The Transition from Medical Student to Resident

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With Match Day 2019 just ahead, thousands of fourth years are looking ahead to that next chapter of their lives, becoming a resident. They are transitioning from the safety of being a medical student to the overwhelming responsibility of being a resident. I was in that exact same place last year after matching into Pediatrics. I was nervous about suddenly becoming a patient’s primary physician, no longer being able to use the excuse “I am not sure about that, I’m just a med student, but I can ask your doctors”. I didn’t feel ready, didn’t feel any smarter or more capable than I felt the day before when my title was med student as opposed to doctor.


Now, almost a year out from that memorable first day, I would like to share some things I learned. Hopefully, this will help ease some anxiety about that upcoming fateful day.

You are not in this alone. All new residents on their first day felt exactly the same as you do now. They all were unsure, anxious, and questioned everything they were doing. So, take a deep breath, you are in no way the only one.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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The biggest advice I could give would be to not be afraid to ask questions. I wasted so much time in those first few weeks going back and forth about whether I should ask someone a question. I was worried that I should know the answer already and it would be a dumb question, but there definitely is no such thing. Everyone expects you to have a ton of questions. They've all been there before and know what it's like not to know everything. The biggest reason for residency is to learn, that is what your attending and fellow residents are there for.

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Stay organized.

One strategy that I rely on during stressful times is to stay organized. I feel more prepared going into every day by having everything I need to do for the day explicitly laid out. This is especially helpful to me while on an inpatient service and I am having to juggle multiple patients in a day. I have a checklist that I made to keep track of when I have finished the note, written the handoff, updated the hospital course, and any other relevant tasks for the day. I also have a list to keep track of things that need to be followed up on in a few days, or outpatient appointments that need to be made, or anything else that needs to be done prior to discharge. It is easy to lose track of these tasks, so I do everything I can to help myself not forget.


Remember why you are here.

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With the stressors of your new responsibility and being busier and more tired than you probably ever have been in your life, it is easy to forget why you chose to do this in the first place. Take some time when you feel overwhelmed, even if it is just a few minutes, to reflect on how you felt on Match Day, or when you got your acceptance letter to med school, or when you first decided you wanted to become a doctor. Use those feelings to help motivate you through the hard times. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of them.


You got this! You are meant to be in the place you are for a reason! Embrace this period of learning, of growing both in who you are as a person and who you are as a physician. Take time for yourself as you need it. The next few years will be difficult, for sure. However, in the end, you will be the physician you always dreamed of being, taking care of patients and helping them through their toughest times, and that will make it all worth it.

Carly Roark