Common Misperceptions About Residency

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH


July 14, 2017

Residency is unquestionably a trying time. However, it can seem even more intimidating, given certain initial misperceptions often developed by medical students and retained by first-year residents. After completing my intern year, here are some things I learned about certain false notions regarding residency.

No Time

As a medical student, the most daunting fear I had about residency was that I would not have time for anything but work. Over the years, I have come to consider myself a master at time management, as much as anyone can be. As a student, you can prioritize your time however you would like, so long as your work gets done. I figured that as a resident, I could kiss my time goodbye.

Now, 1 year into residency, I've realized two things. First, I always have time for the things I prioritize. The tricky questions are always, "How should I prioritize things?" and "How much time will I actually have to spend?" After all, a lot of my time is definitely spent at work, either at the hospital or clinic. Even after the last patient has left the clinic for the day, I sometimes still have to finish up my notes. But, honestly, it isn't that bad!

Of course, some months are harder than others. I oscillate back and forth between working as few as 50 and as many as 80 hours per week, depending on the rotation. Yet through it all, I have found time to stay committed to my priorities. For example, I always find time to write for myself, simply because I love to do so. I love going to spin class for exercise and have been able to regularly exercise throughout the year. The only caveat is that while on certain rotations, I may only be able to go to spin class once per week instead of three times. And, of course, I still find time for loved ones.

The solution to having more limited time as a resident is simply to understand that you can ultimately do what you want to do with your free time; you just cannot do everything all at once. You have to go with the ebb and flow of each rotation.

No Money

Okay, so this one is sort of true. Money is always an issue and is a bigger problem for some more than others. However, in the same way that prioritizing and budgeting time is important in residency, so is prioritizing and budgeting expenses.

Unavoidably, residents are underpaid. I once did the math. On average, residents get paid $56,500 per year. This takes into account residents at all different levels of training and different specialties. If you assume that we work an average of 60 hours per week, our pay comes out to about $18 per hour before taxes.

Sure, this is a lot more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. However, remember that newer trainees get paid less, and certain residents work more than 60 hours per week. In any case, once you consider the years of school and training it takes to become a physician, and six figures of educational debt most residents have (medical students had a median debt of $183,000), residents are underpaid.

So what is a resident to do? Simple: budget, budget, budget. You can still go out to dinner, go to the movies, and go on vacation, but you may not be able to do so as often as you like.

Also, figuring out how to prioritize your expenses is important. For example, I live alone. Therefore, it is often more cost-effective for me to buy lunch or dinner rather than make it at home (when you consider the time and energy that go into buying and preparing food). That said, another resident might decide to never, ever spend money on take-out.

Another example is that I like to get a manicure at least once per month. It is destressor I have come to rely on since high school. Someone else might think spending money on nails is frivolous. You ultimately decide how to spend your money.


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