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Are We There Yet? Words of Encouragement for Exhausted Third-Years

It feels like we have been in medical school forever, and the neverending saga continues this spring. Perhaps first semester was a gauntlet of rough rotations and long calls, and now you’re counting on some R&R in the upcoming months. Or maybe, like me, you have already completed the clerkships that interested you, and you’ve found yourself low on enthusiasm for the leftovers. Perhaps your semester is back-loaded, and you’re staring down the barrel of a difficult clerkship. In any case, if you’ve found yourself in something of a slump, I offer the following inspiration to keep the third-year doldrums at bay.

Eat breakfast: We’ve all been there — clinic backs up and you work through lunch, you get stuck in the OR and miss the catered conference. Working hungry is a drag and no one learns well while hypoglycemic. As always, the best treatment is good prophylaxis. Fuel up in the morning and snack often. Remember: your white coat is a lunch box you can wear. Stuff those pockets. Come prepared, and you won’t have to subsist off of resident lounge snack foods. (Gummy worms and Diet Coke do not a meal make, and you know it.)

Be nice to yourself: Hello there, fellow Type As. Put down that fistful of highlighters and bring it in for a minute. We’ve got the hang of this whole clerkship thing by now. You and I both know there are two phases to starting a new rotation: Day 1: Orientation; Day 2: function at the level of a fellowship-trained physician. We have got to stop with our unreasonable expectations! Yes, we’ve been at this for a while. (Think of what you know now that you didn’t when you arrived, bright-eyed and kempt, for your first day of your first clerkship.) But that doesn’t mean we have to be instant pros. Cut yourself some slack — you are here to learn. You have enough folks evaluating you without adding your own hypercritical voice to the mix. Thank you for your attention, Type As. You may resume alphabetizing.

Take a break: Residents get pager-free, protected time for lecture; you should get protected time for spin class (or Game of Thrones or reading with your kid or whatever you would do if you had the day off). At the start of the week, pick an evening that is yours to use as you wish, and make it a Qbank-free zone. No excuses. (While you’re at it, text your friends and take a break together.)

Hug it out: Medicine can be scary business. We see harrowing stuff, and we are learning to make some tough decisions. Surround yourself with people who remind you why you do this, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Relish your firsts (and lasts): The mixed blessing of third year is the constant state of motion. You shuffle to different services and approach vastly different specialties within weeks of one another. Variety is the gift; cluelessness is the curse. Try to focus on the fact that you may never treat this complaint or do this procedure or see this patient again. Your fifth chest pain rule-out this week may be the last one you ever do — make it a good one. If you become a radiologist, your OB/GYN clerkship may be the first and last time you deliver a baby. Get excited and get your hands dirty. You’ve got your whole career to be the best at what you do. This is your big chance to try it all.

Remain calm: In the words of my longtime, fictional mentor, Dr. Cox: “If your head explodes, you’ll never make it as a doctor.” Take a breath. We’re going to make it.

Callie Hintzen Callie Hintzen (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of Arizona College of Medicine

Callie is a Class of 2015 medical student and lifelong insufferable know-it-all. Born in Tucson, AZ, she earned her BS at the Ohio State University and returned to the Southwest for medical school. Medical education crystallized her love of the OR, and she plans to pursue a career in surgery. Enjoys: adrenaline in moderation (she feels "junkie" is a strong word), elegant puns, the desert, burritos and spending time with her quadruped family.