06 January 2007

Internship or PGY-1

After graduation was complete and I had finished filling out all of those thank-you notes for presents and good thoughts, I turned my attention to making preparations for my move to my residency location. Over my four years of medical school, I had accumulated loads of books and papers. The first thing that I did was toss out any papers that would not be helpful to my little sibs back at medical school. The next thing I did was get rid of the rest of my books and USMLE Prep materials. My little sibs split the lot of them.

We started packing on a small scale but quickly realized that we still had too much "junk". I even had boxes of things that I had accumulated and had left unpacked for my previous move that had taken place at the beginning of my third year of medical school. I had moved to be located closer to the clinical affiliated hospitals to shorten my commute. A forty-five minute commute was OK for medical school because I could study on the subway but I wanted to spend no more than 20 minutes if I was going to drive.

I made a couple of trips to the location of my residency. I took one of my best friends so that we could scout out some great places to live. She helped me pick out a wonderful three-bedroom home that was located in a wooded area with plenty of jogging and bike trails. Since I have a couple of dogs, I wanted a spot where they could get some exercise and I could get outside. I found the perfect place and I loved living about 1,000 feet from a beautiful lake with woods and streams all around.

After the move, I had one day to get to orientation. I was still in the midst to unpacking on orientation day. I had completed my criminal background check and drug testing. I had also finished completing the materials for my license and smooth move to the local medical society. Orientation started early with mugs of strong coffee and plenty of folks who looked as scared as I was. We received our pagers, our lab coats and our directories. The second day of orientation is where we received our departmental information including our rotation schedule.

I started with Vascular Surgery. These patients are among the sickest in the hospital. I quickly got into the routine of rounding in the early morning (0400h), getting my notes written and then getting ready for rounding with the team. The team, which consisted of the fellows, the surgical chief resident, a mid-level resident, two interns and four medical students would then round. It was the duty of the interns to write every order and plan after we presented our pre-round findings to the fellow and chief.

The residents and students would head off to the operating room while the interns would get orders and discharges done. We would follow up on all labs and studies and then get the discharges completed. I quickly learned to "pre-discharge", get the orders ready and then make one click to send them to the computer. The computer would print all instructions and prescriptions for me to sign. My dictations would be done at that time too.

Once the daily ward work was underway, one of us would try to get some OR cases while the other intern waited for new admissions and post-ops back from the OR. We would also follow up on all information that came from consultants and all studies as the patients returned. When the patients came back from the OR, it was my job to get them settled in and follow up on what had taken place during surgery. I would look at the OR reports, anesthesia notes and any history and physical information. I would also start a note sheet for tomorrow's note and check all orders.

By the evening, the fellow would leave and I would report all studies and findings to the chief resident. He or she would add orders or give me the plans for the next day. If anyone was headed for surgery, they would need to have preoperative orders placed for things like nothing by mouth after midnight. Periodically during the day, I would visit each room and find out how the patient was getting along. I would also do things like debride (clean off dead tissue) wounds and follow vital signs and labs. If I was not on call, I would leave the hospital around 6pm after reporting to the on-call intern. If I was on-call, I would receive report from the services that I covered.

I had the unique opportunity of covering cardiac, thoracic and vascular when I was on call. The other interns only covered one other service and their own. At first, the cardiac patients were scary but later, I fell into taking care of them just as I took care of my own vascular patients. My patients were the sickest patients on the three services and I knew them best.

After vascular, I rotated as intern through surgical oncology and colo-rectal surgery. My program director was very impressed with my work so he decided to change my schedule to include a month as Surgical Intensive Care Unit resident. Usually, this rotation would go to a second year resident but a couple of interns managed to get this rotation. I was fortunate because the other two residents on this rotation with me were second year anesthesia residents. They taught me how to place internal jugular central lines and to float Swan-Ganz catheters. The nephrology fellow taught me to place temporary hemodialysis catheters and how to calculate fluid balance. I already know loads about mechanical ventilation but I learned even more from the critical care specialists. It was a great month for me.

I was then invited to spend a couple of months at the Veterans hospital. This was an away rotation that was totally awesome because there was so much operative experience. I honed my surgical skills and could hold my own in the ICU. My chief resident was very comfortable with my work and left me in charge of the service (as an intern no less) when he needed to go out of town. At first, it was scary but I learned that I could trust my instincts. My attending physicians were great teachers and things hummed along for me.

I went through another rotation on Vascular and then Thoracic. I made a deal with the other interns in that I would do all of the dictations and discharges if they would pull chest tubes and work out discharge planning. They hated to dictate and I had become very efficient at getting these things taken care of thanks to the VA hospital. My fellows were great to work with also. I was very comfortable calling them at home and updating. One of the most demanding fellows turned out to be one of my best teachers. He showed me how to sew down grafts.

I finished my year as Night Float intern. I covered all of the General surgery patients. There was an intern for Trauma who took care of the Trauma patients and did all admissions. If he or she was busy, I would admit patients and follow up on studies. I learned to anticipate problems and get them taken care of. I also learned to do make things happen that needed to happen. I made great friends with the night radiography technicians who would get studies completed for me and placed in front of the radiologists before I could get down to the department. They were great folks to work with.

As I headed into second year, I knew that second year would be my worst year. As a more senior resident, I would expected to play bigger role in keeping the service running. Since I would still somewhat junior, I still had a huge learning curve too. All in all, my intern year was great. Some of my chief residents and fellows were very difficult to work with but I always stepped up to the plate and got the job done.

Being a good intern is being anal about every detail of your patient's care. It took a few months to learn the "ins and outs" of good patient care but I took careful notes and operated every chance that I could. The nursing staff also gave me high marks for getting things done and keeping the services under control. The hours are long and sometimes the work seemed endless but there was a learning point to every task. Intern year went quickly but I felt in control of my learning.

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