all i really need to know

January 20, 2011

i learned in kindergarten residency
i’ve been in a bit of a funk this week (new-in-the-lab jitters; body image angst; a certain monthly disappointment setting in — one i should be used to by now, but nope — still stings!). rather than another pouty post, i thought i’d go a different route: let’s talk about something else!

starting fresh (again) in the lab, i was thinking about all the lessons learned in the various stages of my education and career thus far. while i will be eternally grateful to my parents for shelling out $$$ so that i could learn about molecular physiology and russian food history (YES: i took that class!) at williams, i think my pediatrics residency is the stage in which i truly took hold of the life skills i now attempt to use every day.

so here it comes . . . in list format, of course!

the top 10 life lessons learned in residency
✰ 1. if you want to get it done, WRITE IT DOWN. i was into checky-boxes even in my college years, but residency took this to a whole new level — an art form, even. no task was too small to require a checky-box on my daily list! because once you are operating on a significant sleep debt, your mind becomes a sieve and only the BOXES can save you. and the patients!

✰ 2. sleep heals all. seriously. nothing else is more important for keeping mood and overall function at the highest possible level! (somewhat ironically, i am reminded of a saying that is famous in surgery: “eat when you can. sleep when you can. and don’t touch the pancreas.” yes, those surgeons are wise.)

post-work floor nap, anyone?
✰ 3. things change, so learn to cope. during residency, we operated on a monthly rotation schedule — every month, we had an entirely new role to fill! sometimes this meant shifting gears from overnight ward senior to acute care clinician. learning how to be more flexible and accept being the newb in a humble and gracious manner was a big part of residency training — one that is serving me well (i think?) in the lab right now.

✰ 4. see one, do one, teach one. the old adage is so true! i really do believe that the best way to really learn something is to present it to others. this is one reason i want to do better about incorporating more teaching into my daily routine once i’m back on the wards.

✰ 5. family trumps all. you will never regret rearranging your schedule for an important family event or to come to the aid of a loved one. you will always regret NOT doing it. i learned this one through trial and error!

✰ 6. eat well to feel well. want to have energy that lasts all day? bring a) good food and b) enough food (read: snax are key.)! one unfortunate caveat is that you cannot eat your way out of sleep debt. it’s really a shame, too! at 2 AM on a long call night, your head may try to convince the rest of you that an ice cream sandwich will replace the need for some ZZZZs, but your body always knows better.

would that sleep came in a chocolate form!
✰ 7. workouts energize. i think that 30 hours shifts are terrible and that they should be done away with (really). however, IF you are forced to work them like i was, the post-call workout is key to maintaining sanity. nothing like a little burst of artificial endorphin-fueled energy after a mere 4-5 hours of catchup sleep! i think that exercise (running, in particular) really helped me maintain my sanity throughout the residency years.

✰ 8. slow + steady wins the race. rush a blood draw, and you get a screaming child, unhappy mother, and no blood. rush a discharge, and you get a bounce back. rush through rounds, and you get a million little details coming up to bite you in the @$$ later. obviously, i’m still working on this concept, but i think it was in residency that i began to understand its true importance.

✰ 9. hold onto your hobbies for dear life. they will save you! mine were running (already mentioned above), cooking and this here blog. i don’t regret a minute i spent on any of those pursuits.

project martha got me through 2009!
✰ 10. share + be kind. the importance of abiding by the golden rule is a lesson learned over and over again in every phase of education, including residency. practicing kindness towards your fellow physicians, nurses, and patients — even when tired — is not something that will always be easy, but is of paramount importance. the situations i look back on with the most regret were the ones in which i DIDN’T live up to this rule. i’d like to think that i’ve learned from those times, though. obviously, i’m still a work in progress (and i plan on being one until my very last day on earth).



workout: isolating RNA! (planned rest day.)

comfort pasta: i was so intrigued by this recipe in the current issue of cooking light. i always have trouble with making hard (or soft) boiled eggs, but i love them! thankfully, this time the instructions were foolproof.

i customized the dish with gorgonzola rather than goat cheese (it was what we had) and adding snap peas. it made a comforting late dinner (josh didn’t get home until after 9).


  • Reply Iman March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm


  • Reply Anonymous March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    amazing life lessons. unfortunately most of them are learn-by-doing-the-opposite. at least in my case. luckily i have a pretty sharp learning curve 😉

  • Reply Anonymous March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    that&#39s a great list! i like that you can really apply it to your life no matter what you do. 🙂

  • Reply Andrea March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you for this, useful, motivating, that there is and will be life outside the OR.At least I hope:)

  • Reply Susannah March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    I am totally intrigued by "Russian food history." Was it like a peasant hunger leads to revolution sort of thing or the evolution of borscht sort of thing? Oh, and your list-making always inspires me!

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 10, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    @Chelsea my favorites are the &#39yoga for runners&#39 flow, the 45 minute ashtanga flow, and dave farmar&#39s 45 minute power vinyasa flow. definitely recommend anything dave farmar does! he also has his own free podcasts on his website.

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 10, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    @Iman i hope i one day feel that way, too 🙂

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 10, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    @Susannah it was both? we read russian literature that had lots of food imagery in it; we learned about what russians ate in different time periods (and how it reflected what was going on). we even had a party where we had to bring a russian item! i made baba au rhum, a french-influenced rum cake. best final exam ever 🙂

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