Surviving Your 24-Hour Shift In Medical School

Kristy Crowley - Mar 16, 2018


U.S. medical students who are soon graduating and have successfully matched into residency programs are anticipating new challenges, including the recently reinstated 24-hour shift. But fear not! Although the time stamp seems intimidating, it’s imperative for future residents to keep calm and not panic. Here are five suggestions from the AMBOSS team on how to manage this challenge with ease: 

Build professional but meaningful relationships during your 24-hour shift. 

You will be spending a lot of time with your colleagues. It’s your chance to build strong relationship with these individuals, especially since you will be working with them for 3 or more years. Building these meaningful and lasting relationships will help you navigate more easily through stressful situations and fosters interpersonal communication skills. And don’t overlook the expertise of the nurses and techs – these are the people that have tons of experience and can help first-year residents navigate this new challenge. Gain insight from them - they have plenty.

Put the patient first.

It’s important to remember that the person behind that scalpel you’re holding is not just patient #18 of the day, but a human being. A crucial component of being a good physician is showing humility. Find out who the patient is before jumping right into their Vital Sign check. Where are they from? What do they like to do in their spare time? Questions as simple as these can ease a patient’s mind before a difficult procedure and show that you care about them, not just from a doctor’s standpoint, but also on a personal level. 

Practice self care during your shift. 

Don’t fear the nap! After your long call, catch up on some much needed sleep. To be at the top of your game from the moment you arrive at the hospital until the time you leave, it’s important to be fully refreshed and to have a clear mind that only a good rest can provide. Also, be aware of what you’re feeding your body. While your go-to drink may be caffeinated beverages, it is important to stay hydrated on the wards. Staying hydrated provides that extra boost of energy needed to provide the best care for every patient encounter. This, coupled with healthy snacks, will keep you going, so don’t forget to load your backpack with veggies, nuts and granola. It’s the small things that make the biggest difference in not just making it through your 24-hour shift, but thriving.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

One of the most valuable things a resident physician can do is to admit that they just don’t know something. You don’t need to have all of the answers; that’s why you are there – to further enhance your skills and understanding. It’s better to be honest and admit to those around you that you don’t know, instead of trying to make something up. It shows a lot of integrity to your attending when you admit you are truly stumped about something, and they will most likely respect you more for having the genuine candor to express when you need their help. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

You are here for a reason, and while residency can be tough, it is important to keep reminding yourself of three things: 1) Make every patient encounter special. Listen to your patients and help make their life better; 2) Learn from other doctors and nurses on how to best take care of people; and 3) It gets better. It will not always be like this. Keep going one day at a time and focus on the things under your control. 

Yes, long calls are daunting, but challenges like these push medical students and residents to become the best physicians they can be. Regardless of whether these shifts are a permanent part of your specialty or a temporary portion of your career in medicine, revert back to these tips to help you survive your first long call, and those to follow.