12 Lessons from 12 Months as a Medical Intern in Trinidad

12 Lessons from 12 Months as a Medical Intern in Trinidad

On July 1st, 2019, I embarked on the year that I had been dreading since I learnt the true meaning of the words “medical intern” in my third year of medical school. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I loved every moment of the past year, I did learn substantially over these months. It was a long, hard, and mind-numbingly tiring year but as with all experiences, reflection is key to further growth.

The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates

Here are the lessons I learnt.

1. Organization is essential

We all know that on some level, being organized can lead to clarity when things get overwhelming and higher levels of productivity. I understand that not everyone is inclined to be more organized, but it did make my daily life easier. I share how I stayed organized during my medical internship here.

2. Procrastination isn’t worth it

We can all agree that procrastination greets us whenever we don’t want to do something. Theoretically, we know that we should just do the thing and get it over with. Overcoming procrastination begins with recognizing the pattern of resistance that comes up within us when we are faced with a task that we don’t want to do. Once we see this resistance clearly, we can imagine the unfavorable consequences for our future self. Examining when we procrastinate and why can help us to be successful in overcoming the habit over time.

3. Coping mechanisms must be evaluated

It is imperative to evaluate how we deal with overwhelming situations as these habits and practices over time can morph into either healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, at the beginning of my internship, I would shut down when I felt overwhelmed. I would engage in unhealthy mental dialogues or procrastinate. These mechanisms only made things worse. Over the first few weeks I realized that I could employ the following simple strategies instead:

  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Organize my to-do list based on priority. This meant, finding out from my team the urgent tasks and doing those first.
  • Mitigating overwhelming situations by being prepared. This would involve arriving early to work to get a head start on outstanding lab results and ordering medications, especially for sick patients.

We have to know and be honest with ourselves about how we cope. Do we overeat, smoke, procrastinate, or shut down? By looking at our coping strategies, we can help ourselves to change maladaptive habits and implement healthy ones.

4. Don’t contribute to the near non-existent work ethic in Trinidad

This is a pill that may be hard to swallow for some of us. The “relaxed island mentality” is widespread and is benefiting no one. No one should have to beg anyone to do the job that they are getting paid for. As a working member of any institution, if we all come to work and do good work then all facets of the institution will function adequately. I learnt that if we succumb to this ‘halfway-work’ mentality, we are not contributing positively and therefore are not able to serve patients to the best of our ability.

5. Cultivate self-awareness

Know Thyself — Socrates

Being self-aware means that you know your strengths, weaknesses, coping mechanisms, likes, and dislikes. Benefits of cultivating self-awareness include:

  • We acknowledge the areas in our lives that we need to improve and can implement habits to effect positive change.
  • We can work better in teams as we know our strengths and weaknesses.
  • We can make smarter decisions

6. Remember to self-reflect

Self-reflection is the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and to attempt to learn more about their fundamental nature and essence. — Wikipedia

Every situation may not inherently contain a lesson to be learnt but if we don’t reflect, we may repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Self-reflection specifically after challenging situations can ensure that we act confidently and efficiently in future circumstances.

7. Investigate your insecurities

By investigating our insecurities we begin to delve into our fears. This requires us to ask ‘why’ repeatedly and openly. To recognize and eventually overcome these insecurities is a part of our internal evolution. It is not that through introspection, these fears will suddenly disappear, but we can be aware of aspects of ourselves that are preventing us from achieving our goals and thus seek out ways to better ourselves.

8. Be honest with yourself

A part of learning and growing is having the courage to no longer believe in the delusions we tell ourselves to feel better on the surface. The more honest we are with ourselves, the more we have to offer — ourselves and those around us.

9. Follow your curiosity

During the parts of the internship that I was not trying to catch up on sleep i.e 5% of the time, I delved back into my interests — card-making, paper-crafting, journaling, and writing. Engaging in these creative activities is where I feel 100% at home and it is great to have the time to do these things.

10. Avoid forming hasty conclusions

One of the mind’s habits is to interpret and solidify our experiences in the form of thoughts. While this can be beneficial in select situations, forming hasty conclusions meant that I wasn’t investigating the nature of my thoughts. By looking a little deeper into these circumstances, I was able to understand a bit more than what was being presented on the surface. This comes into play when we form judgments about others without knowing their background and story. By being aware of when we do this, we can become more open and compassionate towards others in our daily interactions.

11. Stay true to your truth

I went back on forth trying to figure out if I should include this here. But then I realized that it was a big part of my journey over the past year and it is a part of my story. In my experience, people are neither here nor there about someone being an atheist — until that person starts speaking about their atheism. Then, things begin to change — suddenly you need prayer and saving. Being a non-believer has helped me to dig deep and investigate various aspects of daily life and over the past year, I’ve learnt to understand and be more open to what comes my way. I am also learning that being understanding doesn’t necessarily mean that I should silence my views and opinions.

12. Feelings are not facts

It was my second day as an intern and I was on call. This means that myself and another intern were responsible for any issues that arose on the wards from 4 pm to 12 midnight. By 6 pm that day, I was already overwhelmed with calls and tasks that had to be done. I cried all the way home after that call. I told my partner and family members that I was going to quit because there is no way on this earth that I could get through this. Turns out, however, that Rupaul was right: feelings are not facts. They are transient experiences that don’t have to define us permanently. If I listened to my thoughts and feelings after my first month of internship, I would not be able to share these lessons with you today.