Dear Intern

09 Jun 2019

By Melissa Herrin

When I first considered writing a blog titled #DearIntern, my instinct was that I should be the last person giving advice. Everyone around me seemed to be gliding through residency confidently and with capabilities I was lacking. However, it occurred to me that my struggles probably weren’t unique, and challenge begets learning and strength. Thus, I write this in hopes that my reflections can provide you the same.   

Dear Intern: You’re stronger than you think. You’re meant to be here, a surgeon. Remember that you earned your residency position by what many would classify as superhuman achievements. These sentences are easy to write, but they are very tough to remember and believe. That’s why I’m telling you now. My college rowing teammates and I would encourage each other through difficult workout intervals, “You can do anything for a minute.” This may sound irrelevant as shifts last hours and residency lasts years;by focusing on the note, the patient, the call shift in front of you, you may be astounded by what you can accomplish. Women tend to underestimate their abilities and performance (and consequently are less likely to enter competitions). With encouragement, you can do hard things successfully, and you can be certain of that.   

Your personal wellness and resilience necessitate that you continue to fire on all cylinders; that is, you need to nurture and rely on every component of yourself. Time out of the hospital is finite, but how you arrange it is limitless, and each of us has many selves beyond surgery. My husband (also a physician) and I are raising a teenager with activities and demands of his own. I didn’t ever want to miss a moment I could be watching or participating in his life. When I’m not in the hospital, I spend time with them or sleep. Two things in medical school that constituted important pieces of my happiness, running and working on advocacy and mentorship projects, all but disappeared from my life during intern year. I recently decided to train for a race, and embracing the intense pain to the finish line was like finding a part of myself that I had lost. I also became  involved in our Women in Surgery Council and helped start a cardiothoracic surgery medical student interest group. Running in the race and belonging to these groups was like adding combustion from two additional cylinders to my engine.

Finally, don’t hesitate to openly own and reflect on your mistakes and shortcomings (real or perceived). Being honest with others about my fears and difficulties emancipated many of my doubts. While my own imposter syndrome hasn’t been silenced, somehow it has become a source of motivation. By taking the risk of emotional exposure, you shall demonstrate you aren’t afraid of failure and show courage and a willingness for self-improvement. In doing so, you will exemplify an authentic teammate and leader, may inspire others to feel more at ease with the concept of imperfection, and form human connections within a demanding, competitive, and often isolating training environment.  

So have courage, cultivate what you love, model your strength by being vulnerable. And remember, we’re here to help you.

Join @womensurgeons @AcademicSurgery @RASACS along with our moderators: Dr. David Harrington, president of the Association of Program Directors in Surgery, Dr. Crystal Johnson-Mann (@CJMannMD) from University of Florida (@UFSurgery) and Dr. Sophia McKinley (@SophiaKMcKinley) for a tweetchat about Tips for Interns on June 17th at 8 pm Eastern Time by following #AWSchat. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more.

We will be discussing the following questions in the tweetchat:

1.   What are tips and tricks to survive intern year?

2.   What apps, resources, and textbooks are useful during intern year?

3.  What tips do you have to help with work-life integration?

4. What is important to learn during your intern year?

5.  How did you find a good support system/mentorship/sponsorship?

6. What can help make the transition from student to teacher?

Melissa Herrin, MD is a 2nd year integrated cardiothoracic surgery resident at the University of Washington. She received her MD from Yale and spent an additional year of medical school funded by the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation conducting pediatric cardiac surgery clinical outcomes research at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her husband is a primary care pediatrician, and they live in Seattle with their son David, 13, and two cats. Together they enjoy running, hiking/camping, and baseball. Her clinical and research interests include improving rates of assist device therapy and transplantation in underserved groups, expanded donor selection criteria, and mentorship of women interested in cardiothoracic surgery. You can find her on twitter at @melissaaherrin.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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