“Survival Mode” 2

What do you mean by “survival mode”?

Well, once you start residency you need to learn to prioritize things very efficiently. For many of you this will be your first job. This is not the same as being a medical student where no one really cared whether you were around or not. Yes, I realize you did do some weeks of long hours as a medical student, and yes, there was your sub-I where you were “basically an intern”. I am not disregarding your effort… I am just telling you there is no “basically an intern”. You are either an intern or you are not. Binary.

As a medical student you are quite simply… extra. The hospital would still function if you weren’t there. However, as an intern, it won’t function nearly as well in your absence. Inside the hospital as an intern/resident you have a ton of responsibility taking care of patients and generally are just always at a high level of stress. This is all normal. This is your job and your livelihood and you should treat it as such.

For this reason any time outside of the hospital becomes extremely important. It is a luxury and you want to spend it relaxing, not doing menial tasks and running dumb errands.

Here is my basic list of things to do and things you need:

1. Buy Netflix or Hulu or Crunchyroll or whatever service has the things you like to watch. After coming home from Night Float where you will work 12 hour shifts in the dead of night for a few weeks at time you want to turn your brain off so it can recharge. Watch whatever you want, sleep well during the day, get through the next night. Lather, rinse, repeat.

2. Keep a surplus of the “essential goods” you will need in your apartment at all times. Let me give you a better example. You just finished a long day and you happen to live in the Northeast and it’s currently zero degrees outside with a windchill of ANTARCTICA. After you drive home, you pull off your 10 pounds of extra winter clothes and plop on the couch. You get up to get a drink and head to the bathroom… Then you realize…


Don’t let this happen to you. Keep a ton of toilet paper and paper towels in your linen closet. Like I said above, residency is survival mode. Think about it, can you ever really have *too much* toilet paper and paper towels? Just go to Costco or Sam’s club and buy a ton of it… make a fort out of them or something. Other essentials would include soap, dish detergent, and laundry detergent.

3. Keep emergency food around that has a long shelf life. You want to keep easy stuff around that requires zero brain cells to make like hot pockets, pop tarts or cereal. Even things as easy as going to the grocery store just simply require too much effort. Sometimes you don’t even want to pick up fast food on the way home because you just want to get home as soon as possible. Knowing that you have some easy food at home to make is nice to know. When you are coming home from a bad day where you weren’t able to eat… you just want to get home… and you will swear that your pepperoni hot pocket is the ambrosia of the Gods.

  • Remember the “basic needs”: Food/water, shelter, and clothing.
  • Water and shelter come from your apartment. And now you have emergency food. So that leads to:

4. Clothing. This depends on what your specialty is, but I recommend you have enough clothes so that, if necessary, you don’t need to do laundry for 2 weeks. Why two weeks? Simple. For the most part, night float is usually only up to 2 weeks at a time. Some programs are up to 4 weeks at a time and on night float you will mostly be wearing scrubs anyways.

So basically, just make sure you have a TON OF SCRUBS. During my residency I think I had 10 sets of scrubs. This may seem trivial because doing laundry is easy… however, when on night float you are in extreme survival mode. Even if you have your own washer/dryer in your apartment, on some days it will take all your effort just to drag yourself into the shower and then into bed. Doing laundry is the last thing on your mind.

5. Do something outside of the hospital that you enjoy. It really doesn’t matter much what it is. Play tennis. Lift weights. Go running. Play video games. Go shopping. Learn karate. Learn to surf. Take up underwater basket-weaving. What I’m saying is… do something where you’re not a doctor. Basically, when you’re off… just pretend you’re a normal person. You’re just John Smith or Jane Doe… not Dr. Smith or Dr. Doe. It’s ok. Trust me.

That’s it. Those are the 5 basics to the “survival mode” of residency. It’s not pretty, but it’s not supposed to be.

I will devote future posts to “Being a Good Intern” and “Being a Good Resident” and Being a Good Attending”.


1. Get Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll or whatever – pick a couch potato service that you can use to recharge.
2. Buy plenty of essential goods on keep them on hand – paper towels, toilet paper, soap, detergent, etc.
3. Keep emergency food around – stuff with a long shelf life that is good and easy to make.
4. Have ~ 2 weeks of clothing available, which should include scrubs.
5. Do something other than medicine when you’re outside the hospital.



Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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