Many a medical show has portrayed the struggles of a medical intern (albeit more dramatically), but you might be wondering: What is it really like?
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Dr. Patrick Wiita, an intern at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, took time out of his hectic schedule to give us a candid snapshot into a day of his intern experience at one of the nation's busiest hospitals.
5 a.m.: Second alarm goes off—the real one this time. I learned to set two alarms to feel I'm sneaking in an extra half hour of sleep. Get out of bed, shower, get dressed. Today it's scrubs because my team is on call.
5:30 a.m.: Drive to work. Luckily it's early so traffic isn't horrendous.
6 a.m.: Park. Head to the 8th floor of L.A. County/USC's main hospital: Pediatrics. Search desperately for valuable computer time. Print out my patient list. Come back from the printer to see my computer already hijacked. Find another computer. My senior resident reminds me that, thanks to confusing recent residency work hour changes, my co-intern won't arrive until 8 p.m.—so I now get to see all of his patients this morning, too.
6:30 a.m.: Seeing patients. Surprisingly, kids don't like to be woken up at 6:30. They are not happy to see me. Happily, they're all fine (for now).
7 a.m.: Morning Report. Well, first, grab breakfast. Last night's on-call team presents two clinical cases for discussion. The first case is a 12-year-old girl with a seizure disorder whom they suspect has psychogenic seizures. As an intern eventually specializing in psychiatry, my interest is piqued.
8 a.m.: Grand Rounds. Today it's on Fetal Alcohol Disorders, presented by one of our Developmental Pediatrics specialists. As a psychiatry intern on Pediatrics for two months, I'm still enjoying the department's teaching.
9 a.m.: Rounds! I meet our supervising attending and medical students up on the 8th floor; we see our patients, formulate plans, and write orders. One of the students gives us a presentation on antiepileptic medications and also brought cake.
10 a.m.: Time to write progress notes for our patients. We discuss overnight events, document our exams, and discuss plans for today and tomorrow.
11:30 a.m.: We get a call that one of our patients, recently diagnosed with leukemia, who we saw playing video games in the playroom just 20 minutes ago, is now unresponsive and in respiratory distress. We push IV antiepileptics and start manual ventilation while transferring him to the Pediatric ICU.
12 p.m.: Family meeting for a teenager with cerebral palsy. He needs his nutrition through a feeding tube but he's not tolerating the feeds anymore. Our Palliative Care specialist joins us to discuss prognosis.
1:30 p.m.: Lunch. I just finish my cup of coffee as my pager goes off.
2:30 p.m.: Three new ER admissions: a toddler with a probable genetic disorder refusing to eat, a grade-schooler with his first asthma attack, and a teenage girl with likely appendicitis. My senior resident takes the appendicitis case and I supervise the medical students seeing the other two.
3:30 p.m.: Finally done seeing the screeching toddler and ordering studies with one medical student, move on to the asthma case with my other student.
4:30 p.m.: Documentation time. The other interns have gone home but today it's my turn to wait to hand off my team's patients to the night intern. At least now I have my pick of computers in the workroom.
6:30 p.m.: Done with charting and requesting consultations. Update the patient list so it's ready when my co-intern arrives at 8.
7:30 p.m.: Drive home. Tonight it's drive-thru food for dinner.
8:15-9:15 p.m.: Watching TV while eating drive-thru tacos.
10:15 p.m.: Bed. Get to wake up at 5 a.m. tomorrow and do it all over again.
Medical school and residency can feel hectic at times, but many graduates describe the process as transformative. Knowing what it's like to walk in an intern's shoes for a day is important in making a decision on whether medicine is the best fit for you.
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Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.