Transitioning from Med Student to Doctor: A Quick Guide
The Match is over. Your fate and future were sealed, opened, and finally announced to the world. After the hangover has worn off, your next thought may be “what’s next?” Luckily, things will happen slowly over the few months to come. But before you know it, you’ll be wearing a long coat and answering to “DOCTOR!” Here are a few quick guides to keep in mind over the next few months.
Enjoy the rest of 4th year.
First and foremost, once intern year starts it tends to be overwhelming. You’ll get less sleep than you ever had. You’ll feel more helpless. It’ll be hard, stressful, and you’ll wonder some days if you’re cut out for it all. And then sometime in the second half of the year, you’ll get better, more confident, and it won’t be as bad. Those first few months will be brutal, though.
All that to say, MAKE THE MOST of the rest of your year. Exercise. Then drink beer. Run. Then eat at a nice restaurant. Travel, cheaply, if you can. Spend time with family, friends, significant others. Spend some time on whatever past times you’ve neglected during medical school. NAP. SLEEP IN. JUST SLEEP!
If you have a hard, but non-required rotation left, consider dropping it. Coast from now on – you’re all matched and set. Try not to “Honors” another rotation – you have better things to be doing at this point. You’ll have plenty of hard days ahead, make sure and enjoy the next few months.
Find a place to live.
Many of you will be moving, some to locations across the country. Even if you are staying nearby, you’ll probably be moving in the next few months. That leaves the old question, should you buy or rent for residency. That topic is a 1500 word post all to itself, but the short answer is RENT. No one told me any better and I bought a house – and I’d definitely rent if I could do it all over again. The short reasons are: it’s more expensive than you think to own a home, there is good probability you’ll have to move again directly after residency, there is little financial upside to buying in a short window with considerable risk, and quite simply you won’t have the time to do the necessary maintenance to keep your house in top shape. If you are starting residency in a “home-town” which you are extremely likely to stay in, your residency is 5+ years, AND your already wealthy without student loans – then maybe think about buying. But even if all three applied I’d still suggest renting!
Start learning finance basics.
You’ll have a “real” paycheck, which for many of you is the first of your lives. Remember, $50-60k a year residency salary is the average household income in the U.S. With that, it’s time to start paying attention to finances. You’ll need to do some reading – I recommend a good finance book or two and blogs like the White Coat Investor, Physician on FIRE, or FutureProof MD. Read my own post the 5 biggest financial mistakes I made in residency.
Then make a budget and stick to it. Calculate your net worth, so you know where you are at to start. Get disability insurance immediately. Get term life insurance (Say no to Whole Life/Universal Life) if you have a spouse/kids depending on you. Figure out if you are going to PAYE, REPAYE, or refinance your student loans. Decide if you are going to contribute to a 401k/403b via work (definite yes if there is a “match”) or open a Roth IRA on your own (my choice if no match), and then try to save about ~10% of your income for retirement.
Take a day to read up on each of these topics and have a financial plan in place prior to the start of intern year. You’ll be much better off than many of your peers, even I didn’t have my own financial awakening until I had just a year left in residency – something that cost me big!
There isn’t much you can do to truly prepare for intern year. The good news is you can learn on the job. You are mostly a data collector and patient manager – you gather information and present the important parts. You are then told what direction to take the patient, but it’s again your job to make sure things get done. As the year goes on you’ll make more decisions, but early on it’s all about being a good manager.
That means being early, prepared, and responsible. Make check lists and check them twice. If you make a mistake, don’t make it again. If you learn a lesson, don’t require the same lesson again. Don’t let things slip through the cracks. Be good right away at all the things that have nothing to do with medicine and science.
Now buy this book: Pocket Medicine. Seriously, buy it today – I don’t care if you use my link or not. Then don’t ever present a patient without having read their likely diagnosis in it first. Say you have to pee and read it in the bathroom if you have to. You’ll look like a rock-star compared to your peers because you’ll be presenting the right work-ups with the right treatments. You’ll be learning more actively, remembering more information as you do it. This will eventually make you good at all the things that have everything to do with medicine and science.
Intern year will be hard, it’ll push you, but eventually you are going to finally feel like a real doctor. AND THAT will make it all worth it.
What else should we tell new residents-to-be? Any tips? Add your thoughts/comments below!
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