Articles and Case Studies

Top 10 tips for interns

30 Sep 2022


by Dr Ned Latham

New Interns Illustration

Dr Ned Latham shares his top 10 tips to help you get started on your internship journey.

Internship is the beginning of an important new phase in your life and medical career. It’s natural to feel both excited and anxious about what’s in store for you and how you’ll cope with the years ahead. It’s good to remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved to get here – and be open to learning from others who have walked this path before you.


1. You know enough to get through day one

There are only three things you absolutely must know for day one:

  • how to recognise when you’re out of your depth (accept that this will be often, especially at the start of the year)
  • your registrar’s phone number
  • the number to dial for emergencies.

All the things you know in addition to the above are a helpful bonus!


2. If you’re on the fence about whether you need to ask for help, just ask

As an intern, there’s always someone more senior whom you can seek help from (e.g. resident, registrar, nurse-in-charge, MET call team). If the thought of asking for help or making a MET call crosses your mind, trust that instinct.


3. Propose a plan

When you ask your resident or registrar for advice, be sure to include your impression and a tentative plan, e.g. “I think A, B or C is happening, so I think it would be good to do X, Y, Z”. Even when you’re wrong, proposing a plan will help you learn and develop your problem-solving skills (and show your team that you’re thinking!).


4. Referral hints

You will make lots of referrals as an intern, so here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Get these done as early in the day as possible.
  • Be clear on the clinical question (it’s easiest to confirm this with your team at the time they ask you to make the referral).
  • If you’re not familiar with the condition or symptom, then a quick skim of the history or examination section of UpToDate might give you some hints about the questions the specialty registrar may ask you about the patient.

5. Thank the people who check your work

If a nurse or pharmacist asks you to clarify a plan you’ve written or something you’ve prescribed, make a habit of saying “thanks for checking”. The fact that they’ve asked is a good clue that you may have written something vague, silly, or maybe even unsafe!

Even if everything turns out to be in order, it still pays to say thanks. Being approachable is good for patient safety and makes for a much more pleasant workplace.


6. Plan things to look forward to

This includes things to look forward to in the short term (e.g. a walk with a friend on the weekend) and the longer term (e.g. a trip booked in for your first block of annual leave).


7. Make your home a sanctuary

You will spend a lot of time at work, so make the time you’re not there count – mute the team WhatsApp and try (and probably sometimes fail) not to remotely look up what happened to that interesting patient you saw on your cover shift.


8. Keep an open mind

Chances are you’ll have one or two rotations in an area of medicine that you’re pretty sure you’re not interested in. Even so, treat your term as your one and only chance to ever work as a doctor in that area, and try to learn as much as you can.

Similarly, don’t be disheartened if hospital medicine isn’t your thing. During internship, it’s easy to forget how much medicine is practised outside of hospitals. Check out Creative Careers in Medicine for some inspiration.


9. If you see bad behaviour, write it down

Most of you will hopefully never need this tip, but the unfortunate reality is that bullying still exists in medicine in 2022. There are numerous people to talk to, and it can be hard to know where to go first. As a starting point, keep some personal notes of any unreasonable behaviour including when, where, what was said or done, and who was present. You don’t have to do anything with this information if you don’t want to – but if you do decide to seek help, it’s useful to have some specific examples of what you’ve been dealing with.

Even if you don’t experience bad behaviour, try to keep a strong support network – it can be helpful to debrief about your day with your peers!


10. Everyone in medicine is smart – differentiate yourself by being kind

No one goes to work planning to be unkind to patients or colleagues. But kindness is more than the absence of unkindness – it takes conscious effort, particularly when you’re busy, tired or feeling stressed.


Communication with Colleagues, Communication with Patients, Confidentiality and Privacy, Doctors Health and Wellbeing, Employment Essentials


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