A Top Ten List for Surviving Residency

by Tiffany Sweeney
Published in Physician Family, Summer 2014. American Medical Association Alliance, Inc.

Let’s be honest. The years in residency can be hard and stressful. You are often starting all over again at a new hospital in a new town and learning a new system. It is also very likely that you need to adjust to a new culture in your new home. A number of challenges exist, but there are ways that you can survive and thrive. After five years of post-graduate training, I leave you with my top ten list of ways to survive these “dreaded” residency years.

  1. Find Support. Your resident will be working very long hours. He or she will be stressed and tired and possibly even questioning his or her knowledge and abilities at some point during the training years. All of this will affect you and it is important that you have a support network, someplace that you can go to talk, to cry, to vent, and to relate. Family and friends outside of the medical field can be supportive, but they sometimes cannot completely relate to what you are going through. Befriend fellow medical spouses or significant others. Join local, state, or national organizations of the AMA Alliance or Advocates for the American Osteopathic Association (AAOA). Join online support groups. Know that you are never alone.
  2. Support Your Doctor. I so often hear the saying, “If the wife isn’t happy, the family isn’t happy.” But it is NOT about one person in the family being happy. You need to nurture both people involved in the relationship. We know the job of a resident is long, hard, and difficult. Be there to support him or her in any way you can. Lend a shoulder to lean on or cry on after a difficult day or case or after losing a patient. Sit down and listen with an empathetic ear. Give them space to study or review or dictate. Surprise them with a night out to get the hospital off his or her mind.
  3. Communicate. The key to any successful relationship is communication. Communication involves speaking, writing, and listening. Make sure you are using all of them, and using them in a healthy way. Don’t forget to use “I” statements if you have something pressing on your mind. Truly listen to what your partner is saying. Do not be forming your response at the same time that he or she is still speaking. And don’t discount the importance of emails or text messages throughout the day for both of you.
  4. Date Nights. Try to nurture your relationship at every chance you get. If you have a family, do not forget to also schedule time together only as a couple. Stay home. Go out. Be silly. Be intimate. Be adventurous. Most importantly, don’t forget to remember why you fell in love to begin with and why you love each other still.
  5. Alone Time. In order to fully support and care for your resident and your family, you need to remember to take care of yourself. This means taking time for just YOU—no children, no running errands, no driving your resident’s forgotten pager to the hospital. You need to do something just for you to reflect and to rejuvenate.
  6. Share Calendars. A resident’s schedule is unpredictable, but there are some things you can do to help you know what to expect. Keep a calendar handy that contains both your schedule and your resident’s schedule. You will be able to plan more accordingly knowing when your partner will be on-call, post-call, night float, or covering dinner shifts. It will make your planning easier and is yet another way to encourage communication between you.
  7. Be Flexible. Remember the reliability of sick and injured patients is, well, unreliable. You never know when your resident will be home really late or if he or she will be called in. Always have a back-up plan, and try not to place blame on him or her. Sickness, injury, and trauma are not the fault of your doctor.
  8. Be Spontaneous. There will be days that take you pleasantly by surprise. Your resident may get off extra early. He or she may have a long weekend without having to go into the hospital. Take advantage of this time. Go to a matinee before picking your kids up from school. Take a nap. Hike some local trails. Hit the road and get away from reality for a little while.
  9. Explore. If you do happen to live in a new city for your residency, don’t forget to take advantage of it. Find the local hot spots. Check out the tourist sites. Eat the favorite regional foods. If possible, do it together!
  10. Do NOT Wait. There are so many times that I hear people say that they cannot wait until residency is over. My biggest piece of advice is do NOT wait. Live your life right here, right now. Opportunities may present themselves and change your life. You may be living in an area that you may never see again. You will meet people who will impact you. Residency is long and hard, but it does not mean that you have to put your life on hold. Don’t live with regrets. Try new things. LIVE your life!

I am excited to be finally through these years of training, but I will never forget them. Yes, there were stressful times and difficult times, BUT there were also a LOT of really good times that I will always remember and cherish. Make your residency unforgettable, too!


Tiffany Sweeney holds a B.A. and M.S. in psychology and currently works as an academic advisor in higher education. She’s also a blogger and freelance writer whose DO husband will graduate shortly from a pain management fellowship and plans to join an anesthesia and pain management practice. They currently reside in Iowa with their five year old daughter and nine year old son, but will relocate to their home state of Montana in July.

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