Practice Perfect 814
Advice For New Residents

Welcome to all incoming first year residents! I know this is an exciting and scary time for many of you. In fact, this is often a bit of a code brown moment, I know. And, to be frank, you should be a little nervous: this isn’t school anymore. You’re a doctor now, and at this one moment in time, you don’t know any more than you did on your last day of podiatry school. But don’t worry, your learning is about to accelerate at Mach 10. To help with your transition into your Postgraduate Year One, here are some suggestions.

First, take a deep breath - Yes, keep breathing. Just accept that this is a major transition in both your professional and personal lives. It’s going to be a little overwhelming at first. You won’t really know what’s going on, and it will take some time to get your feet under you. Yes, the expectations are going to be a lot higher than they were when you were a student, but now people are going to call you “Doctor.” That last one was meant to make you feel better, but I can see where it might bring you a bit more anxiety. Bottom line: you’re going to be fine if you give yourself a little time and some leeway.

Second, give yourself a break - Most of those you work with are going to know that you’re a newbie, and they should give you a bit of slack – a little bit, mind you. You can’t be a total mess up or kill anyone! You’re going to be uncomfortable and perhaps sleepless (especially if you’re on call), but that’s ok. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s going to be your life for a while. 

Third, allow yourself mistakes - Now, this one’s going to be a little hard for new learners to digest, but you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s ok as long as you own up to those mistakes, fix them, and learn from them. And that, my young colleagues, is the biggest secret to becoming a true expert at your chosen field. Not only should you be aware that you’re going to make errors, but you should search them out. You see, you don’t learn much from your successes. If you do a thing correctly, then all you know is that you’re able to do it. That’s good for confidence and it boosts the ego, but it doesn’t help you grow. The key is, focus on number four.

Fourth, lose the ego and ruthlessly examine your errors - We all have a sense of our own egos and self-importance. We want to be “the best.” We want to impress everyone around us. That’s normal. But, unfortunately, ego is a barrier to true learning. You may have a “mean” attending or someone that doesn’t rub your back while they tell you how wonderful you are. They may say things abruptly or even become rude. That happens. Try to forget about the method of delivery and focus on the message. My most brutal attendings were usually right about some correction – regardless of their being a jerk about it. You also have to get rid of the ego to actively search out your errors and areas of ignorance. These are the opportunities for the most rapid and substantial learning in your entire career. If your attending corrects your suturing, go home and practice that tie hundreds of times. If you don’t understand a particular pathology while on your medicine rotation, read about it that night, take notes, review, quiz yourself and become an expert. There is a never-ending list of topics you won’t know or will forget. That’s ok. We’re humans and not computers. 

Fifth, be an active learner - I have never met an attending physician or surgeon who likes wall flower trainees. Don’t sit back against the wall, meek and quiet, waiting in fear for someone to call on you. Be aggressive. Ask questions. Attempt to answer. Think out loud so that your teachers know your knowledge level and can help you find your deficiencies. Don’t be afraid to get the answer wrong. As a new resident, you’ll get some leeway, but this will change by the time you’re a third year. The expectations will be different. But at the beginning, it’ll be ok to not know some things.
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Finally, make it a practice to do “extra” during your short three years of residency - Volunteer for that extra call. Take that extra patient in the ER. Carry one more patient than the rest of the group while on your inpatient medicine rotation. Read about everything you see every day. Actively build your knowledge and skill base using your errors and areas of ignorance to guide your studies, and, before you know it, you’ll be the one on top. You’ll be the expert you always wanted to be.

Good luck and best wishes!

Jarrod Shapiro, DPM
PRESENT Practice Perfect Editor
[email protected]

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