In some parts of the world, Internships consist of rotating in different departments of a hospital over a period of one or two years depending on the location. In others, interns are first-year Emergency Medicine residents. Whichever country you practice in, an emergency rotation may be mandatory to get the most exposure, and often the most hands-on.
Often, junior doctors (including myself) find ourselves confused and lost as to what is expected of us, and how we can learn and work efficiently in a fast-paced environment such as the ER. It can be overwhelming as you may be expected to know and do a lot of things such as taking a short yet precise history, doing a quick but essential physical exam and performing practical procedures.
I’ve gathered some tips from fellow interns and myself, from what we experienced, what we did right, what we could’ve done better and what we wish we knew before starting.
These tips may have some points specific to your Emergency Medicine Rotation, but overall can be applied in any department you work in.
- First things first – Always try to be on time. Try to reach your work a couple of minutes before your shift starts, so you have enough time to wear your PPE and feel comfortable before starting your shift.
- Know your patients! Unlike other departments, ER does not always have rounds, and you do not know any of the patients beforehand, but it always helps to get a handover from the previous shift, and know if any of the patients have any results, treatment plans or discharges pending, to prevent chaos later on!
- Always be around, inform your supervising doctor when you want to go for a break, and always volunteer to do more than what you’re asked for. The best way to learn is to make yourself known, ask the nurses to allow you to practice IV Cannulation, Intramuscular injections, anything and everything that goes around the department, remember the ER is the best place to learn.
- Admit when you feel uncomfortable doing something, or if you’ve done a mistake. This makes you appear trustworthy and everyone respects someone who can own up to their mistake and keeps their patients first.
- Breath sounds and pulses need to be checked in every patient!
- Address pain before anything else, if their pain is in control, the patient will be able to answer your questions better.
- Never think any work is below you, and this is one thing which I admired about ED physicians, you do not need someone to bring the Ultrasound machine to you, you do not need someone to plug in the machine, you do not need someone to place the blood pressure cuff if you can do it yourself. Time is essential, and if you’re the first person seeing the patient, do all that you can to make their care as efficient as possible.
- Care for patients because you want to, and not for show. Often junior doctors get caught up in the fact that they are being evaluated and try to “look” like the best version of themselves. While it may be true, remember this is the year where you are shaping yourself for the future, and starting off by placing your patients first, doing things for their benefit will not only make it a habit, the right people will always notice and will know when you do things to provide patient-focused care, or when you do them to show that you are providing patient-focused care.
- Teamwork will help you grow. Not everything in life has to be a competition, try to work with your colleagues, share knowledge, take chances on doing things, learn together, trying to win against everyone else only makes an easier task even more stressful and can endanger lives.
- Learn the names of the people you work with! In the ER, you may across different people on each and every shift and it may be difficult to remember everyone’s names, but it’s always nice to try, and addressing people by their names instantly makes you more likable and pleasant to work with!
- Keep track of your patients and make a logbook of all the cases you see and all the procedures you observe/assist in/perform. This not only helps in building your portfolio, but also in going back and reading about the vast variety of cases you must have seen.
- Always ask yourself what could the differential diagnosis be? How would you treat the patient?
- Ask questions! No question is worth not asking, clear your doubts. Remember to not ask too much just for the sake of looking interested, but never shy away from asking, you’d be surprised to see how many doctors would be willing to answer your queries.
- Don’t make up facts and information. If you forgot to ask something in history, admit the mistake, and it’s never too late, you can almost always go back and ask. It’s quite normal to forget when you’re trying to gather a lot of information in a short span of time.
- Check up on the patients from time to time. The first consultation till the time you hand them the discharge papers or refer them to a specialty shouldn’t be the only time you see the patient. Go in between whenever you get a chance, ask them if they feel better, if they need something. Sometimes just by having someone asking their health and mental wellbeing is just what they need.
- Take breaks, drink water and know your limits. Do not overwork yourself. Stretching yourself till you break is not a sign of strength.
- Sleep! Sleep well before every shift. Your sleep cycles will be affected, but sleeping when you can is the best advice you can get.
- Read! Pick your favorite resource and hold onto it. A page of reading every day can go a long way. The IEM book can be a perfect resource that you can refer to even during your shifts! (https://iem-student.org/2019/04/17/download-now-iem-book-ibook-and-pdf/)
- Practice as many practical skills as you can. The ER teaches you more than a book can, and instead of looking at pictures, you can actually learn on the job. Practice ultrasound techniques, suturing, ECG interpretation, see as many radiology images as you can, learn to distinguish between what’s normal and what’s not.
- Last but most important, Enjoy! The ER rotation is usually amongst the best rotations an intern goes through, one where you actually feel like you are a doctor and have an impact on someone’s life! So make the best of it.
If you are a medical student starting your emergency medicine rotation, make sure to read this post for your emergency medicine clerkship, and be a step ahead! https://iem-student.org/2019/10/04/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-em-clerkship/