10 Signs You're an Intern

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

1. 2 Days off in a row = Vacation!
In high school, I looked forward to winter break, spring break, and summer break. In undergraduate, it was the two weeks off over winter break and the week off between quarters. Anything short of a week off felt like barely time to catch your breath – definitely not a vacation. As a medical student, there was still winter break and most bank holidays. Now, as an intern, any time there are two days off in a row, what most of the rest of my non-medicine peers would simply call “the weekend” constitutes the most luxurious vacation.

2. You’ve fallen asleep, scrubs on, on top of your comforter, at least once.
Sometimes changing out of what really are fairly clean scrubs (or so you tell yourself) just seems like too much work. They feel just like pajamas anyways.
3. When you close your eyes, all you see is an infinite series of check boxes.
Organization is key for surviving intern year. If you do not have a systematic approach to your day, important tasks will fall through the cracks. You spend your day intensely focused on making sure Mr. Jones has his diabetic renal diet, Ms. Smith received her TED hose, and Mr. Jones really will get his MRI tonight (because you’ve called radiology three times today and it’s only 10am). As an intern, it’s not so much that we lose the forest for the trees, but that we lose the forest for the leaves. With so many sometimes inane details, it can be hard to keep the big picture in mind. More than once, I have had the experience on morning rounds of starting off my presentation, “Ms. Smith is a 62yo woman with hypertension and hyperlipidemia, here for . . .” and then done this mental scramble of why is she here, again? I attribute this to a combination too many details and too little sleep.
4. Pizza makes up a far too significant part of your diet.
Although I appreciate the free meals provided by whatever service I happen to be on – really, I do – does it need to be pizza, again? Besides, given the obesity epidemic, shouldn’t we be encouraging a variety of healthy-ish options? I don’t think pizza every other day qualifies as variety. Even if you get different kinds of pizza each day. And yet, we interns continue to eat it. I’ve noticed more R2s and R3s going to the cafeteria for lunch or even bringing their own. This seems wise. Maybe it can be a goal for next year. . .
5. You worked Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s.
No joke. This was my schedule this year, and I’m sure I am not alone. On Thanksgiving, my attending remarked that it was better to be a physician in the hospital for the holidays than a patient. I tried to keep this in mind, although I admit when the alarm went off at 5am on Christmas, I was not filled with holiday cheer.
6. You wonder, at least once a day, “Isn’t this someone else’s job?”
I will preface this brief rant by saying most everyone in the hospital is very hard working – the majority are overworked and underpaid. No one more so, than social workers. A skilled, committed social worker is a true gift to the team. That being said. . . One day I had a patient admitted for glossopharyngeal neuralgia – an extremely painful condition that involves sporadic burning or shock-like pain in the distribution of the glossopharyngeal nerve, which essentially meant he couldn’t eat, drink or talk because of all the pain he was in. When I had seen him in the morning, he was literally writhing in pain, and we were having trouble managing his level of discomfort. Later that morning, when I met with the team of social workers they asked when the patient would be discharged.
“By this weekend, I hope,” I said, feeling less than confident.
“Does he have a ride home?”
“Umm. . . I don’t know. That wasn’t exactly the topic of conversation this morning – this morning he could barely speak.”
“Could you check with him and make sure he has a ride?”
I added it to the checklist, but not without wondering, isn’t this someone else’s job? Like yours?
7. You’ve had to fend off the family consult. 
I appreciate my relatives’ confidence in my medical training, which, in their eyes has made me able to diagnose and manage any ailment in a single glance. Nothing like the “What do you think this mole is?” or “I’ve been having this chronic chest pain” or, the one sure to make you a family favorite, “So do you think your aunt is really crazy” over the family dinner table to inspire one to set very firm boundaries about medical advice. Although I feel mostly flattered, my response tends to be, “You should really talk to your doctor about that.”
8. You have made the decision to be a doctor in public at least once, rather than remain an anonymous passerby.
For me it happened walking home from work one day. I was in a hurry, running late, when up head I saw two people try to help a man who was collapsed on the side of the road. It was the second month of intern year and, at that point, I had only been on inpatient psychiatry, so it wasn’t exactly like I was going to be able to render the best aid. But I knew two things – whatever I could contribute was likely at least as helpful as the guy who had just jumped out of his taxi to help and stepping forward is part of being a doctor.
9. Your last date was . . . let’s just stay a while ago.
I’ll spare you the pithy anecdotes. Simply put, intern year is not exactly conducive to a social life. You tell yourself, next year will be different. Then you look at the exhaustion on the faces of the R2s and think, maybe not.
10. You continue to be amazed that you are getting paid to do this job.
We whine about the food, the long hours, the lack of a social life, but, in the end, the job is amazing. Having the opportunity to be with people in crisis, offering some form of relief and solace is both satisfying and humbling. On the good days, there is part of me that still is amazed, thinking, I get to do this? For my job!?! And then the pager goes off. . .