A long time ago in a far, far away place (ok, Florida 2003), I had a session with a sport psychologist geared towards my tennis. People often speak of “the loneliness of the long distance runner,” but I think there is no lonelier sport than tennis. Its you and your thoughts against your opponent. No coaching. No time outs. No team huddle.
Two things have stuck with me since that session:
1. All pressure is self created.
2. It can be hard to distinguish between reality and the stories we’ve made up that become our new reality.
The latter is something I’ve thought about quite a bit about as an intern.
Making mistakes is a given as an intern. Contrary to what you might think, mistakes usually aren’t grievous or harm a patient (knock on wood). Interns aren’t given enough power to really harm someone (well, hopefully)! If most newbie interns are like me, they’ll ask a senior resident if they’re unsure.
Mistakes are generally more misdemeanor in their nature yet the blow to your psyche just as tough. I’ve found my flubs to be in having my note not save in the electronic medical record (and having to write it again), forgetting the very specific way to write an obstetrics admission history and exactly which forms to fill out (and having to ask a senior for help), not being able to get tasks done fast enough, forgetting which retractor is the sims vs the narrow deaver and so on and so forth.
Senior residents are like moms – they have eyes in the back of their heads and are the most efficient people you’ve ever seen. They practically troubleshoot a problem before it even happens. Even if you ran around all day getting stuff done, they will find the one or two things your forgot, which is, after all, part of their job!
In turn, being an intern becomes more of what you didn’t do rather than what you did do, which is a huge adjustment from medical school where anything that you did do was praised. There are no more gold stars as an intern.
All of this isn’t bad – its a fact in moving from school to the working world as I’m told by my friends who went through this adjustment a good 5 years before me.
However, for the type-A, high strung, coffee carrying, self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive personality disorder intern, as many of us are, the “what I didn’t do” can spiral into the “what I am not.”
The “I made a mistake” turns into “I am a mistake.” You can convince yourself that you were the “questionable admission” into the residency program and that most everyone around you thinks you’re inept. If you don’t recognize that this entire environment you’ve now created for yourself is, in fact, a story rather than reality, you could dig yourself into a pretty deep hole.
Fortunately, senior residents were once interns themselves and, like moms, can have a nice nurturing manner that lets you know you’re doing ok (this is of course, provided you have nice senior residents like myself).
Still, this whole “being an intern” thing has been an adjustment. I’m hoping the growing pains are over soon!
Until next time…