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Soon-to-be interns: choosing where to do your internship wisely

06 September 2023


Dr Michaela Wells explains why your internship years can be some of the most important of your professional career...

Internship is such an important phase in a doctor's life. I know this is probably a controversial statement but I believe it is very important that young doctors go through this supervised learning period. Imagine walking straight out of university and starting to see patients in a private practice by yourself. This would be incredibly dangerous and demotivating. Why demotivating? Because you know nothing in practice, yes, you have learnt the theory in university but practical application of medicine also needs to be learnt. I am so grateful for the two years of my internship because I was able to learn so much and acquired a host of invaluable skills both as a doctor and a person.

When making your choice for internship there are obvious considerations to take into consideration like where you are originally from, where your family live, where the sea is, where your friends are going and the list will continue. I know many of you are currently feeling overwhelmed with trying to juggle the final six months of university and having to make this choice. Many soon to be doctors feel like this might be the most important decision of their whole life. I want to tell you, it is not. Yes it is very important and no doubt it causes most of you stress but just remember you will be a good doctor no matter where you end up and you will be fine, and maybe even a better person after these two years.

I want to give you a few thoughts to consider while you are making this decision that you might not have thought of or that most people will not consider:

1. If you are the adventurous type and you are wanting to go somewhere where you will be alone at first without existing friends or family just make sure that the place you are choosing has non-work related hobbies or activities. If you like hiking or surfing, make sure there are clubs/teams/groups that you can join. Life outside of the hospital is important. A lot of people forget that you will have time to do things for yourself, especially during your second year, you have a lot more free time. If when you leave the hospital you can not even go for a coffee or a walk somewhere your free time becomes lonely and demotivating. Social life/free time is something that most university students do not have and while working there is a lot of this.

2. You will get good experience and exposure at most hospitals on the list for internship, that is why a list exists. Hospitals need to meet criteria before interns can be placed there. Some doctors feel they must work at the busiest hospital in the province or the biggest as this is where they will get the most exposure. This is not always true. You need to consider what is important for you. Do you want to work in a very academic setting and as the intern you will mostly ‘push paper’ or do you want to work in a completely non-academic setting (teaching is compulsory during internship) but when I say non-academic, the hospital is not linked to a university medical school. Work-life balance is a term you will probably only learn a bit later. During my internship I realised that a work-life balance is very important for me. I want to have the option of not having to work every weekend or not do calls. Other doctors feel like medicine is the most important thing to them and they want to do calls and be very busy with hospital related things. This realisation will influence your choice for community service.

3. Some hospitals have a bad reputation and you will be told to avoid that hospital. Some one has to work at that hospital and you might just be the one. Trust me it is not that bad. You will survive, you will learn a lot. Yes you will be frustrated but remember you have colleagues who are going through the same as you.

I want you to remember that while making this choice that even if you do not get your first or your second or even your fifth choice, you are still a doctor and two years go by very fast while you are working and hopefully having fun at the same time. You will get to a stage in your life that where you work, how long you work, your hours and even what you do will be your decision. Keep this in mind during these two years and during your community service year.