If you don’t know what residency is, it is a period of 3-5 years after physicians graduate from medical school where they continue their medical training in a specific medical specialty. And it is a blur of 80+ hour work weeks, rotating work environments, frequent sleep deprivation, and immense pressure to know more, research more, and just be better. And it can be so hard for residents to reach out for help before they realize that they’re drowning. That’s why I compiled this list of 7 Ideas to Support A Resident in Your Life.
1. Fill practical needs
When I ask residents, “When it comes to surviving residency, what is the biggest roadblock/challenge you face?” A common top answer is time! Not enough time to do all the “normal adult things” in their life. Residents on average spend 10 – 14 hours a day at the hospital, often 6 days a week with a rotating call schedule where they are at the hospital for 24-hours, go home to sleep and have to be back at work ~12 hours after they wake up. With such unpredictability it can be difficult to stay on top of cooking a healthy meal, mowing the yard, going grocery shopping, or walking the dog. Because these are all “normal adult things,” most people don’t think about asking for help and usually weigh the cost-benefit of hiring someone to help out with these tasks. But I guarantee you, if you tell a resident, “I want to help you with your to-do list. Can I cut your grass?” maybe some will initially decline, but if pressed would be thankful for the offer.
So this idea is a big ask and may not be a great fit for everyone. But because many residents have to cast a wide net when applying for residency, it is not uncommon for residents to be geographically separated from their primary support system. This can be especially hard for single residents who don’t have an immediate family to support them through residency. These residents would greatly benefit from some people opening their homes and just feeling the support & love of a family. I think this is a great option for older adults and empty-nesters, and an easy way to start is to just imagine this resident is your son or daughter. How would you show your love to them & see if that’s something that could be applied to their situation.
3. Open your home
Okay. I recognize that not everyone can open their lives to a resident to the point that they are integrated into your family. But maybe you live close to a hospital with a residency or know a resident in your neighborhood, church, or other community organization. So, instead of pulling a resident into your family, maybe you just open your home for residents to drop by for a meal once a week. If that’s still too much it doesn’t even have to be year-round! Historically, the first and third quarters of the academic year (Jul-Sep & Jan-March respectively) are difficult times with transitioning to a new academic year bringing more responsibilities which can have some growing pains, and the third quarter is a melancholy slump for many as well. If that still feels like too much then consider doing things around holidays, or better yet if a resident is working a holiday you could take them something special.
4. Write a letter
Maybe you are in that position where you are geographically separated from your resident. This can be so difficult with time differences and trying to find a good time to call and connect. And while text messages and emails are nice, there is something about getting a letter in the mail. A hand-written letter communicates another level of care that you actually took the time to write out your thoughts and send it in the mail. Plus, the great thing here is that the sky’s the limit for letter topics. Maybe pick some memories together, or just remind the resident of their accomplishments thus far (Believe me! A resident’s daily life is filled with moments pointing toward their ineptitude. So, it is easy for them to lose sight of all they have overcome to get to the position of a medical resident). So, a funny joke, a moving poem, or just an update from home. Anything!. Plus, pro-tip, you can even call the residency program coordinator to see if your resident has a work mailbox address. Imagine their surprise opening your letter! I 100% could see how that would make their day.
5. Make a Care Package
Alright I can hear some of y’all saying, “But Ben! I’m not that creative!” or “I don’t have that much time!” or “Ben I have an irrational fear of touching stamps.” Don’t worry. You can always try buying your support (which I know that statement has some serious guilty parent vibes, but hey it’s better than nothing). Plus, you could make it fun like a movie and popcorn package or a package of their favorite things, or just keep it real practical and send gift cards to their favorite restaurants for nights when they don’t want to cook. Don’t get in your head too much and just go for it! I mean, the worst case scenario is they don’t like the package and they regift it for a white elephant gift exchange at their program’s holiday party.
6. Be flexible
Okay, the last two here are a little more abstract but I think really useful for anyone integrated into the daily life of a resident. Flexibility is so important because Plan A often doesn’t work out. Maybe you’ve planned to get brunch when a resident is post-call (and if you don’t know what “post-call” is it means when a resident has been at work for 24-hours and has the next day off to rest). So, you’ve planned to get brunch but your friend had a rough night and is too tired to come. Or may y’all have dinner plans and they get held up at the hospital. Please be flexible and maybe think outside the box for plan B. How can you serve your friend? Maybe you offer to bring them their favorite dish from the restaurant, reschedule to a late lunch, or whatever!
7. Be the early warning signal for burnout.
Many residents may not even be aware they’re on the path to burnout. But roommates and family members may notice changes in behavior long before the resident has enough bandwidth to reflect and have the insight to sense that shift. So this may be as simple as pointing out what you’re seeing or even offering a way for them to get some space to recuperate.
Your support matters. Unfortunately anxiety and depression is a chronic problem for many physicians in residency and a previous research study suggests that 4 per 100,000 residents may die by suicide. Although it is reassuring this statistic is lower than the general population, I think we can all agree that even one death by suicide is too many. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading & being curious about ways to support the resident in your life. I hope you found this helpful and if you enjoyed the ideas in this post, please feel free to share it on social media so more people can discover how they can support residents during this unique season of life.
The weekly reflection is designed with the hope of sparking conversations wherever you find yourself!
How can you support a resident in your life?
It could be one of these 7 ideas or something inspired by this post.
Take some time to write out your thoughts.