Be the Best Resident: 10 Tips for Success

James M. Lebret, MD


May 25, 2016

Residency is kind of like being caught in "medicine's hallway." You're a doctor but still in training. Your relatives don't know what that means—"Wait, you're not a real doctor yet?" Is it still medical school or real-life practice?

Residency will be one of the toughest but potentially most rewarding times of your life. Here's some of the best advice to get you through, culled from program directors, current residents, and your own potential future colleagues.

Tip 1: Put Patient Care First

Keith Roach, MD, associate professor of medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell, shares a crucial piece of advice that he was given during his intern year: "There will be many times when you will be uncertain about how to proceed, given multiple conflicting goals. Making your guide the best care of the patient is always a sure path to the best choice." Without having patient care as a priority, you can easily get lost in medicolegal, administrative, and operational concerns that might have seemed irrelevant in medical school.

Tip 2: Practice Self-care in Mind and Spirit

Those who have come through residency recommend scheduling free time far away from the hospital with the people you love. "Remember to put in slots for personal time as well so that you can recharge your batteries and come back to work refreshed," says Charlene Ngamwajasat, MD, clinical informatics specialist at the Primary Care Information Project.

"It is essential to have a strong support system. Residency is mentally, physically, and emotionally trying. Having a group of people to decompress with and be able to enjoy some semblance of life outside of the hospital will aid tremendously in your emotional well-being," says David Altszuler, MD, chief resident at NYU Langone Medical Center's Internal Medicine Residency.

Tip 3: Take Care of Your Body

"Diet and exercise!" says Andrea Paul, MD, chief medical officer at "When working long hours and under great stress, it is easy to resort to junk food and not exercising. Make some time to exercise, even if it's just a 20-minute body weight workout in the call room a few times a week, or go for a walk at lunch or during a break. While it is hard to eat healthy, try to choose the salad bar over the pizza; you'll be glad you did."

Joseph Glaser, MD, a nuclear medicine physician practicing in Middletown, New York, adds, "Eat when you can, sleep when you can." As complicated as residency can be, sometimes the simplest advice is the most crucial to remember.


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