How To Support Someone In Medical Residency

Whether you’re a family member or close friend of a medical resident, you may be wondering what type of support they really need. What’s the training process all about? Is it really that grueling? Do they actually need all that time to themselves? How do you even begin to support someone in medical residency?

If you’re interested in learning more about how to better support that medical resident in your life, from understanding what your resident needs to interpreting how they’re behaving to knowing what you can do to show your support, this article is for you! 

Here are 6 ways you can support someone in medical residency from near or far: 

Let Them Rest 

Research shows that mental fatigue leads to physical fatigue. If you were around during medical school, you probably saw this then, but it gets worse in residency. Constantly managing different rotations, new relationships, and above all, learning so many new things- it’s a wonder they can keep their eyes open outside of the hospital at all. 

It’s completely understandable that you want to hear all about everything happening with your loved one. What they’re doing. How they’re doing. All the good stories.  As much as you may want to hear from them, respect their space and let them take the lead. It may be tempting to push or get angry when they’re not answering the phone; however, try to keep in mind they are likely resting because they finally have a chance to shut down. 

If your loved one lives with you, be thankful they feel like they have a safe & comfortable place to lay their head and settle their mind. If your loved one is across the country, they’ll let you know when they can talk. If you absolutely can’t handle being out of touch, send a quick text to let them know you’re thinking about them. They’ll connect with you when they have time.

Come to terms with holidays and special events

For the loved ones of physicians, it’s a difficult pill to swallow that the doctor in our lives won’t be able to make it to some holidays and major life events. It’s an unfortunate reality that comes with all medical training and many full-time physician jobs. 

Although you may miss them dearly and/or haven’t seen them in some time, try to show support vs. making them feel guilty for their absence. Believe us when we say they feel as bad about it as you do. It’s best to take the viewpoint that they are helping others who truly need their healing hands. The “we miss you” and “why can’t you visit” and “wish you could make it” are ways to make your loved one feel guilty. Taking a step back, making plans to see them soon, and inquiring about their day will make them feel less guilt and more support for their work and their goals. 

understand their partner’s role

If your physician loved one is married or has a partner, it’s important for in-laws and extended family to understand the spouse or partner plays a huge supporting role in the success of their residency. Because of this, their time together outside the hospital will be fiercely protected. 

Lives may be overscheduled, therefore, spouses/partners take great care to ensure they’re not so overscheduled that there’s not enough downtime for rest and time spent with the family. Rarely, anyone outside of the immediate family will take priority. No matter how fun the party sounds, they will always put the health of their family, especially the physician in the family, first.

If you’re an in-law, cousin, or even close friend, try to take an understanding approach to this. It may seem like your declined invitations are because they don’t want to spend time with you, but don’t take it personally. It’s most likely because the family needs some down-time, together. 

Save The Big Medical Questions For Your Own Doctor

There are definite advantages to having a doctor in the house.  Stitches don’t always require a trip to the ER. Prescription dosages for ibuprofen are a fingertip away. Metal tools to help with small tasks can be found in most drawers. Take it from ER physician, Greg Gafni-Pappas, in “Ground Rules To Ask Your Doctor Friend For Advice” on how doctors feel about being asked medical questions: 

“I am always cautious when helping friends or family. I want the best for them, but I do not always have the ability to examine them, or even the expertise to guide them perfectly. I do my best to give any information that can help them make a better decision. But I’m not always correct, and you should know that.”

Dr. Greg Gafni-Pappas, Medium.com

It’s better to err on the side of caution and speak with your own doctor. If something happens to you because of an unfortunate misdiagnosis, your loved one must live with that for the rest of their life. Also, just don’t be that person- how often would you like to be asked for professional advice outside of your workday?

Don’t Ask For Prescriptions

Although it may not sound like a real way to support someone in medical residency, refraining from asking for these favors keeps your loved one out of a very uncomfortable position (and potential legal trouble).

As a physician, federal and state regulations differ when it comes to prescribing medications to yourself and to friends/family. The AMA Journal of Ethics states that except in emergencies, it is not appropriate for physicians to write prescriptions for controlled substances for themselves or immediate family members. The DEA takes a similar stance. 

It’s safe to say, in order to keep legal issues from arising, prescribing to friends and family shouldn’t be done. Don’t put your loved one in that position by even asking. If you’re around when they’re asked to prescribe medications to another family member or friend, act as their advocate and vocally support their decision to say ‘no’.

Send them some love

On a much lighter note, getting care packages in residency is the absolute best. Gone are the days where assembling and delivering them requires all the effort of packing popcorn, boxing, and a trip to the post office. Now there are options that make a “just thinking of you” gift just a click away. If you need some ideas, check out these 10 Great Presents for the Medical Residents

They really just like to know that someone is thinking about them while things are rough, so grab your phone and have something shipped through Amazon. It’s as simple as that. 

Supporting your loved one through medical residency is easy if you put their needs first. Show them you care by understanding their purpose and minimizing their feelings of guilt for their time away from family and friends. Things will let up when they’re finished with training. For now, practice patience and be willing to let things go.

  • Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

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