Happy new year in July

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

While the rest of the country is celebrating summer, July 1 is a major transition date in the medical world.

A month ago, senior medical students were able to put MD after their names. On this day, they enter hospitals to begin their graduate training, taking one of the emotional steps in their career, introducing themselves to their patients as Doctor. Residents who have completed their training have a transition of their own. They begin practice unsupervised except for encouragement from their colleagues and patients.

(A little terminology. After undergraduate training, a student enters medical school for 4 years. After graduation, they are newly minted MDs but do not qualify for a medical license. For that, they need at least a year of postgraduate training, once called an internship. Post medical school training is called residency, and depending upon the specialty, may require 3-10 years of further training.)

Residents are aptly named. They will almost live in the hospital, adding experience to the knowledge gained in medical school. There will be precious little time to learn about the world outside their hospital. While regulations limit their work week to only 80 hours, that doesn’t include the study time at home learning about their patients in the hospital and preparing lectures.

Residency is also where teaching skills are learned. Senior residents teach junior residents who teach medical students. While medical students get smarter each year, the book learning needs real life application and often the teaching moment happens at 3am at the bedside of an ill patient.

As well, there is a small thing called progress. Technology moves so fast that what was learned in medical school may be outdated by the time residency is completed. The residents have to keep their knowledge base ahead of the new medical students who arrive each month.

Not only does the resident need to teach students, patients and family need and deserve education as well. The week doesn’t end even if the 80 hour clock runs out.

July is also an important time for communities as well. Not many people care about the national residency match March where medical students were given their residency assignments. Historically, residents end up practicing where they train, becoming part of the community. Not only will they care for patients, but they will also attend PTA meetings, car pool, coach little league baseball and support the symphony. The new residents and their families will likely be part of the community for generations to come.

Television gives a skewed look at hospital life. The real world is not Grey’s Anatomy, House, ER or Scrubs. Resident life is hard work, emotional and stressful. Aside from the long work hours and increased responsibility, many residents are beginning new families and starting new lives. Happy New Year, residents.

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