The habits you develop during residency can set the foundation for how you’ll practice throughout your career, says Kristin Yates, DO, an ob-gyn at Garrison Women’s Health in Dover, New Hampshire, who has written about residency habits.
“Unhealthy habits can persist throughout residency and can solidify themselves in your practice and life,” Dr. Yates says.
Having a growth mindset—that is, believing you can work to improve your abilities—can help residents stand out among their peers, says Alex Auseon, DO, an associate professor and cardiology fellowship program director at the University of Illinois Chicago.
“You will always be more satisfied with your career, no matter what path you take, if you have a growth mindset,” Dr. Auseon says.
Cultivating the following habits in residency can help you succeed in your training and make the transition from resident to attending easier.
- Be an active listener
Getting to know your patients can help you connect with them and make your work more enjoyable, Dr. Auseon says.
“The life a patient leads in your office or hospital room is only a tiny snapshot of who they are, what they value and their hopes and dreams,” Dr. Auseon says.
Sitting and listening to patients can sometimes get lost in the hustle of residency.
“If you listen to your patients long enough, they’ll tell you what they need,” Dr. Yates says.
Seeing high volumes of patients and managing complex cases can cause some physicians to get into the habit of making unfair assumptions about patients.
“Try to avoid negative labels that either misunderstand or misinterpret why a patient makes the choices they do,” Dr. Auseon says. “There are a lot of barriers to adherence to therapy.”
Instead of labeling a patient as noncompliant with medications, you can find out why they ran out of their medication and strategize with them on ways they can avoid that problem in the future.
- Practice gratitude
Every morning, when Dr. Yates wakes up, she finds one thing to be thankful for, even if it’s something minor, such as working with her favorite nurse that day.
“Teaching your brain to be positive can drastically improve the quality of your education,” she says.
- Combat stress in healthy ways
While residency is an intense time for physicians, life as an attending can also be highly stressful. Developing healthy coping skills for stress will serve you beyond your time in residency.
“It’s easy to think, ‘Everything will get better after I’m an attending,’ ” Dr. Yates says.
Many residents use food and alcohol to deal with stress instead of healthier options such as meditation, exercise and acupuncture, Dr. Yates says.
“They’re using chocolate or comfort food to buffer away emotions as opposed to dealing with them,” Dr. Yates says. “It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself a lot in residency, and it can become a crutch.”
Simple wellness techniques such as stepping outside for a moment or deep breathing may seem obvious, but they can fall to the wayside during residency, says Dr. Auseon, who also urges residents to prioritize sleep as much as possible.
It’s also important to participate in activities you enjoy outside of medicine.
- Find the right leaders
Residents are exposed to positive and negative role models during training, says Dr. Auseon.
“Try to seek out the advice and counsel of people you’d like to emulate when it comes to your career, patient care or even coping skills,” he says.
- Set goals for beyond residency
When you’re in the midst of training, it’s easy to have tunnel vision because the finish line of graduation can seem far away.
Dr. Yates hadn’t planned any goals for after residency. She never thought about what her life might look like as an attending. Setting goals beyond residency can set you up for success after graduation.
She encourages residents to think about what their ideal life would look like after residency, both inside and outside of medicine.
“Think about how you want your career to play out 10 years after residency,” Dr. Yates says.