While it’s natural to feel like you’re under an immense amount of pressure to perform as a new doctor, it simply has to be done. Fortunately, asking for advice from those who have gone before—as well as other members of the health care team, can make the process a little easier. Below, we’ve compiled tips for new doctors to help you weather the storm as a first-year resident and beyond.
Managing Your Workload
“Be extremely organized and make sure you make a system for all the things you have to get done during the day, prioritizing those that are most important. If you find you’re overwhelmed, ask for help. This is not an easy transition, and your seniors and attendings are always there to support you and help you learn.” – Rena Malik, MD, Director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
“Ask for help when you need it. While you’re eager to prove your abilities, showing humility in the workplace can be more important initially. Your colleagues with more experience will feel valued and respected when asked their opinion, and if you’re a new physician, they’ll perceive this as maturity rather than weakness. Use your favors wisely, too, so that other employees don’t perceive you as someone who is only making more work for them. Who you ask for help is important as well. Nurses, therapists, and other providers can help you be more productive than you can on your own, but they aren’t your minions. Don’t assume that because you’re a doctor, they’re going to follow every order you write. If they call you with an alternate suggestion for your patient, listen respectfully. You don’t always have to concede to their requests but choose your battles.” – Melissa Crickard, MD, contributing journalist for WGRZ news and author of three novels.
“When I was a new doctor, I wish I knew it was okay to make mistakes. Although we try our best, sometimes things do not turn out the way we planned. I wish I would’ve been better at not being so hard on myself. As long as you are working hard to give the absolute best care to your patients you can be proud of your efforts. Along these lines, not every patient you see will love you. Don’t beat yourself up; do your best because it’s the best you can do.” – Jeremy Green, MD, board-certified dermatologist
“Give yourself time to learn. A lot of young doctors are stressed because they aren’t familiar with certain procedures or diagnoses. However, this is completely normal. The idea of residency is for you to get acquainted with a variety of methods and actually practice what you have learned. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being assertive is highly valued, especially since other doctors don’t have time to chase you to explain things.” – Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, Sleep Expert at disturbmenot.co
“Wear good shoes. You’re going to be on your feet all day, and for doctors, ‘all day’ really means all day. If you don’t wear ergonomic shoes or insoles, you’ll develop long-term back and joint pain. You should also stretch often and practice yoga or calisthenics. Doctors are required to lift and move heavy objects and patients from time to time. If you don’t practice good lift technique, you could injure your neck or back.” – Sandy Griffin, LPN, CHPLN, Quality Assurance Coordinator at Hospice of South Louisiana
“Have your own doctor. Doctors tend to treat themselves far too often. We need an impartial person to catch things we are not looking for ourselves. If something feels a little ‘off,’ get it checked out. You should also make time for adequate sleep. Sleep improves memory, mood, and sexual function, reduces irritability, and so much more. It should be a big priority for everyone, including doctors.” – Thomas Jeneby, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of the Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery Center of South Texas
“Do not hesitate to speak up for yourself. There is no question that the demands of residency will be tremendous. However, it is important to express your concerns when things become overbearing. Physician burnout is a common experience amongst residents. It will surely have a negative impact on you as a person and as a physician, and on your patients as well. It is important to address this issue before it’s too late.” – Mohammad Rimawi, DPM
“The combination of years spent for our medical training does not prepare us for how we will take care of ourselves. My advice to my future peers is to develop a self-care ritual that helps you manage stress, as stress is inevitable in this career. There is not one simple remedy for self-care but rather a whole-body approach that includes nutrition, physical exercise, mental wellbeing, sleep, and mindfulness-based stress reduction. It is ultimately the responsibility of the individual physician to nourish their personal resilience that will contribute to their well-being and prevent burnout.” – Monisha Bhanote, MD, triple board-certified physician at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yoga Medicine teacher
“Doctors will work (depending on their chosen area) with those who are either dying or bereaved. There is nothing worse than a health care professional who either skirts the issue or completely misses the chance at having that discussion with their patient or family member. Remember that you can’t take their emotional pain away. When someone is grieving or has been informed of their prognosis, it’s okay to allow them that expression of emotion. In fact, it’s in their best interest.” – Eileen Moran, LCSW-R
“Be an active listener to your patients. Listen to their concerns and then reflect back what they’ve shared with you. I usually phrase the reflective listening like, ‘Okay Mrs. Smith, I hear you are saying you’ve been experiencing X and you are concerned because Y. Did I get that right?’ This reassures patients that their concerns are being accurately communicated and respected.” – Edna Ma, MD, board-certified anesthesiologist
“To avoid delay in a patient receiving their medications and phone calls back to the doctor’s office, please make sure all prescriptions—whether electronic or handwritten—have the following details correct and clearly legible: name of patient, patient’s date of birth, name of doctor with contact information and DEA number, name of medication, strength of medication, quantity of medication, and date of office visit. And if the patient’s insurance requires a prior authorization, let the pharmacies know how you handle this. Remember, pharmacists are part of your team!” – Dr. Danielle R. Plummer, PharmD
“Now that you’re out of medical school it can be hard to take the time to sit down and really listen. But you’ll often find that by listening, you save time in the long run. Pull up a chair and chat with the patients in the room about how things are going. Ask about their state of mind, and how they feel about their care. Then, as you take that info into your plan of care, discuss your findings with the nurse and get any more info that they have found. Combine those two interviews into a full perspective on what the patient is experiencing and a plan forward that will be most effective.” – Hilary Erickson, RN, BSN, author of the Pulling Curls family life blog
“Don’t be afraid to build relationships with your colleagues. From anesthesiologists to nurses, from techs to other specialty physicians, build relationships and learn to respect all pieces of the puzzle. Every part supplies the whole, and the focus is always on the patient, not in competition. While you’re fresh out of studies and passionate about what you know, there just might be a nurse who has been working for decades who knows more. Consider other sources. If you’re able to do this, success will be yours and people will love working with you.” – Reneé Sunday, MD, board-certified anesthesiologist
“Maintain personal connections with your partners, with your colleagues at your hospitals and in your community, and with nurses and staff at your hospitals. We have tough jobs. It can really help to have people to talk to about what’s going on in our practices and with our patients. Having lunches together or meeting after hours every so often for group picnics or dinners clubs can help form stronger connections and stronger teams so you can better help yourself with burnout issues and better help each other.” – David Geier, MD, orthopedic surgeon and popular leadership and burnout keynote speaker
Looking to the Future
“Choosing between an academic and private practice career can be a difficult decision for residents and fellows as they complete their training. There are pluses and minuses to both, and it can be hard to know which are the most important long-term. Statistics show that nearly fifty percent of fellows will change jobs within two years after finishing training. Doing some moonlighting with a local practice or hospital during training can give early-career physicians the opportunity to see what it feels like to be in a private practice setting. It also allows the physician to get to know the local practices (and vice versa) and can be the best way to get a job straight out of training.” – Dan Bensimhon, MD, CEO of Moonlighting Solutions LLC
“Keep moving forward. Always be on the lookout for exciting new opportunities. Learning does not stop after graduation from medical school or completing your residency. Join professional organizations and clubs related to your specialty. Attend speaking seminars, conferences, meet and greet sessions, and advanced training whenever possible. Look into adding a professional certificate or two to your portfolio. There are ones suitable for both newcomers in each specialty and seasoned physicians.” – Velimir Petkov, DPM, Medical Director at Premier Podiatry
“What we know now as patient care delivery will definitely be different in 20 years. How I practiced 30 years ago is barely recognizable now. Change will occur even more quickly over the next several years. Find a practice that embraces change, or even better, is a leader in change. Additionally, find a practice that embraces continuous learning and adaptation of new standards of care. The best practices have systems that share knowledge, best practices, and new standards. It shouldn’t be up to the individual physician to find every new practice recommendation and put it into practice.” – Joanne Fruth, MD, Medical Director at Avance Care.