Congratulations! You just experienced what seems like the most important day of your life – Match Day. This is an important step toward reaching your final goal of becoming a board-certified emergency medicine physician. Now, there’s a lot to think about between today and July 1.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself a million questions. Where am I going to live? Will I enjoy this new city? What can I expect from my attending physicians? Will I get along with my colleagues? Will anyone help me prepare for life after residency?
First, take a deep breath. The selection process you just completed is a unique experience. If you are similar to the average emergency medicine candidate, you likely applied to more than 30 programs and traveled back and forth across the country to interview at least 10 or more times. Take a moment to reflect on how hard you have worked and how far you have come. This journey (and it is a journey) is something to be very proud of.
If you are reading this with a hint of disappointment because you did not match with your first-ranked program, try not to be. I did not match with my first-ranked program and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Receiving training through any accredited emergency medicine program will prepare you for your future of seeing patients in the ED. The truth is, emergency medicine programs offer very similar clinical training and experiences. The emergency medicine job market is still thriving, and you should be excited about what comes next.
For the next three to four years, you are on track to become an emergency medicine physician. Here are some important things to remember during your training.
1. Your residency program is no longer school for the sake of education.
This is a very specific training program designed to prepare you for a career as an emergency physician. Treat it as a job. Show up for shifts early. At times, your clinical schedule will be intense. Embrace it. Go to conferences even when you’re tired. I often found the best way to learn was to get my hands dirty.
2. This is your chance to explore a new city.
If you’re moving to a new city – have fun with it! Find time to explore local eateries, museums and cultural offerings. Although you will be busy during your residency, remember to schedule personal time to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health. Part of learning how to be a physician is finding a balance that works for you.
3. Learn to practice self-care early.
Remember you are in this for the long haul. It may be “easy” to pull overnights when you are 25 years old without other obligations, but as you age and responsibilities increase, your body will revolt. Practice self-care early and learn healthy habits now. Sleep, exercise and try to eat well (a challenge when there are always snacks in the break room!). If you are struggling, reach out to colleagues and mentors; they have likely been there before.
4. Identify mentors early on.
Your attending physicians chose to work in an academic training setting for a reason. They are committed to education and helping young physicians. Engage with them early. Interested in ultrasound? Go to lunch with the ultrasound director early on. Want to run a residency program? Sit in on some educational meetings with your program director. You can, and should, ask for their help when planning the next phase of your career. They want to help. Remember, a mentor’s network is a powerful thing.
5. Build relationships with colleagues and attendings.
You have gained access to a whole network of people in your new program. Make the effort to get to know your residency colleagues. Nobody can do this alone. There will be times of celebration, frustration and even sadness. A number of your colleagues and attendings will likely become lifelong friends. I still try to catch up with my former attendings at every conference I go to.
6. Learn to speak to patients.
You just spent all of medical school learning what amounts to a foreign language. Your patients will not speak it. They may not understand what a myocardial infarction is, or that epiploic appendigitis is way more scary sounding than it actually is. Use plain, simple language when speaking with patients. You will need to practice and it is not easy, but your patients will love you for it.
7. Start thinking about your next steps.
You will likely rotate at multiple different clinical environments. It is never too early to start observing different hospitals and health systems. Community settings are very different from academic institutions. Pay attention to the differences. Be proactive – it will help in the long run. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is “you should always be thinking about your NEXT job.”
8. Physician Finances
This could be an entire blog post unto itself. You are going to make a very nice living but you may also have significant school debts or family obligations. Everyone has a unique situation. Spend time familiarizing yourself with physician financing resources out there. Resources like the whitecoatinvestor.com can be invaluable as you transition from student to resident to attending.
9. Your residency program will not define you as a physician.
Recruitment teams are not offering individuals interviews based solely on their training program. Sure – there are established programs with outstanding reputations, but often the most desirable attributes in new hires are the ones that cannot be measured on a CV. Emergency department director, department chairs, and healthcare executives want to know about your interpersonal skills, goals, aspirations and interests aside from practicing medicine. Think of this as the “can I work an overnight next to this person” test. You will find being well-rounded will help shape you as a desirable future colleague and partner.
You are about to experience, first-hand, what the rest of your life will be like as a physician. The hours may at times seem long, the demands high, but in the end, your career path is absolutely worth it. Take advantage of this time. Be engaged, learn as much as you can, build relationships and benefit from your colleagues. You will be better prepared for the next “most important day ever.”