By Glen Goncharow, DO, PGY-1
Intern year is another difficult and exciting time of transition that we, as physicians, undergo in our journey through medicine. It is also a time that people often refer to with negative connotation (perhaps they should have gone into emergency medicine). Whether you just graduated medical school last spring, or are a non-traditional resident like myself, we all experienced the same emotions of starting a new year in a new role, at a new facility in our chosen specialty. The hectic time of finding a place to live, participating in awkward ice breakers, and meeting your new colleagues and attendings is kind of over. You have now figured out where to park, how to get food, and maybe even put in a full set of admission orders without asking one of your senior residents.
What if you are not a first-time intern? Do you feel added stress to perform at a higher level since you have already completed an intern year? Maybe you have a family and are unable to attend all the out-of-work functions with the rest of your class. You are not alone. You are not the first and certainly won’t be the last intern that changed careers, or even started a residency in one specialty and decided that was not the right fit for you.
As I alluded to earlier, I am not your traditional intern. I graduated medical school in 2012 on the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program. I then completed a general surgery intern year at Kessler Air Force Base, after which I decided to take the scenic route on my GME journey. After 6 years as a Flight Surgeon, 650 flight hours in 9 different aircrafts, and nearly 3 years-worth of deployments and travel, I now find myself back as “Intern 2.0.” Unless you are one of the military docs out there, that sounds crazy, right? From day one of medical school, the traditional path we are expected to take is engrained into us: medical school, intern year, residency, and then finally attending. So, don’t feel discouraged if you are in your thirties and still have 3-7 more years of training. You are not alone.
Reflecting on my first month of residency: my “first” intubation, my “first” central line, my “first” resuscitation…I found myself being very critical of my performance. I mean, come on, I graduated medical school 7 years ago! I have done all of these procedures numerous times in the past and should be doing them with my eyes closed, right? I had to remind myself that these are all skills that atrophy if not being performed on a regular basis. As a flight surgeon I was taking care of some of the healthiest people in the world, so I had not performed any of these procedures since my last intern year, 6 years ago. Although I have run my own clinic and made medical decisions to aerovac patients out of a combat zone, I have not really thought of the basic sciences that most interns still have fresh in their minds from medical school, step 2, and step 3. What I have found is that I can offset my weaknesses by using my fellow residents as a sounding board. Consequently, I can also share some of the strengths I have picked up along my journey, too. It’s called teamwork, and since medicine is a team sport, it has been a lot of, dare I say, fun!
A common theme has been the incredible team I am part of here at St. Vincent Medical Center. The teamwork, camaraderie, and professionalism that the attending physicians, senior residents, nurses, techs, and hospital staff exhibit is astounding. I have been excited to start each shift, and they seem to fly by. I realize that I have a long way to go in honing my craft as an EM physician; I also realize I am not alone on this path. In our program, we have several other residents in the same boat as me: other prior military, some medical, and others a completely different career who found medicine as their calling later in life.
Regardless of the path you took to get to this new starting line we call intern year, I challenge you to enjoy it, soak it all in, and make this a positive time in your medical education. Share your strengths with your fellow interns and don’t be afraid to ask those around you for help. Think about how fast the first month went by, and before you know it, you will be the senior resident answering the interns’ questions. So, remember how many people have helped you this month, and don’t forget to pay it forward.