Congratulations, residents! We’ve made it through the first quarter of optometry residency and what an incredible journey it has been so far. I think I can speak for most people when I say that the learning has been exponential and our confidence levels are on the rise. As we continue to navigate this unchartered territory, here are a few tips that will help turn your experience from good to great!
Here are some tips to shine in your optometry residency
1. Get oriented
Whether you moved to a new location for your residency or continued in the same one, learning how to navigate your surroundings will help you tremendously during the year. Efficiency is key when you encounter those complex cases that need a battery of testing and referrals. So, if you haven’t already, explore the clinic(s) and figure out where all the auxiliary equipment resides.
It’s always a good idea to map out the entire building even if you’ve already had a formal orientation. Let’s face it, we were all too busy that first week trying to figure out the EMR system to remember exactly where everything is located.
During my first few days, in building with a foreign layout, I had difficulty navigating the area. Soon I realized that it was interfering with my efficiency in patient care. So I set aside some time to talk to the staff and my supervisors. With their recommendation, I took a tour of all the floors to orient myself with resources that I may need during an exam. My exams began to run more smoothly and I was able to expand my schedule to help more patients.
2. Develop a good work ethic
After the first quarter, it’s no secret that the learning curve from optometry school to residency is steep. There are days that have run into 12 hour workdays and weekends when you find yourself working from home. Now, granted that these long hours may be in part because of the transition, still, I anticipate that this work environment is not temporary. So what additional measures do we take to maximize our efficiency?
It’s a tale as old as time that learning to manage your time will keep you sane. Residency is demanding, there’s no doubt about it, but making a weekly plan can help you stay organized.
Be prepared for patient care by reviewing charts. This way, you are familiar with the history, can perform all the necessary testing, and will be able to finish charting in the time allocated. Take advantage of the home-access system for your EMR. For me, this was a game changer because even if I had no information about the patient, based on the age and demographics, I was able to prepare myself for certain expectations. Finally, set up regular appointments to meet with your supervisor so you can talk about your progress, areas where you are struggling, and goals you hope to accomplish in the weeks to come.
3. Set modifiable goals
Before the first quarter, we may have set goals about what we wanted out of the residency. For me, it was to maximize patient exposure and learn a plethora of new vision therapy techniques. By the end of the first quarter, you can get a sense of what you did well and what you still hope to accomplish.
Did you take time to make sure you were working towards those goals? Did you ask for help when you realized that you were struggling to meet them? The answers to these questions will help you hold yourself accountable in the next few quarters. Goals change over time, so setting them up for the short term works to your benefit in the long term. It makes you more disciplined as you realize a deadline is approaching. Make your goals realistic, meaning that don’t expect to master all the skills in your residency program in a matter of days so spread them out to be accomplished over time.
4. Stay open minded
In school, you have been exposed to a certain way of thinking, but in your residency program, stay open-minded to different teaching philosophies. Patients come from different backgrounds and want choices when it comes to their treatment plans. It is your job to recognize all the options available and make a decision that fits with their diagnoses and lifestyles.
I realized that learning about structural and behavioral optometry will help me incorporate a holistic approach to patient care. I encourage you to learn from doctors in your surroundings with an open mind so you can figure out multiple ways to solve a problem.
Remember, we cannot simply rely on what we learned in school, because the evidence is constantly changing.
5. Ask for help
When we graduated from school, we were ready to tackle “the real world” and provide standard of care for our patients. Now, we find ourselves in a specialty program where every case is complex and every patient has a diagnosis. Because of the sheer volume of knowledge required to tackle some of these cases, there will undoubtedly be times when we have to ask for help.
It is inevitable to feel vulnerable as a new doctor in a specialty with multiple experts, and there will be times when it’s easy to feel low about your skill set. During that time, remember that the experts were in your shoes not too long ago, so they understand your concerns. You will find that these experts are often eager to help.
The concept of “fake it till you make it” doesn’t really apply when you are actually in patient care. While you should maintain a certain level of confidence in the exam room, you need to be open and willing to ask for help or else you’re doing your patient a disservice. As you go through new cases in the next few months, anticipate questions and browse the literature for answers. If you still have questions, ask for help when you need it.
6. Get to know your fellow residents
If you are lucky enough to have other residents at your site, get to know them! These people will be your support system and shoulder to lean when you’re staying in clinic for 12-hour workdays. You are all going through a similar environment change and they probably need you as much as you need them!
You will likely have residents that are from different parts of the country, who have been exposed to different learning styles, so take the opportunity to learn from each other. Travel to conferences and local meetings together. Expanding your network can only benefit you during your years in practice.
7. Accept criticism
This is never easy. Even the most self-aware person can have a hard time maintaining composure during a critique. The trick to turning criticism to your advantage is to remove the personal aspect from the professional.
Easier said than done, but resist the urge to become defensive. When a supervisor, mentor, or even a patient critiques you take it as a learning opportunity for self improvement. You want to be aware of your weaknesses now so that you have ample time to work on improving them.
If you are in a residency program that is in a different part of the country than where you are from, be aware that people handle situations differently. Be sure to adopt an open-minded attitude. Learning how to interact with people from different backgrounds in difficult situations will help you grow tremendously as a person and a doctor.
8. Reflect on your cases
In your residency, you will exposed to a wide variety of cases and, at times, your goal will be to just get through them. I would advise you to take a step up back and move away from the mentality of making it through the day. Learning will only happen when you take time to reflect on the cases that you see, analyze them, and figure out how you would approach them differently the next time around.
Ask your fellow residents and your mentors about how they would have handled the case. Knowledge is power and it can only be retained if you take the time to consolidate it.
9. Maintain a balance
This may seem obvious, but it is easy to overlook when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done. If you follow tip # 2, it will help you create space to do activities that focus on your physical and mental health.
Yes, residency is important and you want to gain as much knowledge as possible, but in order to maintain a positive attitude through the days, you need to take a break. So, put on those running shoes and jog through a park, go to a movie and laugh with your co-residents, or spend a night away from the computer and get a refreshing cocktail with a friend. Whatever your cup of tea, remind yourself to pay attention to your overall well-being.