Articles and Case Studies

Top Tips for Surviving Your Internship

28 Nov 2012

by Dr James Anderson

So you’ve finished medical school? Ready to save some lives? Four to six years of study should have supposedly set you up for this moment, Internship… Alas, at every stage you advance, you realise there is more to learn. To make things easier, peruse these rules, gleaned from the experience of those who have survived the internship adventure.

Part 1 – Survival

All human beings need food, water and shelter to survive.¹ Doctors being a subgroup of this species have additional requirements; specifically adequate blood sugar and caffeine levels.

a) Eat

You need to eat. Three times a day. Like normal people. It’s rare that your list of jobs all have to be done “now”. Most tasks can be postponed for 20 minutes whilst you feast on whatever your hospital cafeteria has on offer. If you have the luxury of an extended lunch break, go find some real (healthy) food. If you don’t eat you will collapse towards the end of your shift in the foetal position muttering in a strange trance-like manner² or become less efficient. 

b) Drink

Stay hydrated as consuming a significant quantity of caffeine which, along with talking, walking and auscultating, will dehydrate you.

c) Shelter

Early in your term, work out where the closest doctors’ common room is. These places are important havens for lunch breaks, sourcing advice from peers and supplying caffeine.

Part 2 – Conduct

a) Play nice, dress nice

You will have been lectured on appropriate dress, communication skills and so on at university. These lessons are important, since if you play nice, people will help and respect you.

b) Be a team player

Each rotation has a different workload. If you’ve got a bit of free time, think about helping the poor soul with 35 discharge summaries drowning their desk. Remember, it might be you next rotation. Similarly, when someone desperately needs to swap a shift to get to their grandmother’s funeral, help them out.

c) Handover or perish

You may have read about handover in one of the MDA National publications from time to time. It’s important. When three of your patients are looking like they might crash as you leave at 5pm, let the ward cover doctor know. Write a summary and a management plan in the notes. When you’re on the other side of the fence you’ll either be cursing or praising your peers.

d) Call for help early

As an intern you are not expected to handle all situations. The Medical Emergency Team always prefer to be called when they can prevent disaster rather than when disaster has already exploded across the cubicle. Similarly, if medico-legal matters beckon, call MDA National promptly.

e) Biscuit etiquette

Don’t eat all the good biscuits and leave the unpleasant orange-filled ones (why do they even make that flavour?).

f) Read the house of God³

GOMERS go to ground. Understand this and other references made by your seniors. Put the rails up after examining a demented old dear.

Part 3 – Life

Contrary to the beliefs of some medical administrators, doctors in training do have friends, families, hobbies and lives.

a) Swap shifts PRN

Whilst the life of a doctor requires some after-hours toil, don’t let your existence become restricted to eating, sleeping and work. A little manipulation of after-hours rosters may be required to maintain your attendance at those Wednesday night volleyball games or Sunday morning footy games. You won’t make it every week but you can keep a reasonable interaction with the outside world.

b) Do weights, not just ward rounds

Ward rounds are a form of exercise. Exceedingly long medical ward rounds may account for your daily exercise requirements. However, to keep you in peak mental and physical shape, do some other form of exercise. Cycle to work, swim in the evenings or join a lawn bowls club.

c) Your patients are not your only friends

While talking to the 90 year old patients about the cricket can be amusing4, you also have friends your own age. Make time in your week to catch up with them. Having a drink at the end of the week with your colleagues can be a good chance to de-brief and discuss the challenges of the job.

d) The nurses on the ward are not your real family

They may bake you cakes and sometimes yell at you but they are not your mother. Catch-up with your folks sometime, they will most likely appreciate it.

Part 4 – Internship is fun

Internship is an exciting time of learning, enjoying an income and adventure. Ask your seniors and they’ll most likely agree, the first year is one of the best in your career. Jump into it head first and enjoy!

1     Primary school

2     Case Report: Kesavan et al 2009 The muttering intern Fremantle Hospital RMO Society Newsletter vol 4 pp44-46 2009.

3     Shem, Samuel  1979,  House of God.

4    Personal Observation. Geriatric Rehabilitation Ward.Boxing Day 2009.



Doctors Let's Talk: Get Yourself A Fricking GP

Get yourself a fricking GP stat! is a conversation with Dr Lam, 2019 RACGP National General Practitioner of the Year, rural GP and GP Anesthetics trainee, that explores the importance of finding your own GP as a Junior Doctor.


25 Oct 2022

Systematic efforts to reduce harms due to prescribed opioids – webinar recording

Efforts are underway across the healthcare system to reduce harms caused by pharmaceutical opioids. This 43-min recording of a live webinar, delivered 11 March 2021, is an opportunity for prescribers to check, and potentially improve, their contribution to these endeavours. Hear from an expert panel about recent opioid reforms by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. 

Diplomacy in a hierarchy: tips for approaching a difficult conversation

Have you found yourself wondering how to broach a tough topic of conversation? It can be challenging to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, especially if they're 'above' you; however, it's vital for positive team dynamics and safe patient care. In this recording of a live webinar you'll have the opportunity to learn from colleagues' experiences around difficult discussions and hear from a diverse panel moderated by Dr Kiely Kim (medico-legal adviser and general practitioner). Recorded live on 2 September 2020.