What to Expect on Your First Day of Residency

by Emily Geitner on Apr 13, 2016 3:24:39 PM

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You made it through medical school. You nailed your residency interviews. And now it’s here: Your first day of residency.

You’re probably nervous—that’s natural. 

And as you prepare for the big day to come, laying out your freshly starched white coat, you’re probably also wondering what to expect for your first day of residency. 

It’s different for everyone, but here are a few tips on what to expect:

DON'T EXPECT TO SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE

Rolling around in bed, trying to calm down. Calculating the “how long until I have to get up” math in your head every hour or so … until finally the alarm goes off and you’re not sure if you've even slept.

This is totally normal

Try not to worry about it too much, because stressing out about not being able to sleep tends to make going to sleep even harder.

YOU WILL NEED TO SHOW UP LOOKING THE PART

First impressions matter.

After all, you don’t want to get stuck with a bad reputation among your attendings from the get-go. 

How do you make sure you start off on the right foot on your first day of residency?

Show up on time. Leave earlier than you think you need to.

Look professional. Don’t drink coffee in your new white coat.

Be courteous. Remember to smile, and be nice to everyone. You’ll be working with these folks for a long time. Don’t burn any bridges. You’ll regret it later. 

As Kenneth Christopher wrote in his blog Internal Medicine Residency, “You want your attendings and residents to tell your program that you are good to work with. How do you do this? Work hard, come to work on time, be conscientious, and don’t complain in public.” 

YOU'LL PROBABLY BE EXPECTED TO JUMP IN FEET FIRST 

Your orientation should have given you all the information you need on ID badges, parking, and where you can catch a bite or some rest if you need it. 

Once the first day of residency rolls around, it’s time to focus on the bigger picture.

Now, it totally depends on your program how involved your first day will be. 

In some programs, you’ll have simple rounds with your attending. In other programs, it’s not unheard of to begin with an overnight shift and some rather unsavory, hands-on duties

That said: Don’t tackle anything on the first day (or even the first week—better yet, the first few months!) you’re not ready for. 

According to Medical School Headquarters in its Ten Tips for Successfully Starting Your Internship: “There is nothing worse than saying you can handle something when you know you can’t. You are there for the patient, not your ego. Period.”

YOU WILL BE PROUD AT THE SAME TIME YOU FEEL COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT 

This isn’t something every, single resident feels on his or her first day. 

It’s just very, very common. 

Brian Secemsky, M.D., explained the feeling when he chronicled his first day of residency in Huffington Post:

I strut up to my first real patient as a physician, puff out my chest, cross my arms and wait for myself to make a grand introduction. I do not make any such statement. In fact, I stand foolishly in complete silence while poor Ms. B throws me a tired look of acknowledgement. "You must be my new doctor." I resist the urge to turn around looking for such a specimen. Instead, I clear my throat and begin my meticulously practiced monologue. "Hi Ms. B. I'm Dr. Secemsky. I'll be your physician while you're here at the—”

Ms. B immediately cuts me off. "I'm thirsty. Get me some orange juice." I jump at this opportunity, as this is something I feel I can handle without consulting the senior resident.

YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE BEING CALLED "DOCTOR" FOR THE FIRST TIME 

Being called “doctor” will sound foreign, both coming out of your own mouth and when others say it. 

It’s OK to practice how it sounds. 

Look in the mirror before you head out the door for your first day of residency and call yourself “Doctor.”

It’s OK to soak it up. You’ve earned it.

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This post was written by Emily Geitner

Emily is Director of Operations & Marketing for LinkCapital and responsible for managing the company’s day-to-day operations as well as leading strategy, marketing, and user experience for all Link consumer products.