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Cover Focus | Mar/Apr '19

The Wait for Residency

A PGY-1 survival story.

At least I picked a peaceful alarm clock—so soothing, but I know it means business. Without options, my legs respond in a way my mind protests. I run out the door, jog four blocks to the city bus, get to signout on time. “Anything overnight?” yields stories of heart failure, pain meds, inability to get overnight labs, and uncharted bowel movements. Two months left of my intern year. Not that it hasn’t been great. Right? So many memories. But really.

The wait for ophthalmology residency can be painful. You know what you want, you have your interests, you want life to be meaningful. But it’s not quite adding up right now. So, you focus on the patients, enjoy the learning, bond with your fellow interns, and paddle water.

I didn’t do the most during intern year. That article is written by somebody else—or, more likely, about somebody else. But here’s what I did to keep the ophtho fires alive, stay reasonably sane, and survive my intern year.

1. Read 10 pages per day, no matter what. If you’re anything like me, this can come out of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter time budgets. It’s not nothing, but it’s also not a huge commitment. But, after 1 month, you’ve read 300 pages. What to read? In the words of a mentor, “Pick something.”

2. Listen to podcasts. The fact that you can listen to podcasts while doing almost anything else makes them attractive for the neurotic overcommitted overachiever. Favorite non-ophtho podcast: How to Live Like a Hobbit. Trying to live more peacefully, y’all. Favorite ophtho podcasts: listed here.

3. Exercise. Better than SSRIs, but we can’t bill for it.

4. Appreciate the little things. There’s not a lot of time for it, but when I can, I hang out with my wife and friends.

5. Call people. The road is wacky and long. Stay in touch.

6. Check your mental health. After you delete the mandatory online “wellness modules” from your inbox, you will still have moments of “What is this?” “I am no good,” and “This place is no good.” Do not get lost in this cloud for too long. Trade in the stiff white coat for the loose garments of imperfection, avail yourself of abundant resources, confess your shortcomings, and get yourself out.


I hope that this brief sketch provides some structure to succeeding during intern year. If you’re like me, you won’t do everything. Worse, you may do everything and more but act like you just chill at home, secretly mass-producing papers in your basement during your Super Chill transitional year. Bless you! Someone’s got to do it. For the rest of us, keep your eye on the prize, take good care of patients, and stay in touch. Looking forward to PGY-2!

Patrick Commiskey, MD