A Letter to New Physicians

Kenneth Q
Kenneth Q
May 22 · 3 min read

Hello Doctor,

Yes, that’s you. You’ve earned the title and now it’s time to get used to it. As you prepare for the wild ride that is residency, I wanted to share three pieces of advice which have been boiled down from my experience this past year as an intern.

  • Be Confident
  • Be Curious
  • Be Caring


You are now a doctor. Just one more reminder in case it still hasn’t sunk in yet (for many it won’t sink in for months). You have duly earned the large piece of paper from your school and the two new letters behind your name. Residency is your time to show it. Patients will trust you with life changing decisions and you need to have confidence in what you’ve learned and what you know. In the same vein, you should have confidence in what you don’t know. Third year medical school is over. Your decisions matter more than any grade ever did, so if you don’t know something, acknowledge it, own it, and fix it. Insecurities lead us to panic in times of uncertainty and rationalization in times of error. Confidence allows us to think through problems and learn from our mistakes. Know what you know and learn what you don’t, which brings me to point two.


Yes, you’re a doctor. No, you don’t know everything, nor will you. Medicine requires lifelong learning and allows nothing short of it. Just when you feel like you’ve understood a disease process or have seen all that you can see in an anatomical part, something will make you go “huh..”. Embrace those moments, seek those moments. The second you think you know everything, the instance you feel like there’s no more wonder in even the most mundane, that is when you begin to slide left on the Dunning Kruger curve. You will have many hills to climb, don’t climb Mt. Stupid.


Thanks to the wonderful, mandatory classes on wellness and empathy in medical school, you are now ready to face all challenges with the utmost humanism and compassion. You will smile at the belligerent patient with an understanding of their difficult socioeconomic background, your heart will go out to the patient who gets admitted just as you were getting ready to leave, and you will feel grateful that the nurse who has paged you for the fifth time at 3 am is so diligent about their patients. But most times you won’t. You will struggle through long, exhausting hours, develop strong negative feelings about difficult people, feel crushed under the bureaucracy, and crash into every inefficiency in our healthcare system. Traditionally, medicine has taught us to pour ourselves out in service to our patients, which you have learned to do well. Only recently has the mindfulness and wellness movement brought some attention to self care. Residency will be tough. Remember to care for yourself as you do others — a sort of reverse golden rule — because how you treat yourself will reflect in how you treat your patients.

Having just graduated, you know that being a doctor doesn’t happen overnight or simply with wishful thinking. Your journey up to this point has taken steady work over a long span of time with constant ups and downs. My “be statements” require the same journey. You will not wake up one day confident, curious, and caring. You will need to work every day, stumbling along the way towards the goal. There will be no diploma or extra suffixes at the end of this journey — in fact there may be no definite end — but if you stay the course, you will find yourself well on your way to being the doctor you always hoped and knew you could be.


Your Colleague and Fellow Traveler