Everyone knows that the hard work, sleepless nights and early mornings fueled by gratuitous amounts of coffee don’t end after you graduate medical school. Instead, you are force-fed an even larger dose of the same as you navigate your first year of residency. The very prospect can spark anxiety and concern in even the most confident. Luckily, the wisdom of those who have gone before is there to prove that it won’t be as terrible as you may fear.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Jodi Wolf, DO, a second-year resident in the Kaiser Permanente Family Residency Program based in San Diego, and was encouraged by her fun-seeking perspective towards life as a resident. Instead of looking at her residency years as a hurdle to jump over, Jodi is enjoying her time practicing medicine in a beautiful location while simultaneously becoming an expert at balancing work with play. Her advice is both comforting and valuable, serving as a great reminder that maintaining a positive outlook is the key to happiness during the difficult years of residency.
Chantal Mendes: What school did you go to and what made you choose San Diego for residency?
Dr. Jodi Wolf, DO: I grew up in beautiful San Diego and knew that I wanted to end up back here, but I had to try out a few other places first. I went to UCLA for undergrad, and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, PA for medical school. After a few years of lake effect snow, I knew I was ready to head back to the sunshine. San Diego has always been my home and I knew that I wanted to return to San Diego so that I could give back to my community. It is a wonderful thing to be able to practice medicine in a place I have always called home.
CM: What advice do you have for medical students who are gearing up to take Step 1 right now? Do you have any particular materials that were helpful for you or a specific method of studying that worked well?
JW: The best advice for Step 1 is to really study — it is too much information to cram the few weeks before. Knowing that I am not the best test taker, I signed up for the Kaplan Review course — giving me access to lectures, board questions and review books. Definitely start studying early, focusing on the areas that are more difficult for you. To compliment Kaplan, I used First Aid for Step 1 as a resource and UWORLD as the question bank of choice.
CM: How important are board exam scores when choosing a specialty and what range would be considered “competitive”?
JW: Scores do matter, even though I would like to be able to say that they don’t. The specialty you choose dictates what is considered competitive. Do the best you can, as scores do play a role.
CM: Can you tell us a little bit about how you handled residency interviews during your fourth year? What were the best and worst parts? Is there anything you would have done differently?
JW: I found interviews nerve-wracking but that improved as my confidence grew with each interview. I tried to prepare for each interview the best I could — making sure that I knew about each program and that I had questions that I wanted to ask. I also reminded myself that I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me. At the end of the day, I was looking for my “perfect fit” in choosing a program. The best part was getting to meet lots of residents at all the programs and trying to figure out what was most important to me. The worst part was trying to rank programs, because so many of them were awesome. Looking back, I wish I had been less nervous but I think nerves are part of the experience.
CM: What’s been the most difficult about adapting to life as a resident?
JW: The most difficult part of being a resident is balancing “life” with medicine. It is important to grow as a new physician, but it is equally important to keep your relationships and interests as well. There are some months when you are exhausted, but it is important to continue your friendships with not only your colleagues but also non-medicine friends. Making the most of your time off is key. Do fun things, do silly things, and make sure you are happy.
CM: Is it difficult to find a good work-life balance, or has it become easier now that you are a resident?
JW: It is hard at first to find the balance between work and life but it comes easier with practice and time. As an R2, I find it much easier to make time for my interests, relationships and my studying.
CM: Many students in medical school graduate with enormous debt, has this been the same in your experience and how have you dealt with it? Do you have any suggestions for how to reduce loans while still in school?
JW: It is the norm to graduate from medical school with enormous debt — sadly you do have to pay it all back — or at least part of it. There are ways to have loan forgiveness after residency. The best advice is to limit the amount of money you borrow. Do not focus on the debt you are accumulating, but rather keep it in perspective as it is only one part of your medical school/training experience.
CM: What do you like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?
JW: I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I love traveling to new places and trying new things. My husband and I try to go somewhere fun with every vacation I have. I also enjoy cooking and trying different cuisines. Being a resident does not mean that you don’t have time for fun and hobbies — these are key parts of staying sane as you go through residency. It is important to find a balance between work and life.