This month, I became a senior resident in internal medicine. With that title comes the opportunity to help train new interns at our hospital. And when I met the talented group of interns just before their start last month, I couldn’t help but think back to my first day of residency.
Two years earlier — on my birthday — I began my residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. I will never forget that day. My senior residents were kind and compassionate. They seemed to effortlessly oversee the care of many patients while ensuring that no task was left undone, yet somehow they found time to teach us the finer aspects of clinical medicine. And while I struggled to quickly respond to each new incoming message on my pager, I wondered how I would ever reach the level of excellence that my senior residents displayed.
Each day was exhilarating. I was now directly responsible for the care of patients on the hospital wards. A name placard with “Dr. Lang” was posted next to the door of each patient that I admitted. It was humbling to have such influence on the daily progress of my patients.
Barely a week into my internship, I was sitting down to discuss further treatment steps and care goals with a patient’s family. I attempted to emit confidence and composure as I spoke to the clearly distressed family. This was the kind of on-the-job training for which four years of medical school had not directly prepared me, yet I still felt ready to conquer this immense responsibility. My senior resident sat next to me and nodded as I spoke, giving me the chance to fly in spite of my relative inexperience. Her guidance and mentorship as well as that of other senior residents with whom I worked throughout the year helped to shape me into the physician I am now — just two years later.
Now the tables have turned, and I am expected to guide these new doctors through their first year.
“What should I do to prepare for next month?” an intern asked me.
I knew the question was coming but still hesitated to offer my answer. What should I say to provide genuine advice and encouragement? Sure, there would be plenty of time throughout the year to review the details of interpreting electrocardiograms and reading chest radiographs on the wards. Recommending a quick skim of Harrison’s Internal Medicine would be unrealistic and would only serve to heighten anxiety. I instead offered a word of advice that would take them even further:
“Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions,” I said. “We, as your seniors, are here to guide you through this year.”
The intern year in a clinical residency can be overwhelming. But I and countless others who successfully completed this difficult experience in years past still look to our senior residents as role models, helping us grow as clinicians.
Now, I am privileged to be that role model for a new class of doctors.