7 residents on how to build trusting relationships with colleagues

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Published September 4, 2023

Key Takeaways

As children, we tend to make friends easily, partially because we spend most of our days in school with other children our age. Residency is one of the final times we will be surrounded by age-appropriate, like-minded individuals who share similar goals. And once residency is finished, it becomes challenging to build strong and trusting friendships from scratch.

Although the primary goal of residency is medical training, it is also a time we can sharpen our communication skills with our patients, co-residents, and attendings, and build long-lasting mentorships and friendships. Personally, I wish I had devoted more time and mindfulness to forging more trusting relationships with my peers during residency.

We asked medical residents about how they “build trusting relationships with co-residents and attendings.” Here’s what they had to say.

Proud young doctors/medical professionals

Practice honesty and reliability

Carla Saoud, MD: “Maintain open and honest communication with your co-residents and attendings. Be transparent about the knowledge, limitations, and concerns. Actively listen to others, provide constructive feedback, and address any conflicts or misunderstandings promptly and respectfully.

“Be reliable and fulfill your commitments and responsibilities. Follow through on tasks, deadlines, and agreements. Take ownership of your actions and learn from any mistakes or shortcomings—demonstrating reliability and accountability builds trust."

"Foster a collaborative atmosphere where ideas and perspectives are valued, and support your colleagues and attendings, offering assistance when needed."

Carla Saoud, MD

Doctors supporting each other

Lessen others’ burdens

Olivia Sutton, MD: “Simply be a good colleague. Take somebody's call if they have something going on, support their needs, consent their patients for procedures if you're free and they're in a case. 

"Basically, just try to take work off of somebody else's plate when you can."

Olivia Sutton, MD

two doctors talking support collaboration residents

Value their perspectives 

Jake Jacob, MD: “Fostering trusting relationships with my co-residents and attendings has been paramount in creating a supportive and collaborative work environment. One approach I found effective is actively listening and valuing the perspectives of my colleagues.

"By acknowledging their expertise and opinions, I demonstrate respect and create an atmosphere where everyone's input is valued. I make an effort to engage in open and constructive communication, seeking feedback and offering support when needed.”

"Building trust also involves displaying reliability and accountability. By demonstrating a strong work ethic and taking ownership of my actions, I establish trust and credibility among my colleagues."

Jake Jacob, MD

male physician Burnout among oncologists overwhelmed

Don't be afraid to show vulnerability

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD: “Fostering a trusting relationship with co-residents and attendings is fundamental to a successful residency experience. One approach I've adopted is allowing myself to be vulnerable. This means being open about my strengths and weaknesses, and not being afraid to ask for help or admit when I don't know something."

"I've found that this vulnerability fosters an environment of mutual trust and respect, as it shows my commitment to learning and growth."

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD

walking Americans health

Other ways to foster trust

  • Kelechi Acholonu, DO: “I like to find ways to connect outside of work by doing activities that foster new connections, like gaming, exercise, outdoor activities, and so on.”

  • Vasudha Kota, MD: “Mentorship meetings, gatherings for special occasions, and seeking career guidance from attendings and older residents.” 

  • Nikhila G, MD: “Taking time to understand your colleagues and their working style—understanding personal preferences helps build relationships.”

Parting thoughts

In medical school and residency, we are under so much pressure to perform well that we can forget about the importance of building meaningful and trusting relationships with our colleagues. Residency may be the last time in our lives to be in a learning environment surrounded by other learners with similar goals, so it is important to make the time and energy to build these positive relationships—even if we are exhausted and stressed. Remember, they are almost certainly as tired as you are. 

Every medical resident has a question to ask and a story to tell—a comical moment, a prickly patient encounter, or a hack for staying sane during residency. We survey medical trainees for their best questions and answers and bring them to you in this column. Engaging, enlightening, and entertaining—from resident to resident!

Read Next: 9 residents on what inspired them to choose their residency specialty
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