Briana Buckner, MD, is a 2015-16 Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Once a year, we have this very exciting period of time filled with holiday fun. The holidays bring families together, children get excited for Santa Claus, and the parking lots of malls make you think really hard about every gift you are seeking to buy.
Despite all this excitement, the holidays can mean something a tad bit different for a resident or intern that is in the midst of medical training. Once residency begins, the holidays can be a shock and, for many residents, the first holiday ever spent away from family. What seemed to be an every-year occasion while in school becomes a prized possession when everyone can’t be off service at the same time. During my intern year, I finally I arrived home for New Year’s: I realized that I had not set foot in a mall since August, I had no gifts to give, and no one saved me any of our family’s famous Christmas banana pudding!
Since finishing residency, I have realized that residency creates a different definition of holiday fun. My holiday fun during residency was ugly-sweater day on the medicine inpatient service, late-night hot chocolate parties hosted by the night nurses, singing Christmas carols with my patients, and learning about funny holiday traditions of others who were also working on the holiday.
While I definitely longed for my family during those Christmas holidays in the hospital, I realize that I also built memories that still make me chuckle, and my appreciation for my family during the holidays has increased tenfold. I still tell my parents and friends about my patient who loved soul Christmas songs. After rounding with my team, I came back to see this special patient, and we listened to the Christmas radio station together. Within minutes, we were singing and dancing to the Jackson 5 version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.” I never told my patient how much that moment meant to me and how much it comforted me that day. I felt as though I was right on my grandfather’s couch and enjoying my own family. In that moment my patient became my family, and I’m sure I became his as well.
For all the residents who must spend the holidays away from their own families… I’m want to say “thank you.” Thank you for stepping away from your own family to take care of the families of others. You will often feel overlooked, but you are appreciated. Your patients appreciate you more than you know. For many of them, you will definitely become their family this holiday, and they will forever remember you. Take a pause, enjoy a sincere moment with your patients, and remember to tell your family that you love them.
Want to comment on Briana’s post? Visit the NEJM Journal Watch Insights in Residency Training blog