Debunking 5 common residency misconceptions

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published March 15, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Residents face a variety of clinical and nonclinical challenges, but the perception of some of these challenges may be overblown or completely untrue.

  • Residents are typically pressed for time, but it is possible to maintain the quality of personal relationships by scheduling and committing to phone calls and video chats with loved ones.

  • Although some may view family medicine as an “easy” specialty, family physicians are knowledgeable and skilled in their discipline, and their services are much needed.

Medical residents juggle many weighty challenges. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance, racing the clock to complete important tasks, dealing with the fear of making a mistake, and navigating considerable stressors are just a few named in a 2018 article published by the American Medical Association (AMA).[]

In addition, residents may have some misconceptions about the fields they’ve worked so hard to enter. Whether you’re fearful of losing your wellness routine, close relationships, or personal time to a discipline that may push you to your limits, it’s important to do some research first. There are a few myths about residencies that may impact your perceptions.

Myth No. 1: Self-care is impossible

If you think that the nature of residency leaves little room for exercise routines, regular sleep schedules, and specific dietary patterns, you’re not alone. According to an article about first-year residency written by Ajibike Lapite, MD, MPHTM, published by Wolters Kluwer,[] this is a common misconception.

But the truth is that with enough discipline, there’s no reason why you can’t squeeze in an hour of daily exercise. The price you pay may be waking up earlier than you’d like to or sacrificing a happy hour every now and then, but it’s not impossible. 

On top of that, if you’re worried about the constant access you may have to foods like donuts and bagels in the break room, remember that you have agency. You can decide whether to partake or draw boundaries around how often you do.

You may also benefit from pursuing a new idea of wellness when you start residency—one that accounts for the intense schedules and daily tasks of trainee physicians. Residents are under a real time crunch, and maintaining wellness may certainly be a challenge, but not an impossibility.

Related: How can medical residents strike the best work-life balance?

Myth No. 2: Relationships aren't feasible

Another myth Lapite touches on in her article is the idea that residents simply don’t have the time or energy to keep up with relationships.

While it’s true that your busy schedule may transform communication habits with loved ones, it’s certainly not a death sentence for your close relationships.

Keep in mind that less interaction with loved ones doesn’t always lead to poor quality connections. In fact, the communication that you do have during residency may be more fulfilling, albeit less frequent.

The goal here is to set realistic expectations for what you can handle. If sending daily texts to your entire family and friend group isn’t doable, scheduling phone calls and video chats a few times a month could be exactly what you need to maintain your close relationships. 

Related: How to maintain personal relationships during residency

Myth No. 3: Mental health bias doesn’t affect psychiatrists

In addition to myths about work-balance and well-being, other misperceptions pertain to specialties you may wish to pursue. Psychiatry is one of these.

Despite all of the training that psychiatrists receive, many will likely struggle with internal biases and stigma associated with mental illnesses among patients.

In a separate article published by the AMA, Karen Miotto, MD, psychiatrist and interim director of the Behavioral Wellness Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote on this subject.[]

“Being a psychiatrist doesn’t make you immune to bias,” Dr. Miotto remarked. 

Ideally, trainee psychiatrists will find common ground with their patients in humanity and compassion, which will help mitigate the "us vs them" mentality they may have held early on.

Myth No. 4: Neurology isn’t worth the complexity

Residents may feel that neurology is just too complicated for a specialty, and some programs may lack the ability to offer trainee physicians an 8-week clerkship. However, residents can find inspiration in the blossoming subspecialties within neurology—of which there are at least 28.

Rachel Salas, MD, a sleep neurologist and core clinical clerkship director at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, urged residents to consider the possibilities of a career in neurology in the aforementioned 2019 AMA article.

“We can cure certain neurological disorders,” she wrote. “There’s just more things that we can offer our patients than we used to and neurology really gives people many options where you can build relationships with patients.”

Between neurological palliative care, neurological geriatric care, and curing neurological disorders, there’s a wide range of opportunities in the practice of neurology. 

Myth No. 5: Family medicine requires fewer skills

To some trainee physicians, family medicine may seem like an easier profession. This misconception is especially harmful because it could lead to a major decrease in the number of family physicians, according to a systematic review published by the BMJ.[]

In truth, family medicine has its own set of important skills and knowledge. If you are a student looking to build a career in family medicine, don’t let this particular bias steer you away. Your work is crucial—don’t underestimate it.

What this means for you

Trainee physicians are tasked with navigating a number of challenges. They may also struggle with misconceptions about their field, or with changes in their relationships and wellness routines. While wellness may be harder to achieve due to long shifts and disrupted sleep schedules, with a little discipline, you can still engage in regular exercise and maintain healthy eating habits.  

Even though you may have less time for relationships, that doesn’t mean your connections have to suffer. Be sure to carve out time for scheduled video chats and calls with the people who are meaningful to you. Finally, talk to doctors who are already practicing in the field or specialty you are considering. They are best able to confirm or refute any rumors you may have heard. 

Read Next: Preventing and managing burnout as a resident
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