How to survive life as an intern

01 September 2021

From choosing housemates carefully to avoiding your social life being eaten by the time-gobbling piranha that is your intern year, Dr Anthony O’Connor shares his top survival tips.

1. Get a GP, preferably a good one

Every year, junior doctors all over the country fall into a trap of self-diagnosis, self-referral and self-prescription that is deeply harmful. When you are working highly pressurised 70-hour weeks, the journey from prescribing yourself an antibiotic for a cough that isn’t shifting to prescribing yourself diazepam because you’re being bullied and can’t face working anymore is alarmingly short.

GP training is competitive and four years long for a reason. I never fail to be amazed by people who self-prescribe for themselves but wouldn’t prescribe for their pets. As an intern you are no more qualified to be your own GP than you are your dog’s vet

2. Choose your housemates carefully 

Be careful about living with other medics. It encourages you to indulge in tedious one-upmanship over whose job is worse. Wherever you live or whoever you live with, set a time limit every evening after you come in from work about how long you are allowed talk about work. You’ll need at least half an hour but if you are still going on about some cannula you managed to insert an hour after you got in the door then you, my friend, are a bore.

3. Take your holidays 

At the start of every six months sit down with a calendar and identify your holidays. Inform your colleagues, HR and anyone else who needs to know (nurses, clinic staff, endoscopy, day ward) as soon as possible. Then there can be no excuse for them not planning for your absence. Try to space them out to avoid doing three-four month stints without a break.
Do not be guilt-tripped into giving up your holidays. The only person that cares that you get a break is you, so make sure to take what you’re owed, otherwise the road to burnout and despair gets much shorter. If you choose not to, just don’t expect any thanks, ever. 

4. Keep up your hobbies 

Girls, take a look around. Look at all the guys in your class. Now imagine them all with less hair and in a fat suit. Congratulations! You’ve just got a sneak preview of your five-year class reunion! Because that guy who spent half his college years pucking a sliotar around or playing five-a-side with the lads will now be found hanging around the hospital until 9pm every night in the vague hope of impressing a surgeon who doesn’t even know his name, before picking up a kebab on the way home.

You, on the other hand, will no longer be playing hockey or football or singing in the choir because you’ll be spending evenings auditing how many pen tops your gastroenterology team chew through in an average clinic, but at least you usually avoid the kebab trap. You are a doctor now but you’re also far more than that as a person. Be defined as much by what you do away from work as in work. Zealously protect your free time and interests. 

5. Choose what’s right for you 

Make your next move a good one. Ignore anyone who tells you that you must or must not do something in order to do something else in your medical career. They are lying to you. You can always change your mind. That scheme you crave now may feel like a trap in a few years’ time.
There are more options for a medical career now than ever existed before, just be careful with your registration to practise. If you want to stay in Ireland and all your friends are heading off, stay. If you want to go to Australia, or England, or Africa, but are worried people will say you’re unpatriotic, go. You can always come back when you’ve figured out that’s what you want. 
After a very short time as an NCHD you owe nobody anything and if they were that interested in getting you to stay, they’d treat you with a bit of respect and give you decent working conditions. 
The job is difficult but rewarding. Be honest and do your best at all times. Look after yourselves and each other. Even if you do all that you might still harm someone. Try not to let it be yourself. You will fail and fall short at times. Embrace it. You might as well, you’ve no choice. Learn from it. As the song says, you’re no Superman. Good luck.