7 residents share their biggest fears about practicing medicine after residency

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Published October 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

Although challenging and exhausting, residency is a safety net to catch you when you fall. It's a period where you are encouraged to learn from your mistakes, ask questions, and figure out what you want (and don’t want) out of your medical career, always with a team of co-residents and attendings who have your back. 

I couldn’t wait to be done when I first started residency, mainly because I wanted more sleep and downtime. However, the closer I came to the end, the more I realized what an immense opportunity and privilege it was.

Once residency is finished, you’ll have to figure out contracts, negotiations, and malpractice insurance; you won’t have attendings who will have your back when you make a mistake, and you won’t have a team of co-residents who are always around to bounce ideas off of—and the list goes on.

We asked residents, “What scares you the most about practicing medicine after residency?” Here's what they had to say.

worried resident

The burden of responsibility 

Jake Jacob, MD: “Right now, there's always a more experienced doctor around to guide me and check my decisions. But when I'm on my own, the weight of making critical calls falls solely on my shoulders? That's scary. What if I mess up and it affects someone's life? That fear of making a wrong call is like a constant shadow. 

“Another thing that gives me the shivers is the unpredictable nature of medicine. Every patient is different, and even the same disease can act differently in different people. It's like playing detective with people's health, and sometimes the answers aren't clear.”

"Despite all these worries, I'm also excited. It's like stepping into the unknown with a mix of fear and anticipation, and that's what keeps me going."

Jake Jacob, MD

resident with patient

The lack of supervision

Abeeha Naqvi, MD: “Transitioning into unsupervised medicine and making final decisions on my own scares me the most. However, with all my training and experience so far, I can apply all of what I've learned to make the best decision I can for my patients.”

"I hope I am comfortable enough to always ask for help from my colleagues in the future."

Abeeha Naqvi, MD

two doctors working in a lab

Wondering if I’m on the right path

Christina Pedro, MD, MBA: “The greatest fear about practicing medicine after residency is planning and following my clinical medicine roadmap. My first goal is to be the best clinician in a structured organization. However, I'd like to venture out and create my own private practice and be a pioneer in improving women's healthcare access. I have so many project ideas and interests, and fear that I won't be able to complete it within a doable time frame.”

"There is so much to know and learn about that I hope I make the right informed decisions to prevent trial and error mistakes."

Christina Pedro, MD, MBA

resident writing planning

Other post-residency fears

  • Boyer Bran, MD: “Being 100% accountable for your actions.”

  • Mark Winfield, MD: “Working independently at a small hospital on my own without specialty support.”

  • Ravi Patel, MD: “I worry about working for the RVUs and not working for the patients.”

  • James Skinner, MD: “Applying for fellowships and potentially not getting matched.”

Parting thoughts

Finishing residency is a bittersweet feeling. Saying goodbye to my continuity clinic patients, leaving a place I grew to know and love over 3 years, and leaving my co-residents and attendings made me nervous for the future, but I remembered to focus on what I had learned and the memories I had created during training.

I learned about humility, loss, and grace from my patients in residency. I remember feeling exhilarated and frightened—exhilarated to begin the next step and frightened to grasp how much more I needed to learn and grow. We will always have more to learn, as working in medicine is a constant learning process. However, understand that the best we have to offer to our patients is a desire for continued growth. 

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: 7 residents share coping mechanisms for interacting with overly critical coworkers

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