Intern Year Chronicles: Six Months In

15 Jan 2023

By Alyssa Brown, MD PhD

It is New Year’s Eve, and I am in a reflective mood, or maybe I am trying to dodge studying for ABSITE. Either way, I have officially made it through six months of residency as a general surgery intern. Today, I am thinking to myself, have I grown and changed over these past six months? Have I become better at my job? Have I gotten better at suturing, driving camera, and using surgical instruments? Have I gotten better at coming up with plans? 

The answer is: I don’t know. The frustrating moments stick around longer than the triumphs. I still feel so dumb for grabbing the wrong end of a chest tube to place into the patient, handing off the wrong end of a cord to be plugged in, forgetting the name of the round ligament, never remembering which pressors do what, or forgetting a small task on the to-do list of the day from rounds. There are many more examples. There were triumphs of course, like getting a g-tube back into a child after hours of trying, discharging a long-term patient, and seeing a patient at their post-operative appointment doing well. There are moments that just make you laugh, like starting a trauma exam on the wrong patient, late-night mozzarella sticks with my night team, or playing a prank on a co-intern. 

I still often feel like medical students know more than me about topics in medicine. I feel like I don’t know enough operative technique in the OR. When I am doing TrueLearn questions, it is more a show of how many things I don’t know than what I do know. I wish this was a piece with a happy ending to say, “and then our narrator had the realization that she was doing phenomenal work, and she lived happily ever after.” This isn’t that kind of story. The first six months of intern year have been hard. It is such a steep learning curve, and I still feel like every day I want to be better. It is hard for me not to think, “wow, I should be better at this by now.” Maybe that is normal. Maybe always striving for more is what will make us better surgeons. All that being said, I wouldn’t go back and change to a different residency. I would still pick general surgery. I wouldn’t give up the friends I have made so far in residency and the bonds we have created. 

I am halfway through my intern year, and I feel a little lost if I am being honest. The question that wracks my brain on bad days is will I ever be good enough to be a surgeon, and it’s a question I’ve had since the day I decided I wanted to be a surgeon. I am not sure how to answer that, but I sure hope I am and know that someday I will.

Alyssa Brown grew up in Chattanooga, TN.  She went to Centre College for a B.S. in Biology and minor in History.  She fell in love with surgery after seeing her mentor perform an anoplasty during the first year of medical school.  She finished her third year of medical school in 2018 and wandered off the beaten path to get a Ph.D., before finishing her MD.  She graduated with an MD from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 2022, and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology at Mayo Clinic School of Biomedical Sciences in 2022.  She is now a PGY-1 general surgery resident at Northwestern University in Chicago. She has been a part of the AWS Blog Subcommittee since 2018. You will probably find her baking sweets and pastries that she saw on “Great British Bake-Off,” embroidering, or off on a new adventure. You can find her on Instagram @Alyssa_b_futuremdphd and on Twitter @Alyssa_B_MDPhD.

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