With just a few months left of residency, I’ve started to pay a lot more attention to what is going on around me. I’m realizing what a unique perspective we have as housestaff physicians. The best way for me to explain what I mean is with this story of one particularly busy shift in the ER.
One of the most poignant and gut-wrenching examples I’ve witnessed of the interplay between the social determinants of health and clinical practice arises in a particular patient population: those who suffer from addiction.
As a child of immigrant parents, I had limited exposure to the American military. Ironically, my sole memory of the American military exists outside of America — in Japan. I spent part of my childhood in Tokyo and fondly recall the excitement that came from visiting the American Naval Base in Yokosuka to buy “American groceries,” specifically Eggo waffles.
“Direct Admit: bounceback 72M recurrent pleural effusion, new diplopia,” my pager beeped with our new admission. As a “bounceback” admission, this 72-year-old male would be returning to our service after recently discharging from the hospital. This type of admission often indicates that a problem recurred or an issue was not fully addressed during the most recent hospitalization.
Realizing that we have both inpatient and outpatient months, which require different skill sets, I feel that it would be better to split these lists into both outpatient and inpatient suggestions. After a few month of being on outpatient rotations, here is my list of eight things to master in order to break the successful intern barrier in the outpatient world.
I feel like there are so many things to work on in medicine. I need to be more efficient at taking a history; I need to gather morning data more quickly; I should be better at chart review when I get a new admission; I need to be more thorough at following up on labs; I could write the H&P more quickly, and so on. I also feel, from time to time, I do poorly on one thing — maybe I stay at work way too long writing my H&P — and then I obsess over how I can get faster at it.
It’s 2 a.m., and the patient’s blood pressure is beginning to rapidly decrease. Every IV line is occupied by an antibiotic or IV fluids, and we are in need of a vasoactive medication. The nurse comes to my computer and sternly states, “We can no longer avoid it. I think the patient needs a central line.” I quickly say “okay,” but I don’t move. I am momentarily frozen by my unease with the bedside procedure ahead.
As I reflect on the year that was, I am excited and yet terrified of what lies ahead. Intern year is unlike any other during which the training wheels—otherwise known as the short white coat—are abruptly stripped. The mannequins are traded for breathing patients, the co-signatures are traded for signatures, and the infamous “I am just the medical student” transitions to the equally unassuming “I am just the intern.” Here are my takeaways from the year that was.