Lessons from Commencement for New Interns & Faculty

I just returned from an Alaskan cruise where I spent the week doing lots of things in leiu of work.  One thing I did do was reflect on our commencement speech for our recent medical school graduates.  In contrast to the famous names of former years such as Atul Gawande, Sanjay Gupta, or even President Obama (before he was President), this year’s commencement speaker was one of our own faculty.  The word on the street was that the class was hoping for US. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin. However, since it was unclear whether she could commit until short notice, they needed a backup speaker in the event she could not come who would not mind being the understudy.  So the class of 2010 had selected University of Chicago Professor and beloved teacher Dr. Scott Stern for this important role.

 While some medical students or parents may have thought they got stiffed on ‘star power’, I can truly say this speech was no runner up — it was a bona fide winner.  Dr. Stern spoke eloquently about the trials and tribulations of medical school, the journey and then his own journey as a teacher.  Unlike the famous name speakers he was following in the footsteps of, Dr. Stern was able to connect with the audience since he knew them and of their journey.  Interestingly, his number one lesson was to maintain balance and try to do those things that make you human so that you can be a better doctor.  I certainly clung to those words as I departed the next day for Alaska.   For it wasn’t just the students he was speaking to, as I looked around, the faculty were all attentively listening and nodding their heads at his every word too.   

So, I return from my short vacation, rested and ready for the daily grind.  This week is a special one too since our new interns start.  As we greet them nationwide during orientations that go over what to do when they get a needlestick injury, forget their computer password, or need new scrubs, we need to remember they will devote their lives to this job and we need to show them they can balance it too.  This is easier said than done, since residents are often at the mercy of their call schedule, can’t easily maneuver to get time off, and are often working late and are sleep deprived.  So, how can we do this?   Well, like teaching all the other fuzzy stuff including the ‘p word’ we explored last time, its about role modeling and personal interaction.  So, here are some tips for any attendings out there who are shepherding the new interns into the hospital this July.

  1. Ask your interns what they do on their day off – make sure they are socializing and have a good support system. 
  2. Ask your interns what they like to do – they are moving to a new location and may not be plugged in to the latest goings on with respect to their interests.  
  3. Share a bit about how you unwind and take the pressure off with your interns.  It will show them that you are a human and more than just the ‘attending’.  On this cruise, I realized that I have a major passion for ping pong to the point where I am looking forward to getting a ping pong table.
  4. Encourage them to take care of themselves.  Going one step further, do they know a dentist in the area?  Do they have a doctor? Have they joined a gym?    
  5. Make sure you take care of yourself too.   This means knowing when to say when and practicing saying no from time to time so you don’t take on too much.  I’m currently practicing this one so I’ll let you know how it goes.

So most of us in residency education wait with baited breath for the annoucement of shorter work hours and the fury that follows regarding residency education and patient care, we need to make sure that it’s not a bad thing to get some rest.

–Vineet Arora, MD

Read more about Dr. Stern and his address here http://pritzker.bsd.uchicago.edu/about/news/2010Commencement_ScottStern.shtml



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