Handling stress during your first year of residency

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Mdoe and Gap Medics students at Gangilonga Rock Getting to the point in your medical training where you’ve graduated from medical school and completed your internship year is quite an accomplishment, but the next step in training comes with more responsibility and expectations. Imagine needing to make decisions that affect someone’s health, and possibly their life, while you are still learning. It’s no wonder the first year of residency can be tough—but there are ways you can cope with the stress and increase your chances of success!

What’s so stressful?

Stress means different things to different people. What one resident feels is stressful, another may feel is exciting. At some point, most first year residents will feel the pressure.

There are several factors which contribute to the stress first year residents may feel. For example, as a resident you will likely be supervised by a senior resident and sometimes an attending physician. It is their job to make sure you know what you are doing, and that may mean being hard on you at times. Having superiors looking over your shoulder watching for mistakes can be nerve-wracking.

If having someone second guessing your decisions was not bad enough, you, too, may also be questioning your choices. As a first year resident, you are still learning, and in medicine there is a lot to learn. Just remember, residency is part of the training, and you are not going to get every decision right. Your confidence will increase in time.

Another factor that increases stress is fatigue. Being in a stressful situation and doing it with little sleep often makes things seem worse. Between the hours spent at the hospital and study time, fatigue and first year residency often go hand in hand.

How to deal

It is normal to feel some stress during your first year of residency, but there are several things you can do to deal with the pressure. For instance, be prepared for your shift. Get to work on time or early if possible. Do what you can so you know your stuff, such as reviewing the patient’s chart or researching a specific condition. 

It will also help to not take things personally if you are corrected by a senior resident, nurse or attending physician.  Consider it a learning experience and realize it is not a personal attack.

One of the best ways you can combat stress is to allow yourself some downtime to recharge. Finding the time to do something fun may not be easy during residency, but it is important. Make time to exercise, talk with friends or just relax.  Even if you just take a short break each day to do something relaxing or fun, it can help.  

Finally, maintain a sense of humor and keep perspective. Although training as a resident and becoming a good doctor is something you should take seriously, a little humor along the way won’t hurt. Finding the humor in a situation will not only help get you through your residency, but it will come in handy during your entire career. 

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