The life of a family medicine intern who failed step one

Thanks for taking the time to let me interview you…again. I introduced my readers to you a few months ago in an interview about the residency application and interview process. Specifically about how it’s still possible to match after failing step one. Fast-forward to today and we’re both about six months into intern year. So what is it like to be an intern?

My pleasure! I’m so glad to share more with your readers. Being an intern is great. It’s not as scary as people make it out to be. I’m learning so much working on different services and with different attendings.



What has been the most rewarding part of being a family medicine intern?

As cliché as this may sound, the best part is feeling that I’ve helped someone. Knowing that I’ve touched a patient and made their day a little better makes me smile – whether it is addressing depression that has been overlooked and neglected for decades or reassuring an anxious first time mom-to-be that her pregnancy is safe and viable.



What has been the most frustrating part of residency?

Lack of flexibility with my schedule can get frustrating… More frequent than not, I cannot commit to social events, like dinner with friends on a Friday night or holiday parties. Luckily everyone around me is understanding of my rigid schedule and they’re cool with me scheduling get together on average 3-5 weeks in advance.



What has been your most challenging aspect of residency?

One of the internal questions I wrestle with daily is “am I good enough?” Am I learning enough? Am I giving my best to my patients? After years of schooling and studying, it’s easy to take time to relax and fall into a lull of complacency. Integrating study time into a full time residency is my challenge.



What was your biggest fear going into intern year? Have they come to fruition? How have you dealt with those issues?

I think my biggest fear was that I would be a completely incompetent physician and my residency would regret hiring me. I’m glad to say, that hasn’t come up yet. Every new intern comes in with fears, it is normal and to be expected. People are aware that you’re climbing a steep learning curve. Self-reflection was my preferred way to deal with my fears. I even visited a psychologist for a session just to talk out loud about this new chapter in my life (settling in a new place, moving in with my boyfriend, having real responsibilities at work, no longer being a student, “officially” moving from Canada, etc…)



What are you hours like? What’s a typical day for a family medicine intern?

There are usually two types of “typical” days: at the hospital or at the clinic. Hospital days are almost always longer than clinic days. A day in the hospital can range from 8-13 hours, whereas in the clinic or with private physicians I can clock in 7-10 hours. It’s hard to describe a regular day for me because it varies depending on which rotation I’m on. I could be working a 10h shift in the emergency department, helping manage a service at the Children’s hospital, seeing patients at my clinic, or working on a consult service at my hospital.



What do you do outside of the hospital to keep your sanity?

When I’m outside of the hospital I try and disconnect. I have always been a big proponent of separating work life and home life. My parents rarely talked about work when they were at home. I intend on following suit. I relish in wandering the aisles of the grocery store, strolling through the mall, calling my friends with no purpose other than to catch up, and planning how I will spend my next vacation.



How often do you exercise? More or less compared to before residency started?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I exercise MUCH less than before residency. At this point, I barely exercise once a month. Shameful, yes I know. I ended up canceling my gym membership because I simply was not going. I wish I had established a more diligent work out habit before starting residency but now I value sleep more.



How often are you able to see your family or significant other?

My family lives 9+ hours away so I see them max once a year. I haven’t been great at calling my mom very often but I try and touch base with home once a week or once every other week. My boyfriend and I moved in together before the start of residency. We’ve been good at making a point to have one activity a week – going out to dinner, opening a bottle of wine at home, going for a long walk near the woods. As with any relationship, you have to make it a priority and dedicate time and energy.



How are you handling the debt?

Money management is always a work in progress. Budgeting and number crunching was essential to me. I found it insightful to hash out on paper how much I got per paycheck then subtracting my fixed and variable expenses. It helped me see where my money was going and I would be more mindful of my spending as to not go into credit card debt.



When do you plan on taking step 3?

I have my Step 3 scheduled in April 2017. I’m nervous as with any exam but my goal being to pass regardless of the score is somewhat comforting.



What’s it like having the responsibility of teaching medical students?

I haven’t fully grasped yet this responsibility. I’m trying to keep my own head afloat! Since I don’t feel at this time that my medical knowledge is all that phenomenal, I make a point to teach my students about the art of medicine. I like to show them my approach to difficult subjects, how I weave humor into interviews, and my use of analogies to simplify medicine to patients.



In retrospect, with the knowledge that you have now, are there any questions you would recommend to medical students to ask during their interviews?

I would encourage medical students to ask programs what kind of support they have in place to help residents through the years. Do they have board review courses? How do they handle resident burn out? What support will they offer if you score below average on the yearly in service exam? While some students may fear that asking these questions show weakness on their part, I think it is important to know what is available to you in your new work place.



Speaking of medical students, do you strongly feel that there is anything you wish you did differently while you were in medical school that would have better prepared you for residency?

I don’t think there is anything that I would do differently per se. As a student, I took full advantage of the various opportunities offered to enrich my learning by attending conferences, going to drug rep talks, and striking up conversations with other physicians. I would encourage students to do the same. You never know what you will learn and you never know whom you might meet.



For the current medical students reading this, what general advice do you have regarding residency?

For medical students approaching residency, I urge you to enjoy the process. Although residency and the match are riddled with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, have faith and trust the process. Everything happens for a reason and you will end up where you are meant to be. I know it is easier said that done to relinquish control but things will happen the way they were intended to. You will get out of residency what you put in. Your attitude and outlook are the biggest factors in your satisfaction with residency.




Thank you so much Emily for taking the time for this interview. I know there are plenty of other students out there who have come short on big exams like the USMLE’s or COMLEX and it’s encouraging to see someone else who still managed to match and continues to succeed in residency.


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