By Sara Swango, Jeremy Kauffman, Erin Feeney
If you are reading this and are a newly-minted surgery intern – congratulations! You’ve put in tremendous time and effort to arrive at this point and accomplished this milestone in the midst of a public health crisis – for this you should be very proud. We’re excited to welcome you all as our new colleagues! Although this next phase of your training will likely be the most challenging to date, it brings you one step closer to what we believe is the most exciting career that exists.
As we (Erin, Sara, and Jeremy) considered what pearls of advice to share with you as you begin internship, we were inspired by a recent visit to the local karaoke lounge – the first such visit since the pandemic effectively shut karaoke down. No doubt by now you are familiar with the age-old surgery maxim: “Eat when you can, sleep when you can, and don’t f*ck with the pancreas.” To that dictum we propose this addition: “Sing when you can, dance even if you can’t, and it’s never too soon to start compiling your OR playlist.” With this in mind, we have distilled several life lessons for internship from a few of our favorite karaoke tunes. We hope you will find them amusing, even if not particularly helpful.
- The Beatles, “With a Little Help from My Friends” – “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Perhaps the most important advice we can offer is that internship is a team sport. If you try to get through it alone, there’s a good chance you’ll burn out in a blaze of isolation and infamy. Take time early to invest in friendship with your colleagues – go to a game, see a show, have one another over for dinner – these are the people you will spend the next five-plus years of your life with so you might as well learn to like one another, and more importantly, to trust one another.
- The Chainsmokers, “Paris” – “If we go down, then we go down together.” Inevitably you will find yourself in a situation where things go south and you will be tempted to pass the blame onto one of your colleagues – don’t do it. Related to point one, your co-residents are your family in the hospital, and if you don’t have one another’s backs, then no one will. Throwing another person under the bus, whether they deserve it or not, is never cool.
- Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger” – “Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past. You must fight to keep them alive.” No matter how robust your wellness routine, at some point during intern year you will find yourself on the brink of burnout. The idealism you started with will be reduced to the naked instinct to survive. And that’s okay. But when the dust settles and you have a moment to reflect, remember the dreams that got you here, look ahead to the light at the end of the tunnel, and don’t let anyone or anything kill your optimism. Invest time in those hobbies and relationships that will carry you through when times get tough.
- James Taylor, “Shower the People” – “Shower the people you love with love.” It’s hard to stay in touch with family and friends during intern year. They may not understand why you can’t give them the time you used to. Be that as it may, working 80-hour work weeks in a thankless job that pays less than minimum wage is no excuse to neglect your loved ones. You won’t be home for every holiday or attend every birthday, but you can find a way to make the people you care about know you still do… so call your mother and father, make time for your significant other, message your friend on her birthday – invest in the ones who have invested in you.
- Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind” – “Always stay humble and kind”. Internship will afford you abundant opportunities for frustration and anger, at which point you may feel inclined to lash out at those perceived to be responsible for said frustration. It may seem hard to believe now, but at some point six months from now you may begin to feel like you actually know what you’re doing and are suddenly God’s gift to the field of medicine. That may very well be true, but just remember – it’s never okay to treat someone with disrespect, whether they are the chairperson of surgery, the med student on a consulting service, a difficult patient, or the person cleaning the floors. Do yourself a favor and treat others like you would wish to be treated.
- John Mayer, “Half of my Heart”- “Half of my heart’s got a grip on the situation, half of my heart takes time.” Surgery training is a marathon, not a sprint. One moment you’ll feel like you’re getting the hang of things and the next moment you’ll feel utterly incompetent. Be patient with yourself. Enjoy the journey. Put one foot in front of the other and keep walking. And when you stumble, get back up.
- The Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need”. Enough said.
- Gotye, “Somebody That I Used to Know”. Surgical training will change you. By the end of intern year, you will have grown in more ways than you can imagine possible. There may be parts of yourself that you don’t even recognize. That’s okay. Training is long and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to decide what kind of doctor and what kind of surgeon you want to be. Trust the process and as long as you continue working toward who you want to be and toward being the surgeon your patients deserve; you’ll be just fine.
- Bleachers, “I Wanna Get Better” – “Hey, I wanna get better!” Whether you had a tough day in the operating room, or are leaving the hospital feeling on top of the world, remember to maintain a mindset of always striving to improve. It’s okay if the starting blocks at the beginning involve mastering things that seem small, and it’s okay to make mistakes so long as you learn from them. With the fast-paced nature of residency it can be hard to carve out time to reflect on a case or the management of a patient, but identifying what went well (and what didn’t) is an important part of the process. Seek feedback often. A huge part of success as a resident is learning to respond constructively to feedback, and this too is a skill that gets easier over time.
- Counting Crows, “Big Yellow Taxi” – “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” It can be easy to lose sight of gratitude on days when you’re pushing yourself to the limit and the work is still piling up. Maybe it feels like it’s been a while since anybody noticed the behind-the-scenes work you do to ensure your patients receive quality care. If you notice you’re feeling more frustrated than usual or your patience is running thin, take a step back and remember why you’re here, that even though the work is brutally exhausting at times, it is a privilege to care for patients and to learn the art of surgery. Don’t let the challenge of the job stop you from cherishing the best parts of residency.
So there you have it – a little karaoke wisdom for your listening pleasure. As you dive into the excitement, terror, exhaustion, exacerbation, and joy that is intern year, remember that you’re not alone, you’ve got everything it takes to succeed, and it’s okay to not take yourself too seriously – in fact, we encourage it.
Come join the AWS Twitter Committee and the RAS-ACS Membership Committee, and our moderators Dr. Tiffany Sinclair (@thefancysurgeon), Dr. Valery Vilchez (@valevilchezp), Dr. Sara Swango (@sara_swango), Dr. Erin Feeney (@ErinVioletMD), and Dr. Jeremy Kauffman (@JerBearMD) to get advice on how to dominate intern year! The tweetchat will take place on Monday June 21st at 8 pm Eastern Time.
To participate, follow @womensurgeons and moderators, then tag your tweets with the hashtag #AWSChat. Be sure to keep an eye out for Tweets from members of the AWS Communications Committee who helped to organize this TweetChat: @MadelineBTorres, @PMartinezMD, @altierim1, @niti12, and @LenaETrager. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more!
Example Tweetchat Questions:
- How do you ensure good communication between team members?
- How do you maintain good communication with patients and family members, especially with visitation restrictions still in place?
- What can residents do to improve autonomy in and out of the OR?
- What resources do you recommend for ABSITE studying and longitudinal studying on call?
- What practices/routines have you found helpful for maintaining wellness?
Sara Swango is a rising PGY-2 General Surgery resident at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is originally from Springfield, Missouri. She completed her undergraduate education in Economics at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. She attended medical school at University of Oklahoma. She is a member of AWS and RAS-ACS. You can find her on twitter @sara_swango.
Jeremy Kauffman is a PGY-5 General Surgery Resident at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He completed his first three years of residency at UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, followed by a pediatric surgery research fellowship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a pediatric surgery critical care fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is a member of AWS, RAS-ACS, and currently serves as chair of the RAS-ACS Membership Committee. You can find him on Twitter @JerBearMD.
Erin Feeney is a rising PGY-2 General Surgery resident at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She completed her undergraduate studies at Oakland University and went on to receive her medical degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. She is a member of AWS and RAS-ACS. You can find her on Twitter @ErinVioletMD.
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.