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10 quick tips for surviving an internship

INSTAGRAM @dermdogtorjeff   
Dr. Jeff Tinsley is a Derm Intern at Animal Dermatology Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. He'll be starting his residency in Derm at the same practice in July. Outside of work, he loves eating at local restaurants, trying out craft breweries, coaching crossfit classes, and running with his dog, Renly.

Don’t get me wrong, rotating internships are HARD, but they can be extremely educational and shape you into an excellent, albeit exhausted, doctor. My small animal rotating internship was one of the toughest challenges I’d ever faced, but it definitely made me a proficient veterinarian. I took many of the skills I learned during that experience into general practice, then into my specialty internship, and I’ll have them with me during my residency as well.

Welcome to my non-exhaustive list of 10 tips, thoughts, and general life hacks every intern should read.

1. Get your brain right and regularly check in with yourself.

This means going into work every day with a general idea of how you’re doing. Being aware of your mood and how you feel on a regular basis is healthy. It will also help you interact with coworkers. Some days you’ll feel 100 percent, other days it’s just as valid to say, “I’m feeling off today and don’t want to talk about it. Where’s my next patient?” You are allowed to deal with work and decompress later and still be a productive doctor.

2. Pick your battles and change what you reasonably can.

Internships are very challenging; however, if you’re in a good program it shouldn’t be “hard for the sake of being hard.” Rather, it will be difficult because of the nature of the work, high case load, and the amount of learning you’ve chosen to shove into one year of hyper-intensive training. You should emerge with the skills of a well-rounded clinician with a good foundation in all the specialties you were exposed to. Some say internships can be equal to three to five years of general practice and I whole-heartedly agree. However, no internship should break your soul and your passion for the profession along the way.

If you feel like there are parts of your internship that are unacceptable and not conducive to learning then do what my intern class did. We made a list of our concerns; brought them to a trusted clinician and we actually got some things improved. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.

3. Be intentional about de-stressing.

Interns traditionally don’t have the best sleep schedules, making non-work activities hard to do. This is usually due to long hours and intermittent overnight ER shifts. My internship was no different and on tough weeks the de-stressors were forgotten first. This made me grumpier and unhappy at work. I found when I made time to do my favorite things it improved my mental health, my mood was elevated, and I was more even-keeled at work. My favorites were typical: exercising, cooking, grabbing a beer with friends, exploring the city. Remember to always keep some sacred time for what you love.

4. Maintain a budget.

I used to joke all the time that I was “the most poorly paid person on salary in the hospital.” It was sad, but true. Scrolling through the match website called Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP), you can see that many interns are offered salaries around $30,000 to $35,000, with a few outliers. Until that range increases significantly, I highly recommend you make a budget. You will spend less money if you know where it’s going and you can strategically plan for those much needed fun activities.

5. Get your brain right, part 2. Regularly check in with others.

This made the list twice for a reason. Your mental health is EXTREMELY important. Make sure you have other humans to periodically help you process your life. You can vent with your BFF, you can facetime your dad, start a group text of other interns from your class, or maybe all three! And never be ashamed to try out a professional therapist, too. I cannot express enough how helpful it is to secure a healthy outlet for your thoughts and feelings. Doing so will keep you grounded and whole.

6. Listen to your technicians and nurses.

This is especially important for new grads and baby interns. Many techs and nurses have been practicing for years and you can learn from their experience. Be humble. Be open-minded. You are a team. If you ignore this advice… LOL good luck, fam. You’re gonna have a rough internship.

7. Write down your goals.

Make a practical list of short- and long-term goals for your internship and check that list about every three months. Doing this helped me see exactly what I was learning and gaining from my internship. Make them tangible and quantitative. Avoid being vague. Instead of “try more procedures” you can say “perform two chest taps.”

8. Find a mentor early.

If you’re not assigned to someone out-right, make sure you have a go-to “adult” doctor who you can connect with when needed, vent to, and help guide you through the year. If you choose to specialize they may be a useful contact and future recommendation writer as you prepare for the match.

9. Prepare for the match early.

If you plan to apply to residencies, the VIRMP applications open earlier than you think (usually October). Ask for rotations in the specialty you like to be at the beginning of your internship. This will give you time to build rapport with those clinicians and help you see if you want to dedicate your entire career to that specialty. They may even have information on non-match programs you can gun for.

10. Remember your worth.

This sounds simple, but I’ve reminded countless friends of it. You are a highly trained animal physician and your job is in high demand. You could get a job in almost any major city right now as a GP or ER doctor if you wanted to. Right now, though, you’ve chosen some extra training to better yourself and become an even more phenomenal doctor. It’s only one year. You can do this. I promise it will frickin’ fly by. This job is lucky to have you. You were built for this. You got this! And you’re pretty!

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