Late this spring, nearly 20,000 students across the country will graduate from medical school. Diplomas in hand, they will have earned the right to be called “doctor.” But on the pathway to becoming a practicing physician, being awarded your M.D. makes you a doctor in the way turning 18 makes you an adult: You’ve reached an important milestone, yes, but your journey is far from over.
For the vast majority of these medical school graduates, only a few weeks will elapse before they resume their education, as residents training in academic settings like the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education program. They will spend the next three, five, seven or even more grueling years building the knowledge, the wisdom and the experience to prepare them for the practice of medicine. It’s an apprenticeship in complexities and subtleties, in the mundane and the life-and-death, in countless details amassed hour by day by week by year, in taking the extraordinary responsibility for someone’s health and well-being and making it the ordinary business of your everyday life.
“You are a doctor now, and your decisions matter.”
And in a busy place like the University of Virginia Medical Center, that apprenticeship—particularly for first-year residents—is something akin to “drinking from a fire hose,” says Diane Farineau, director of the Graduate Medical Education office, which oversees the residency program. Under the watch of senior residents and attending physicians (doctors who have completed their training), gradually ceded increasing responsibility only as their expertise grows, residents are placed front and center in patient care from their first days on the job.
“It is a fairly steep learning curve,” says Kevin Greer (Res ’17), a third-year resident in anesthesiology. “Medical school prepared me pretty well for the transition, but the responsibilities of being a resident are so different from those of being a med student.”
“There is no more ‘I’m just a student,’” agrees Katie Blackard (Col ’11, Med ’15, Res ’18), a first-year pediatrics resident. “You are a doctor now, and your decisions matter.”