Advice I would give to my younger self as an intern

21 May 2019 | Dr Victoria Phan, Doctor in Training Medical Adviser, BMed MD, MClinUS, DCH, FPAA Cert, Avant

It’s the night before your first day as an intern, and you can’t sleep. You were chuffed when you could finally tell your family that you’re now a ‘real doctor’. But now all the worries come flooding in – what if I miss my alarm and I’m late? What if a nurse asks me something I don’t know the answer to? What if I can’t get the cannula in?


While at medical school you spend time observing the interns, but there’s nothing like being at the coal face and getting on and actually doing the job.

Reflecting on my own internship, it was my first real job and I remember answering my first pager with trepidation. I think about all the tears and laughter that got me through that tough year and the life-long friendships I formed.

This isn’t a survival guide, instead it’s the advice I would now give to my younger self.

Make friends, not competition

The words of wisdom I received on my first day were that “no one will understand what you are going through more than your peers”. They’re the ones that slog it with you daily, they bail you out when you miss a cannula, buy you lunch when you’re drowning, and they are the shoulder to cry on when times are tough. It doesn’t matter that you’re competing for the same specialty, because hard work and teamwork doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s also far less lonely when you work together.

Cannula monkeys

A lot of the time you may feel like the team lackey. You may ask yourself “what’s the point of my medical degree, when all I do is bring coffee, write notes and organise scans?” However, you’ll be an outstanding intern if you can efficiently organise consultations, while simultaneously siting the 18G cannula for the CT angiogram.

It can be hard, but always try and to see the bigger picture. Internship is about learning how to effectively manage patients and their families during working hours, so that you can manage clinical reviews on an after-hours shift, when there is less support, so take full advantage when it’s available.

Even among the flurry of non-stop pagers, always reflect on what you are doing. Make sure you understand why the consultant has asked you to organise the consult.

Reputation and respect matters

The medical community is small and memories are long. Your reputation will precede you, no matter where you go or what specialty you choose. Your actions today can change your trajectory in 10 years. Remember the nurse you were rude to – they could be on the panel for your consultant interview. Remember the GP you dismissed – you may have to ask them for referrals at your new private practice.

Never stop learning

The senior doctors don’t care that you don’t know everything, but they care if you don’t try and learn. Immerse yourself in every learning experience, because the learnings will come in handy one day.

Remember learning about clonus in your neurology rotation? You’re now the O&G resident and you’ve just recognised the early signs of pre-eclampsia.

When you were preparing your 10th long case for the year, wondering if exams will ever end - you’re now breezing through your physician long cases.

And those ECG tutorials when you were thinking about your dinner – well now you’ve missed the subtle delta wave from an undiagnosed Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Keep an open mind about career choices

Think outside the box when considering your career, because there are a variety of paths to choose from. What about medical administration, rehabilitation, occupational medicine or rural GP obstetrics?

The formative years are a time to be a sponge and expose yourself to as much as possible. Make the most out of all your rotations. This is especially relevant if your heart is set on a certain specialty. Having an open mind may affirm or change the way you see that field. Don’t be afraid to do extra SRMO years before you commit, because clinical experience is invaluable.

Have a life outside work

Self-care and the ability to compartmentalise are very important. Know where to get support when you need it – a mentor, your supervisor, the DPET. Have your own GP, because they will treat you objectively, and never self-prescribe!

It’s easy to get stuck in the cycle of ‘work, eat, sleep’. Schedule in some ‘me time’, exercise and eat well. Don’t abandon your hobbies, because they’ll be the only thing that keeps you sane after your third set of nights.

Never neglect your friends and family, and try not to miss social gatherings. Your loved ones stood by you through your medical degree and will continue to be there when you’re 15 years post-medical school and still training!

My parting words

Your internship year will be one of the toughest of your career, but remember the reasons why you studied medicine and the Hippocratic Oath you chanted at your graduation.

One day, when you look back at the year, you will realise it was one of the most trying, but rewarding times in your life. Your first arrest, your first patient death, the tears and tantrums – it will all stay in your bank of experiences for future years to come. Each step forward may feel like a step backward because as soon as you’ve mastered this job, you have new responsibilities, but it’s all part of evolving as a doctor.

It’s definitely better when you have comrades along the way, so don’t forget the support of your peers.

Finally, one day when you are the consultant calling the shots, you’ll wish your responsibility stopped at resiting cannulas!

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