9 residents on their most challenging interaction with a coworker

By Kristen Fuller, MD | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published June 12, 2023

Key Takeaways

One of the best and worst parts of residency is working alongside different types of coworkers from all walks of life—whether they are your attendings, co-residents, or nurses. Sometimes we become best friends with our coworkers, and other times we have to work through some challenging interactions. I have had disagreements with coworkers while in residency, but I have also made some very close friends; people I still consider friends many years later. 

Whether these challenging interactions consisted of clashing personality types, laziness, egos, habitual slip-ups, or simply a coworker having a bad day, I always remembered that patient care was a priority. Challenging interactions with coworkers are a part of residency—we are all so different in so many ways, and we are put in a pressure cooker to work long and grueling hours while taking on a lot of responsibility for our patients. 

We asked medical residents about their "most challenging interaction with a coworker." Here's what they had to say.

Medical students around a table Medical education is still lacking in certain areas, including nutrition, LGBTQ issues, and more.

An egotistical coworker who was not a team player

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD: "I was working with a senior resident who was undermining my authority, questioning my decisions, and making it difficult to work collaboratively. This behavior is not only frustrating, but it can also have a negative impact on patient care. I dealt with it by addressing the issue directly. I scheduled a time to meet with my coworker privately and calmly expressed my concerns. I made sure to avoid being confrontational or defensive, and instead focused on finding a solution together. I found it important to stand my ground."

"Ultimately, I directed the focus to the ultimate goal of patient care. Putting the patient first is a good framework for any conflict in the medical workplace."

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD

An exhausted physician, wearing a mask and white coat, leans his head against a wall. Recent reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated the already dire circumstances surrounding physician burnout and depression.

Dismissive co-resident during rounds

Jake Jacob, MD: "During my residency, I had a challenging interaction with a coworker who was consistently dismissive of my opinions and input during rounds. I initially tried to ignore the behavior, but it began to affect my confidence and my ability to contribute to patient care. I decided to have a private conversation with my coworker, expressing concerns and asking for feedback on how we could work together more effectively.

"Through open communication and active listening, we were able to establish a mutual understanding and respect for each other's perspectives. It was not an easy conversation, but it ultimately improved our working relationship, allowing us to provide better care for our patients." 

"This taught me the importance of addressing conflicts directly and professionally, and the power of open communication and collaboration in improving patient care."

Jake Jacob, MD

two doctors in hallway sad pensive tired overworked residents residency

Knowing we’re all in this together

Kelechi Acholonu, DO: "The most challenging interaction I have had with a coworker was while working with the emergency medicine resident as a psychiatry resident. Many of the emergency psych patients required a complex approach to care that would often cause disagreements amongst the treating teams."

"Dealing with these heightened interactions is unavoidable, so taking a step back to realize that each member of the team has the same goal to help the patient allows for either party to work together to find solutions, as opposed to opposing one another."

Kelechi Acholonu, DO

Concerned female doctor in meeting

Talking behind my back to my program director

Adelaide Ubah, MD: "The most challenging interaction I had with a coworker was when I was reported to the program director for being an unmotivated and unwilling-to-learn resident. When I found out which coworker reported me, I was hurt, because I really admired said coworker."

"For a long time I had no idea how to deal with the emotions, but I eventually learned to be careful around that coworker in what I said and how I acted."

Adelaide Ubah, MD

 Sad doctor

Other challenging interactions

  • Mihir Upadhyaya, MD: "Everybody is quirky in their own way. Just embrace their quirks. Don’t antagonize people by trying to change them. I’m happy to say I never had more than a mild disagreement with any attending or resident."

  • Ismaeel Bakhsh, MD: "I had a colleague who was going through a tough time with personal matters, to the extent that it was affecting their work performance. I had to confront them, compassionately of course, about how personal matters should stay outside of work, especially in residency while having to deal with patients. I provided them with resources to seek help and told them to take a rest day while I covered for them. Eventually, they were very appreciative and their work performance gradually improved."

  • Chidi Wamuo, MD: "The most challenging interaction I have had is working with a co-resident in a clinic serving underserved communities. We both were burned out and frustrated but having each other to talk to helped foster a sense of camaraderie."

  • Gregory Benn, MD: "The most challenging interaction was working with an individual that was constantly reporting sick on call days. I tried talking to the person about what may be the cause and to find a solution. Eventually, a resolution was reached."

  • Thomas P., DO: "I think attending interactions can always be challenging because of the power dynamic. In the beginning of residency, I’d gotten in the habit of complacency, which ultimately made me feel devalued. However, I learned how to find my voice and defend my decisions in a tactful way. I think the balance of professionalism and aggressiveness is important. I know a few attendings today that have never learned that balance."

Parting thoughts

Residency is not just about working long hours, learning about medicine, and caring for patients at the bedside, it is also about working well with others, even if you do not necessarily see eye to eye.

We spend more time with our coworkers than with our family and friends, so it's not unusual for coworkers to get under our skin. Conflict resolution and learning to play well with others are essential lessons in residency to help us thrive in our careers and in our personal lives outside of work. This often means putting our egos aside, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and having tough conversations with empathy and compassion. 

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!

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