Life as a Medical Resident: Expectations vs Reality

Life as a Medical Resident: Expectations vs Reality

Sep 14, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

Table of Contents

Many people think that the life of a doctor is glamorous and full of excitement like in the movies. In reality, that kind of life is not all about the beautiful white coat and the prestige. There is no drama. It is a structured and repetitive. If you are a medical student, you have an idea how difficult it is. Lessons in anatomy and physiology may require a lot of memorization but this is just a taste of what you will be facing. When you start your residency, you will face more realistic challenges, more work hours, and have more experience that will help you advance your career. This can give you an idea of what a day looks like for a medical resident.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Resident

The Beginning of the Day

Your day may start between 5 am to 6 am depending on how far you live from the hospital. After arriving at the hospital at about 7 am, you begin your shift by discussing the situation of the patients under your care with the overnight resident. You usually talk about interventions that were undertaken overnight and any concerns that the overnight resident has regarding the health of any of your patients. You will also be informed of new admitted patients who will be assigned to you. This information can help you structure your day and prioritize your activities. You will want to make sure that you see patients will critical conditions first.


By 7:30 am, you will spend a couple of minutes studying your patients’ medical records, paying attention to their vital signs, and looking into test results that have been performed last night. After that, you will check each of your patients.

Those assigned in the admissions are responsible to accept new patients throughout the day. They will also be required to see each patient as they are admitted, write new histories and physicals, and make admission orders.


Rounds are divided into two parts. First is the attending rounds where you, your team, and the attending physician discuss about all the patients under on your care. All medical management plans are reviewed and updated. For the interdisciplinary rounds, you will be reviewing the tentative discharge plan for each patient with other members of the care team, including fellow residents, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers. This provides guidance to all vital members of the team as they assist in medical planning.

Paper Works

Before noontime, you need to accomplish discharge paperwork for those who will be discharged that day. You could also start completing your daily note of each patient. After that, you can be open for consultations, order necessary tests, and look into new test results.

Noontime Activities

Expect a short lunch-break before attending a noon conference. You will then have to listen to a lecturer discussing topics important in caring for your patients properly. After this, you need to go back to your desk and complete paper works remaining from the morning. Again, you have to update patient records and list of new admissions for overnight residents. Do not forget to sign-out your patients before the end of the day as this is very critical. Your shift usually ends at 5 pm but this varies depending on what hospital you are in. If you happen to be on a long-call shift that day, expect to go home later on that day. Before that, you have to check over 20 to 40 patients.

Your schedule can vary from time to time depending on your shift. There are times when you have to work for 13-14 hours per day. In some instances, you can also be required to go to work earlier than 7 am.

Free Time After Work

You can do anything you want after work. Make sure to spend time with your family and friends since your social life is as important as your career. You may also study, do research, and prepare for conferences and seminars, if you have to.

Of course, you are free to spend your time outside of the hospital as you please. Try to exercise and decompress with family and friends regularly. You may also watch a movie or a play.

At the end of the day, you are tired and stressed so you need a good amount of sleep. You are in the medical field. I bet you know how important sleep is.

Challenges of a Resident

It is already expected that you will have a hectic work schedule when you start your residency. You will have less time to hang-out with your loved ones or just sit down and watch movies. Even sleep will be compromised for work.

During your residency, expect the unexpected. Different kinds of cases will be thrown at you each day. Don’t be shocked to encounter many gunshot wounds of patients in your first day.

Most important of all, you will also have to make many life-over-death decisions. How you deal with your patients and the choices that you make for them will greatly affect their lives.

The Silver Lining

Despite how difficult the experiences that you have to go through to advance your career. You are capable of handling all of these. If you are having a hard time making the right choices for your patients at the beginning of your residency, you have your senior residents and mentors to guide you. It will also be helpful if you do additional research and studies. Grow with your patients. As you increase your knowledge and skills as a doctor, it is a good idea to build a connection with your patients. This will help you understand your patients better and be able to comfort them. Develop a good relationship with your patients. Remember that you will be working with them everyday and they will also be the ones to help you in your practice.

Medical school is just the beginning of becoming a doctor. Life as a medical resident involves many sacrifices and hardships. As tough as it may sound, most doctors consider all of these challenges as worth-it because it shaped who they are today. It taught them to apply what they learned in medical school and gave them the confidence to work through unexpected scenarios. At the end of the day, everything boils down to, is it worth it? If you like the idea of being a life-long learner and if your dream is to be able to help people, everything will be worth it.