'Fear Not, This Is Normal': Advice for Young Doctors

Ryan Syrek, MA


April 14, 2017

Back in March, with Match Day looming, Medscape asked some of our contributors and our community to offer advice to soon-to-be residents. The responses that poured in went far beyond the expected tips to help achieve success during residency. Most submissions included insights from years of professional experience, along with wisdom to help all young doctors, not just those in training. In fact, the scope of the advice is likely to trigger reflection in those of all ages. Here are just a few highlights of what they had to say.

Prime Directive

One of the themes that emerged among the advice that was offered involved a need to prioritize. Dr Brad Spellberg suggested that times have changed. He told us, "We must engage our patients in decision-making and move away from the traditional, physician-centric paternalism of medicine, which is contrary to achieving high-quality, safe, efficient, and patient-centered care."

Dr Spellberg was not alone in suggesting a shift from "physician-centric" attitudes. An emphasis on listening to, and learning from, patients was repeated as a guiding dictum. As Dr J. Greensmith explained, "The patients are your best teachers, followed by the nurses, then your attendings."

In fact, developing a fast appreciation for nurses was another common refrain. Dr Mark Morris was explicit, as he laid out his advice: "Please remember that the only thing between you and disaster is the nurses. Honor them; respect them; and, if you're a DO, treat them. Don't go to sleep when you first can; sit and talk with them, learn from them. And they will feed you and protect your sleep."

Much of the advice suggested considering those who surround young doctors as new family units. These groups include nurses and fellow residents, and beyond residency, peers who will grow to be very familiar faces. Cheerfully, Dr Brent Mothner offered, "Never pass up the opportunity for a meeting, or even a quick coffee together. Great things can happen simply by chatting along the way. Oh, and good cookies make almost any day better!"

A Resident State of Mind

In terms of advice specific to the residency experience, Dr Lisa Gobar offered some quality reassurance: "You are starting all over again. You will feel like you know nothing. Fear not, this is normal." Encouragement permeated the advice provided from our contributors and users, with many sharing personal stories of doubt that gave way to experience. The overwhelming attitude was that although young doctors are sure to face personal crises, they can be overcome.

While accepting that a certain amount of fear is normal, other situations in residency can be avoided with preparation. As Dr Merius Atangcho specified, "Scan the ACGME curriculum requirements. Probably no medical student ever looks at ACGME curriculum/resident experience requirements to graduate from a residency. Especially when deciding between different fields, however, these requirements can inform you of what your entire residency will look like." Others recommended concrete suggestions that involved surveying the medical literature thoroughly and learning to approach the resident experience as a rebirth.


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