If you are old as I am (I was a non-traditional medical student), then you might remember a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten that remained on the NYT Bestseller List for an impressive two years back in the 80s. It was full of aphorisms of how a simpler perspective might prove to be a better and/or happier way to live. So, I’ve been wondering all week while frantically trying to get my USCAP poster done before the rush fee deadline goes into effect (I guess I never learn)…do we really learn everything we need to know to be good pathologists during residency?
Training programs are variable – some make you work for it while others, not so much. But in the end, the day after graduation, we are all expected to be full-fledged competent pathologists…as if, in those magical 24 hours, we have all become smarter, have mastered our inefficiencies and time management issues, and are suddenly better than we were a short time before. But honestly, since you probably spent that last day not in pathology mode, the only thing that we can be sure of is that you are 24 hours older. Despite the differences in our training, the majority of us will go on to pass our boards, and scary thought, practice the day after we graduate (although that might mean postponement until after fellowship).
Residents are also variable in terms of how and what they learn. I admit that I never expect to be the best at surgpath, especially grossing. But I do keep trying and hope that I don’t hurt patients in the process. I hope to at least survive until I’m done with surgpath for good. And I know regardless, it will still help me whether I decide to go into molecular pathology or hematopathology or a combination of both. I do know that I excel on my most of my CP rotations. But what do we need to do to learn and improve on our deficiencies and move past our comfort zones? For me, I’m comfortable in the lab since I went to graduate school, originally was a dual degree medical student, and had a decade of research experience prior to medical school but I’d love to hear advice and stories of how residents improved their grossing skills and surgpath differentials or finally triumphed over that weakness or deficiency that kept showing up on your evaluations.
Despite where we train (even at the best programs), I’ll bet that most of us in our initial years will need to know the following, but not in any particular order:
- When in doubt or you don’t know, ask for help from someone you trust and respect
- The printed word…whether journals, textbooks, or Google…is your friend, so use it, and use it often
- Sticky notes or checklists really do help keep us organized
- There is never enough time in the day so plan and use it wisely
- Getting angry (at ourselves or others) really won’t help so re-direct that energy towards something positive
- You are never too old to learn something new
- If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying until you do (hopefully)
- Learning doesn’t stop with graduation
- Make time for yourself to recharge your batteries
- Despite everything we do, we will make mistakes, but try to learn from them so we don’t repeat them.
–Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.