, MHS, is a first-year general surgery resident in the Department of Surgery at Yale University. She is passionate about global surgery and surgical education, academic surgery and mentorship. She is also one of the co-founding members of KEDU. Read more about her on our KEDU founders’ page at: https://kedusa.org/founders/.