Happy Tuesday! Or, perhaps I should officialize this July 1 as the holiday it should be deemed: Happy Intern Day!
That’s right, at this very moment, in teaching hospitals all over the country, newly-graduated med students are suddenly interns. They are, as I type this, descending the units of our hospitals, awkwardly, tentatively, nervously poking at patients, bumping into supply carts, collecting data that no attending ever wants to hear, and praying deep, meaningful prayers under their breaths that they don’t accidentally run into any mean nurses.
In these same hospitals, nurses are just starting their shifts, many of them realizing the holiday and commemorating it with the customary, “Oh god no.” As soon as they spot these new fish clumsily sucking up the air in their unit, they are off: eyes roll, sighs escape, sarcasm emits like smog. Likely, there is extra coffee brewing in preparation for today.
After seven years of passing this holiday with equal surprise and frustration, I’ve decided to change my ‘tude. A few weeks ago, a good nurse-friend of mine stunned me with her unusual sentiment: “Ooooh, goody! Intern Day is better than Christmas!” She spoke mostly of her excitement for cute newbies, but she attributed part of her glee to the welcome newness of a fresh group of people with different perspectives, different vibes, and a different chance at relationships.
With her sentiments in the back of my head, I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about all of the good and bad experiences I’ve had with new interns. The bad experiences happened because I was frustrated and reactive, not because they were nasty and patronizing up front. One scenario plagued me for weeks; a little ER intern rotating through the unit pulled the central line on a patient of mine without first telling me. I found my patient with her antibiotic and pressor infusing through the bloody central line that lay on the floor beside her bed. Line-less and an impossible stick, the patient’s safety was dangerously compromised because of the miscommunication. Instead of calmly taking advantage of a perfect ICU teaching opportunity, I flipped. Majorly. The intern flipped back. The patient stared. Not my proudest moment. We both apologized and amended the situation, but man, I’m sure she remembers me as the worst nurse of her first year, when I could’ve been the best.
Other experiences have been phenomenal. I met some of my dearest friends during their intern year. We grew together as new practitioners, shaping each other’s practice and respect for the work we did together, sometimes in the wee hours of the night when no one else was there to help. They turned out to be kick-ass doctors, and I like to think I had something to do with that; they surely influenced my nursing care.
So, today, and this month, when you’re tripping over confused interns, take a deep breath before you huff. Correct them firmly but kindly, as a member of your family, not a red-headed stepchild with leprosy and an underbite. Appreciate what is so wonderfully positive about these baby doctors: they are new, they are eager, but they are also our servants. You can trick them into doing almost any work for you under the guise of experience. And the snotty ones? Well, just kill them with your smiles; they’re likely just scared.
Hospital care is too dangerous and too complex to put on hold for the first few months of the new interns’ lives. It may take a little extra time to tell them what you want ordered, but take it patiently. We need them, and it is our responsibility, as much as the attendings’, to demonstrate how to best practice. Most importantly, our patients need us to work a little extra harder for the interns: Letting attitudes and emotions take over our communication and cloud our judgement sets us up for missing mistakes, and primes interns for taking serious patient safety risks when they don’t feel comfortable enough to ask for our help.
In the end, yes, the interns desperately need us. But we don’t have to remind them of this – they all know it the minute they step foot through the door. Celebrate Intern Day in a new way this year: Give them a hug, welcome them to your unit, congratulate them on their graduation, and get to work – together. It feels far better, and is much safer, to be the nurse hero than the nurse witch.