Achieving US medical residency is a defining moment in one’s career. As hopeful medical students cross the frontier into true doctorhood, it brings both fulfilling and scary changes. Many new residents find themselves matched to a program in an entirely new location they’ve never been to before. Moving to a new city or even country is always a nerve-wracking experience. Residents must manage those changes while tackling 80-hour work weeks and a high-pressure work environment.
If the aspect of moving to a new city for residency leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Countless residents have gotten through it and have built up impressive forums detailing their experiences and offering advice for future residents. Here are some helpful ideas on how to best acclimate to a new city for residency, that have worked for residents of the past.
Utilize Orientation Week to Build a Community
In residency, a large percentage of your time will be spent amongst the other residents and attendings. In most programs, a brief orientation week is offered to help residents adjust to their new position, learn the hospital ropes, and get to know each other.
As a 2020 policy study found, residents who attended the majority of offered orientation events showcased better mental health and more positive work opinions at the end of their first year. The study links these results to the more collaborative outlook residents had after attending orientation programs.
During orientation week, residents found it worthwhile to reach out to their new colleagues and take note of their career interests and personal life. Remembering details about their colleagues, such as professional desires, hobbies, and personal anecdotes greatly aided residents’ livelihoods in and out of the hospital. The study found that teamwork from residents with complementary strengths and interests resulted in better success in diagnosing patients and hospital emergencies.
One great way to keep track of these details is through note-taking and cataloging. Although this may seem silly, your first year of residency leaves little time for other activities and organization can make life much more manageable. Many residents recommended both Bear and the Apple Notes app as great places to keep track of these details with easy access.
Orientation week is perhaps the easiest time to begin these social efforts; it is also important to always keep in mind how you are communicating yourself and your attitude to those around you. Many residents noted that your reputation as a medical practitioner is defined during the first year of residency. A lack of good collaboration skills or friendly personality can get you a bad rep amongst your fellow residents and superiors. It is far more effort to undo this damage to your name than to prioritize community from the get-go. Through engaging during orientation week, you can start paving the way towards a richer work and social life.
Prioritize home-to-work commute and location
Pursuing your residency requires a lot more time than the average job. It’s worthwhile to find ways to reduce tedious aspects of your life, such as your commute. Not only could this save you time and money, but it makes it easier for you to naturally explore and understand the world around your hospital. Having knowledge of fun spots, good restaurants, and errand places that are close to home and work can make your schedule more seamless.
This is also helpful for making plans during your off time, especially if they're with other residents. This knowledge can form more naturally if your living situation is not far away.
It can be hard to perfectly plan for these situations. Wherever your housing will be, find the ways that will be most efficient for you both financially and regarding time. Many cities’ and towns’ official websites have information about local public transportation. Be aware of other apps and services that specialize in transportation and how you can use them to your benefit. Through reading up on online forums or reaching out to locals, try to get an idea of how navigable your city is. Can you walk? Are there bus routes and subways? Or will you need a car to be truly comfortable? Prioritizing optimal transportation can be a smart financial and social move to make.
Get an understanding of the city’s culture
Don’t arrive in a new city totally blind. With the internet, it’s easier than ever to get a taste of a new place with little work. Where will your hospital be located and what is the surrounding area like? Are there any unique recreational events, activities, or food staples? Some easy ways to do this are to look up your location in social media apps. The more precise you can be, the better. For example, rather than searching “Los Angeles”, try a more specific neighborhood within Los Angeles such as “Brentwood” for businesses in that particular area. Through social media tagging systems, it can be easy to find specific activities, events, or restaurants that are in these smaller neighborhoods as well. If you’re less comfortable with social media, Google can be a powerful tool to find your desired location and price range.
No resident is swimming in free time but putting in that extra effort pre-move is an invaluable way to give yourself a productive and fun guide for creating a new community and exploring. Taking a few minutes each week to seek out some areas of interest can help you to expand your knowledge and get excited about the big next steps that are ahead for you. Many websites such as Dolly and LifeHacker have also published guides for how to best navigate any new city you are moving to.
This can be a great way to connect with other residents who have also had big relocations. Exploring a new place and the things that are special to that location is a great way to get closer to your new community and make some fun memories with new friends.
Don’t Rely on Your Memory
Much of your mental energy, especially during your first year of residency, will be spent almost exclusively on work. Tasks that you may have been able to handle on your own will become harder and harder to manage without some sort of aid. Consider the important aspects of your life such as social obligations, emails, and mail, which take time to manage.
Through online apps and resources, housekeeping tasks can become significantly easier with little effort. Many residents expressed satisfaction with services such as Apple’s Calendar app and Things as a good way to catalog future commitments and events with helpful reminders.
Some additional tips that residents found helpful include the “one-touch rule” for mail and emails. This means that for each new correspondent you receive, either complete any actions required, trash it, or file it away. Don’t leave stray mail to “come back to” later.
Many former residents noted that it is easy to fall into depression during your residency. Though there are internal problems within residency programs that certainly can exacerbate poor mental health, many also cited a lack of organization as a culprit. It can be difficult to find the time and energy to handle your life like before and can cause feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation. Taking the reins and having strong control on these aspects of your life can make a tremendous difference in your mental state and outlook. As one former resident mentioned, “It may not seem like it at first, but…feeling like you’re not in control of your finances will make you feel isolated…Feeling like you’re behind on your email and haven’t done all the little things in life you need to do will make you feel isolated.”
Managing your life is time-consuming. There’s no reason to take the burden on all by yourself. Make the effort at the beginning of your residency to find the apps and programs that work best for you. It can even be helpful to ask your fellow residents to find what is most helpful for them as well.
Organize your Finances
Many residents unsurprisingly find themselves in debt from education costs. While it can be tempting to just pay your loans and not fall into further debt, there is still potential to engage more with your finances and begin saving money as well.
Many residents recommended the books White Coat Investor and I Will Teach You To Be Rich for learning about ways that they could save and invest their money optimally. The number one thing former residents mentioned as helpful though was setting up a budget and sticking to it. Using budgeting software or apps is one of the most helpful ways to manage this with ease. The app You Need A Budget was strongly recommended, but use whatever tracking methods work best for you. Residents also took their “personal utility curve” into account.
A personal utility curve essentially refers to the amount of happiness a product or service gives you when compared to how much it costs. This applies to all aspects of your life and is a helpful tool for defining work/life balance. What hobbies, foods, or goods enrich your life in such a way that you need to make time for them? For instance, are you an avid coffee drinker who wants a cup every morning? It could be a worthwhile purchase to invest in a good machine or set aside the time each morning to go to a coffee shop. However, spending your money this way could result in not going out to dinner as often and cooking at home more. Every purchase comes at the cost of something else, and it can be invaluable to take the time and consider what variables will allow you to feel the happiest while staying financially stable.
An organized, precise, and thoughtful approach to your social and home life will help to make your residency feel that much easier to maintain. By considering these actionable “rules” you can be your most productive self without too much additional effort.
But before you have to explore your new neighborhood and plan your commute, you have to earn a space in a residency program. We can help. Schedule a free consultation session with our counseling staff to put together a pathway to residency built just for you – whether that includes ERAS, CV, and personal statement editing, USMLE tutoring, interview prep, or full residency placement services, we are here to support you on your medical residency journey.