How to Succeed as an Intern

Claire McDaniel, MD | Liana Tedesco, MD

July 13, 2022

The start of residency is an exciting–and daunting–time for new physicians. There are a few key points to know as you start your orthopaedic surgery internship that will set you up for success in this year, and the rest of your residency. The medical school training wheels are off, but you now have a new team to help you along the way.

1Always Know Your Patient

The intern plays a critical role on their teams, frequently having the most contact with patients outside of the operating rooms. You most likely know the most about your patients on your team and, thus, can care for and advocate best for them. You round on post-operative patients before the sun rises, know their medical history, and coordinate their discharge needs. When in the operating room, you need to know the indications, planned procedure, and postoperative plans, specific to the patient on the table. It can seem daunting, but the more you know your patient, the better care they will receive and the better your education from their case will be. 

2Learn How to Be Efficient

There is a learning curve to the efficient practice of medicine. We all graduate medical school with in-depth education on medical conditions and treatments, but much of the daily practice of medicine is not taught in school. In the first few months of your internship, you will learn how to navigate complex electronic health records, multidisciplinary teams, consult services, and more paperwork than seems possible. Be sure to quickly determine the ways in which daily tasks (such as pre-rounds or discharges) can be done in the safest and most efficient way. Often, it is useful to ask more senior residents or mid-level providers on the team how they navigate the complex medical system efficiently. However, do not become efficient by “cutting corners” and be very wary of “copy forward” and “copy and paste” as medical errors can easily be propagated by these functions.

3Remember, You’re Still Learning

There’s a reason that an orthopaedic surgery residency is five years! You are not expected to know how to care for the entire musculoskeletal system on the first day of your intern year. You are, however, expected to come into residency motivated to learn. Over the course of the coming years, you will learn how to care for a wide range of orthopaedic conditions. During intern year, it is a good idea to start with reading anatomy, surgical approaches, and the seminal papers relevant to what you see in the clinic or the operating room. No one expects you to have all the answers, but it is definitely a good time to start learning orthopedic lingo. Ask the residents above you what worked for them and what didn’t work – your co-residents are your best resources!

4Get To Know the Whole Care Team

As a medical student, you might not have had the most meaningful interactions with members of your patients’ care teams other than residents and attendings. During your intern year, you will often find that you are coordinating multidisciplinary care for the patients on your service. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know and understand the roles of the wide range of staff in a hospital, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, social work, unit nursing and management, or operating room staff. The more dialogue and collaboration within the care team, the better care your patients will get.

5Be Sure to Enjoy It!

It’s important to remember that thanks to your perseverance and hard work, you made it to your intern year! You worked incredibly hard to get to where you are, in a very competitive specialty. The next few years of residency are a time for you to learn and grow as a surgeon and a life-long learner. Whatever the original spark that made you interested in the field of orthopaedics, keep on finding joy in the patient care, the pathologies, and the surgeries. This is an amazing specialty, so be sure to remind yourself to enjoy the learning!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. McDaniel a close family member who works for Ferring Pharmaceuticals (makes Euflexxa). Dr. Tedesco This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2022 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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