Practical Wellness Tips to Surviving Residency

08 Apr 2014
by: Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, MS, MD
In medical school, I remember the first week of orientation they had a lecture on wellness and all the pieces of the theoretical “wellness pie” that we should be balancing: emotional, physical, occupational, social, intellectual, spiritual, environmental. While this “pie” looks fantastic, and on paper it’s an evenly divided 1/7th for each piece, any resident knows this is never going to be the case for our five years of general surgery training. 
Here are some tips and ideas I’ve picked up along the way during my intern year: 
  1. Take the stairs during rounds, it may be the only physical activity you get.
  2. Find ways to tighten different muscle groups while sitting in a chair and flex/release them during grand rounds, lectures, etc. It’s a tiny bit of exercise AND it helps you stay awake post-call. Win-win.
  3. For post-call lectures or grand rounds, COLD caffeinated drinks (i.e. frappucinos, iced coffees, coke, etc.) are, in my opinion, your best bet on helping keep you awake. HOT coffees or other caffeinated beverages like tea would be a good runner up.
  4. Park as far away as you can do safely. Extra walking and think time to and from the hospital.
  5. Make non-hospital friends. It’s easy to get sucked into the hospital bubble and you always have something to talk about. But it’s good for your brain and your sanity to talk to people about something other than “How’s the patient doing?”
  6. Bring your food from home if you’re ever able to. It feels like a tiny bit of normalcy to not eat cafeteria food.
  7. Don’t blame gaining intern pounds on the cafeteria food. There’s always a way to eat healthy (even if it’s just portion sizes), no matter what options there are.
  8. Wear your regular jeans on weekends or at night when you can, it will remind you what your normal size is supposed to be. It’s easy to gain weight in scrubs and never realize it.
  9. Study for lectures and cases as if you were the attending and everything being done depends on your knowledge of it.
  10. Any time you can be outside, take it! Even if it’s walking to clinic instead of driving, or taking the outside route to your car instead of the inside route. The sunshine is good for you.
  11. Be tough as nails like you normally are; but if something gets to you- a patient’s story, your attending’s choice words, your family’s misunderstanding of what you’re doing with your time, it’s okay to cry. Just do it in private (private bathroom stalls or your car are generally acceptable), compose yourself ASAP, and get back on the horse as fast as you can. Don’t wallow in sadness or being upset, but get your good cry out; it’s okay to have human emotions.
  12. Find something spiritual that you can connect with, whether it’s meditation, prayers, whatever your beliefs. It will get you through the long hours and the hard days to come.
  13. If you’re early in your residency, and find that your current field isn’t for you, CHANGE! It’s much easier to justify 1-2 years of training you won’t use, than to have a lifetime of not enjoying going to work every day.
  14. Sometimes when residency’s hard and just no fun, remember that this is your JOB. You’re paid to do it, just like every other employee on the earth is paid to do their job. Sometimes you just work hard because you’re supposed to work hard.
  15. I don’t read, but I wish I did. Having a good book to read would be a great way to wind down at night.
  16. Power bars and those small nut packets are great to keep in your white coat pocket for major hypoglycemic moments on rounds and in the OR (obviously in preop or postop).
  17. There are small, organic power juices and drinks that would be a good source of energy/caffeine if you really, really needed it.
  18. Keep surgery journals in your locker or somewhere at work for down time at work when you could be doing something productive.
  19. Keep Excedrin, Tylenol, Motrin, whatever works for you in small supply at work; you WILL need it and will be so glad to have it for a headache, etc.
  20. Wash your white coat every once in a while. And wear comfortable shoes!
  21. Remember your family and friends, and do nice things for THEM every once in a while. Call them on the way to or from work, send them an email or a text while riding the elevator or waiting for a call back from a consult. Keep these relationships thriving, they are the ones you will turn to when things get really tough or really great. 
Obviously I’m an intern and have a long way to go, but these are things that have helped me along the way this year! 
Does anyone else have tips & tricks they use for wellness during a surgical residency?
Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, M.D, M.S. is a PGY1 general surgery resident at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and a member of the AWS Communications Committee. She obtained her M.D. from Ross University School of Medicine, M.Sc. from Barry University in Biomedical Science, and studied Biomedical Science and Spanish at Texas A&M University. She enjoys being a surgical intern and mentoring medical students. In her personal time she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, interior design, international travel, and Texas Aggie football. 

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