Last night I worked my last shift for Community Service. 1 January 2018 will mark three years since I walked into my first day of work. And on that day, more than 1,000 new interns will enter our workforce.
I remember the nerves the night before: being unable to sleep. Feeling like a fraud, like I had been allowed to graduate by accident. Worried that I would be labelled Worst Intern Ever; worried that I’d have awful colleagues. But I survived the first week, and eventually the first year, too.
And so will our new interns. I have some tips for those who need ’em.
1. Pick your outfit the night before
Pretty standard for starting any new job. You don’t want to be late for the first day on the job, and you really don’t want to be agonising over outfit choices that first morning. Don’t wear heels or white. Those bring complications that just add extra stress to an already stressful day.
2. Eat breakfast, pack lunch
Even if you don’t normally eat breakfast. Even if (you think) you won’t normally pack lunch. That first week is extremely busy. You might not have time to get to the cafeteria (if your hospital even has such a thing), and having a syncopal episode at work is not fun. (But if you do, don’t freak out. It happens.)
3. Wear your name badge. Introduce yourself to your patients.
Batho Pele principles, and just good professional conduct really. The more you introduce yourself as “Dr Lastname”, the more you will come to believe it; and confidence will come with it.
But don’t introduce yourself as “Dr Lastname” to other doctors. That’s weird.
4. Bring all your documents, and copies.
Even if you’ve already handed in your copies of your degree and so on, you’re almost certain to be asked for more. Be sure to hand in all your forms as soon as possible (like, yesterday) so that you will be paid on time. Consultants tend to understand if you need to slip out to HR during clinic if you say, “I just have to drop off my commuted overtime form. Otherwise I won’t get paid.” It’s everybody’s worst nightmare.
Save your IN-number on your phone, and try to memorise it. You’ll be writing it every time you sign something.
5. To study, or not to study
If reading up the night before will settle your nerves, then do so. By the same token, if it will just unsettle you more, then don’t! If you are going to “study”, don’t bother with anatomy and physiology. Focus on approaches physical examination. Even pharmacology is risky because different hospital ha and ve different preferences/protocols, and yours will be sure to inform you of theirs.
6. Go to all the welcoming parties
If it’s not your vibe, you don’t have to stay long, but go: say hallo, have a drink, meet a few new people. Then leave if you want. The thing that characterised internship for me (and I am an introvert who would much rather be reading than most other activities) was the huge sense of community among the interns. It was okay if we had a terrible week at work, because without fail someone would be doing something fun that weekend, and generally the invite was open to all interns.
You don’t have to meet your best friend or your future partner, but you will make friends out of your colleagues, and have people who feel just as terrified about the year ahead.
7. “You are not the first, and you will not be the last”
This bit of advice is a favourite of my mom, and it has applied to every situation I have felt anxious about.
It is not meant to diminish the reality of your anxiety, but to empower. There have been thousands of interns before you, and there will be thousands after you. They will almost all be terrified (there are always the arrogant few; bless). Almost everyone will ask for help on the first day, and then almost every day. Almost everyone will make a mistake in the first week. If you forget you are on call, you will not be the first either (I know, because I’ve done that… twice).
8. It is supremely difficult to really screw up as an intern
…especially in the first week. Everyone is on high alert. Pharmacy will double check your scripts, and they will call if there is a problem (I once accidentally wrote up Metoclopramide 500mg instead of Metformin 500mg, if that makes you feel any better). The nurses will tell you if you’re doing anything wrong (and then they won’t stop…). Medical Officers and registrars who are on call with you will expect you to call them for advice on every. damn. patient. (And if you don’t, they’ll get worried.)
Show up to work, treat your patients and other healthcare workers with respect. Ask when you don’t know. And do what you are asked to do. The urban legend of the World’s Worst Intern is one who didn’t know how to do a lumbar puncture, so filled the tubes with water and sent them off – repeatedly. I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, they miiiight have been the first. And hopefully the last.
9. Accept that you will be dog tired
Working every day is kind of a shock to the system, even if your medical school worked you to the bone like mine did. Accept that you might get home and collapse into bed. Accept that you will feel like death when you wake up. Try to do something active in that first week – a run, or a gym session. But if you can’t, and you’re just too tired: accept that, be gentle on yourself, and try again next week.
Good luck to all our new colleagues, I hope that internship will be good to you.
And to those still waiting on jobs… Know that there are people fighting for you.
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