Adam Kawalek, MD


July 18, 2008


I am getting ready for my first overnight call shift. What should I bring along?

Response From the Expert


Adam Kawalek, MD
Internal Medicine resident, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, California


As a seasoned medical student, you have already become accustomed to many odd requests: fetching a bed pan for a patient, getting a cup of coffee for your attending, or -- my favorite -- wheeling a patient down to radiology. But nothing compares to taking overnight call and discovering that you will be sleeping on a rubberized cot with an aseptic plastic pillow, sometimes in a room with 4 other strangers.

One of the more difficult aspects of clerkship rotations is getting used to sleeping away from home. If you were like me as a child and were eager for slumber parties only to rediscover how much you disliked brushing your teeth in front of others or sleeping inches away from somebody else, then brace yourself! Overnight rotations can be exhilarating when there is work to be done but depressing when things are quiet and you are left contemplating where, if at all, you can catch up on sleep. Below is a list of things that will help get you through the night:

1. Toothbrush: Nothing is worse than presenting a morning case with bad breath. Don't fret over toothpaste, as you can often find small tubes that are provided to patients. Be sure to make friends with your nurse, as he or she will gladly direct you to the stash of patient hygiene products (including toothbrushes if you forgot one).

2. Study guide: It never hurts to bring along a review or question book when you take overnight call. You may find yourself with hours and hours of spare time to study.

3. Medications: If you take scheduled medications, do not forget to bring an extra supply. You may have been told that you will be home post-call by noon, but anticipate delays and avoid feeling sick because you have skipped a dose.

4. Dollar bills: I cannot stress this enough. Most hospital cafeterias close by midnight. With an erratic schedule, you may not have time to grab dinner. Therefore, your only option may be vending machines which, as you know, only take change or dollar bills. There is nothing better than a Snickers bar and Mountain Dew at 3 am!

5. Phone charger: Hospitals get poor mobile phone reception. Bring your charger so that you can focus on dying patients, not your dying cell phone.

6. Snacks: If you are health-conscious or enjoy frequent small, healthy meals, then don't forget to pack something that you will enjoy during your shift.

7. Backpack: It goes without saying that you will need a bag of some kind. My advice is to choose a subdued, dark-colored, and easily hidden bag for your things. Ladies, avoid large, fancy purses; they are easily spotted and oftentimes go missing.

8. Lock: Some clerkships will provide you with lockers. Be sure to lock up (or hide) your valuables.

9. ID: Do not forget your medical school or hospital ID. Hospitals operate very differently at night, and without ID, you will find yourself locked out of many wards, offices, and surgical suites with no one around to help you. Scary!

10. Warm clothes: Hospitals get notoriously cold at night. Bring your favorite college alumni sweatshirt and show off your pedigree while keeping warm!

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