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Preparing for Residency: Making the Most of Your Last Weeks of Freedom

First and foremost – congratulations!  After four long years (or more, for you overachieving MD/PhDs out there) you have graduated medical school. You’ve become a physician, and you’re about to start your residency. Finally you’ll get to stop living on student loans and can start paying them back. As you anxiously count down the days until starting your first job as a physician, you’ll probably be feeling many different emotions. Personally, I was sad to be moving away from Louisville after eight wonderful years, nervous about starting my intern year, and excited to face new challenges.

While you prepare to make this transition to medical residency, I believe that how you spend your last few weeks of (f)unemployment can make a big difference in your transition to intern year. Here is my advice, cultivated from starting not one, but two intern years, and from seeing my wife, Aakriti, go through the process as well.

How to Prepare for Your Medical Residency:

 

1. Plan something fun to do before you start residency.

Let’s face it – residency is hard. Many of you will be working six days per week and averaging 80 or more extra hours per month once your intern year begins. On top of that, most programs offer only 2-4 vacation weeks per year, and the timing of those vacations is usually dictated by the order of your rotations. I’ve known interns to wait until as late as, or even after, January for their first vacation. As such, try to make the most of your free time before you start residency. Plan a trip to see a family member in a different city, travel somewhere far away, or just organize lots of fun nights with your local friends and family.

My wife followed up her medical school graduation with our wedding and honeymoon. Despite the stress of having over 500 guests and a week long Indian wedding, this was an amazing experience that took her mind off the impending start of her residency and gave her something fun to look back on when rotations started.

 

2. Find a place to live near the hospital where you’ll do your residency.

My advice: look for housing in person, and not online. When I started my intern year in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, the high cost of airfare discouraged me from making any advance trip to the city. As a result, I ended up picking my apartment online. While I was very happy with my selection, I do think that this process could have backfired in a larger city.

When I began my second intern year in Internal Medicine in Denver, I was fortunate to be able to take a week of vacation and travel to the city to find a place to live. Doing this allowed me to not only see the apartment that I would be living in, but also allowed me to get a feel for the surrounding area. As a result, I ended up living in a really fun area downtown near the Rockies stadium, and I was able to make the most of my time off.

When picking a place to live, I suggest considering the following:

  • How close is it to the hospital and how will it affect your commute?  If you will be rotating at multiple hospitals, consider finding a place that is central to them all.
  • Are necessities like a grocery store, gym, and coffee shop (yes, that is a necessity for me) nearby? During my intern year in Colorado, there were no grocery stores nearby. This led to me spending 15-20 minutes traveling to the store on my off days and contributed to me wasting a lot of money on takeout each week.

After a long night shift, nothing feels better than coming home to your house, apartment, or condo. Definitely make sure that you find a place you love.

 

3. Spend time with your family and friends, who you may not see as often during intern year.

Whether you’re moving to a new city or not, residency will significantly impact your ability to spend time with your friends and family. I spent a lot of time in Cincinnati visiting my parents as intern year approached. Additionally, I made sure to plan nights out with all of my friends in Louisville so that I could enjoy seeing them before I moved away.

 

4. Take Care of Yourself

If you do have any medical needs, try to take care of them before your residency begins. During residency, it can be very difficult to make time for physician appointments, because most doctors’ offices aren’t open after 7 pm when we’re typically coming off our shift. Whether it’s lingering back pain or just a need for an annual physical, try to get things taken care of prior to starting residency. Your intern year will be as physically demanding as it is mentally taxing, and being in good health will make a difference.

 

5. Relax

As easy as it is to get psyched out over the start of your intern year, try to relax. Preparing for my intern year in obstetrics and gynecology, I spent 2-3 hours each day trying to read through the various resident-level gynecology texts as well as the ACOG practice bulletins. Regardless of all that studying, I still started my intern year feeling like a fish out of water. You will have plenty of time to study as a resident and a lot of what you need to know won’t be found in a book – instead, it’s learned on the job. Like I’ve said before, use what is left of your free time to relax and have fun. Besides, haven’t you spent the last four years stressed out and hunched over a book?

Starting residency is a big transition but is also one of the most exciting times of your life. (It was so exciting that I did it twice!) Make the most of the time you have left and celebrate completing the journey of medical school. Trust me, you’ll thank me when your intern year begins.