Residency Survival Guide: The Dos and Don’ts of Working With Allies

As a resident, working with allies is vital. Whether it’s nurses or your own attending, all healthcare professionals deserve the same amount of respect. You can be the colleague people are excited to be on call with. Or not.

1. Do: Listen to the Nurses. And the Pharmacist, and the Lab …

Listening to nurses is one of the most repeated residency survival tips for working with allies for new doctors — and for good reason. They are at patients’ bedsides a lot more than the physician. That amount of exposure gives them an advantage in seeing patient changes over time. We can’t stress this enough: nurses will save you over and over again. Don’t push them away. Bring them closer.

Similarly, if a pharmacist asks you if you’re sure about a medication order, don’t take it personally. Instead, ask for details. @MTfromtheLab, a technologist from the Figure 1 community, states that the lab is “happy to help if you treat them like a valued member of the team. Talk down to us and word travels fast.”

The labs receive few calls and even fewer visits. If you’ve got a weird case where things don’t fit, head down there. You’ll learn a boatload.

2. Don’t: Avoid Hard Jobs

Working with allies means not being afraid of challenging work. Instead of bumping work to others, push yourself to do tasks that seem hard, but are incredibly useful. One example is placing IVs. You’ll have years to practice before you’re independent, so take that opportunity now. Even if you only do it once a week, it will make a massive difference in the long run.

3. Do: Consider Who You’re Charting For

Whether you’re documenting or calling someone to ask for their help or service, always be as clear and polite as possible. On the phone, start by introducing yourself, “Hi, this is Rebecca from general surgery …,” and ask if it’s a good time to speak before making any requests.

When it comes to documenting, remember that your notes will be read by other doctors, students, nurses—and yes, sometimes lawyers. Don’t leave others to figure out what you were thinking; write it down. In other words, show your work.

4. Don’t: Forget to Consider Your Timing

Doctors often think about the frequency of medication but not the frequency of bloodwork. This is especially valuable if you finish your order with the words, “… and please call me at [phone number] when the result is available.”

5. Do: Stay in Touch

Every one of the attendings and teachers you’ve ever had is making an investment in you. If you want to grow those investments, it’s useful to let people know what kind of progress you’ve made. Send a text, email, or letter to any mentors who have helped you along the way. Companies often send out quarterly reports and so can you: A quick cup of coffee once every six months can add a lot of insight over time.

Survival Guide Tip

“Don’t let ego get in the way. A smart doctor knows when to ask for help or refer it out.” —@TripperDPM, podiatrist

In the wilderness, if you get lost, you’re supposed to stay still (and blow your whistle, if you have one) until you’re found. You shouldn’t go off on your own — it’s much easier to get lost than you’d expect.

The same goes for medicine. If you don’t know what to do next, don’t go on without your team: seek help.

Published June 14, 2021

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