4 Tips For Beginning Residency

Happy early July!  For those who just started residency, congratulations!  Hopefully the first few days of residency have been a smooth transition.

Perhaps some (or many) of you are just getting started with ophthalmology residency.  This week may have been full of firsts, such as your first full refraction, your first dilated fundus exam, your first call, your first consult, etc.  There will probably be many other firsts to come - your first cataract surgery, your first post-cataract 20/20 patient, your first posterior capsular tear, your first vitrectomy, your first open globe, etc.  Okay, not all of these things are going to be super exciting.  But it's the beginning of one of the most rewarding and exciting specialties in medicine.

There are so many different aspects to consider when it comes to both survival and excellence in residency.  Some of you may be approaching residency as simply a step towards your future goals.  Others are taking a "one day at a time" approach.  Regardless of your outlook on the next 3-4 years of your life, here are some practical tips I've learned that will hopefully help you not only survive residency, but maximize your training.

Tip #1:  Decide your priorities.

I am probably stereotyping, but since ophthalmology residency programs are highly competitive (I'm assuming this is the case worldwide as it is in the United States), I am taking a measured guess to say that most of us are highly self-motivated and ambitious people.  We are good at setting goals and working hard towards those goals.  So while it's probably safe to say I'm preaching to the choir, I still think it's important to recognize that there are going to be many different things vying for your attention.  Work, family, friends, study, and so many other things will demand time and mental energy.  If you don't start residency with some idea of how you want to prioritize all of those things, you won't be able to succeed in any.

It would be presumptuous for me to suggest one set of priorities as the only right way.  So instead of trying to list out all of the various permutations, I want to simply encourage you to consider the various activities important to you during this season and figure out how to order them.  That way, when you're faced with a scheduling conflict, you won't expend a lot of energy trying to decide what you should do - you already know what is most important to you.  For the sake of the program directors out there, I will suggest that your residency responsibilities should be near the top.

Tip #2:  Have a study plan.

There's tons of information to learn and internalize in residency.  Not only is there the muscle memory of learning surgery, but there is also pattern recognition as you look at corneal lesions, eyelid bumps, retinal changes, and optic nerve contours.  Residency is your opportunity to determine and set your practice pattern.  While a significant portion of your knowledge building will be established through clinical experience, you will still need to obtain some book knowledge.

While there are many different study plans you could take, what matters is that it covers the essential topics and contains sufficient detail.  And, at the risk of being too self-promoting, this site is here to help develop those study plans as well as provide as many resources as possible to deepen your knowledge of ophthalmology.  Here are a few articles that might be helpful in getting started:

Tip #3:  Network as much as possible.

Unless you're a huge jerk, you will most likely make some good friends while you're in residency.  Your co-residents are people you will lean on during the difficult times.  They will help cover for you when you're sick (and vice versa), you may decide to study together and teach each other ophthalmology, and if you end up going into different sub-specialties, you'll most likely curbside each other when you're out in practice and encounter a tough puzzle.

You will also get to know your colleagues in different specialties, who will consult you on their patients and whom you may consult.  You may end up working with them in other practices.  They may become your neighbors, friends, golfing buddies, etc.

If you get a chance to go to any national meetings, you will also have the opportunity to meet other young ophthalmologists across the country and world.  Many of those people may be people with whom you interviewed for residency; others might interview at your program in subsequent years.

And of course, you will get to know your attendings well.  They will be your faculty mentors, modeling clinical skills and bedside manner, as well as teaching surgery and providing practical advice for your career and life.  After you graduate, some of them will become your colleagues and life mentors.

I give all of these examples to make this point:  don't be a jerk!  This is one of the many opportunities you will have to meet many people who will form your professional network.  Be intentional about fostering those friendships; you never know when you might run into each other again in the future, and a positive relationship may open a door for you that might otherwise be a huge challenge.

Tip #4:  Have fun!

As stressful as residency is, be sure to enjoy what time you do have for recreation.  Likewise, be sure to find ways to have fun with your residency experience.  Residency is structured to be stressful - the goal is to cram as much experience and knowledge into the shortest amount of time.  But remember the reasons why you decided to choose ophthalmology, and commit to reminding yourself of those reasons in the most stressful times.

Obviously, there are plenty of other tips I could mention, but I think these four tips are essential for success in residency.  Do you have any other tips for residency?  Leave a comment!