Physicians: Make the Most of Your Time with Medical Residents

Expert advice on how to nurture mutually beneficial attending-resident relationships.

You were a resident once. You know firsthand that new doctors have a critical role to play in patient care. Now you have an important role in their training.

As new medical residents continue to settle into their matches, it’s beneficial to think about making the most of their presence at your practice. And starting early can have long-term benefits.

“It’s no secret that hospitals and health systems with residency programs are really interested in retaining these physicians upon graduation,” says Dr. Ben Davis, program director for the Swedish Family Medicine Residency at Swedish First Hill in Seattle. “These programs are training great physicians who, in turn, become highly skilled practitioners.

“Cultivating a positive relationship within the first two years of a medical resident’s training can help later with recruiting that physician to become part of the organization.”

Think Back on Your Own Medical Residency

Dr. Davis says forming a great relationship with medical residents starts by remembering your experiences — good and bad.

“I can vividly recall a time during my own residency when my program leaders took swift action to address a concern raised by my class,” he says. “I was very impressed by how fast that happened and how good of an experience that was. I want new residents to feel as supported as I did at that moment.”

"Residents should feel like they can ask questions without being judged or punished.”

Though showing support during significant events is critical, Dr. Davis says there are many other ways to enhance a resident’s experience and create a positive working relationship.

5 Tips for Working with Medical Residents

1. Be open to giving residents learning opportunities.

Every medical resident’s goal is to learn, but each one is on a different part of the learning spectrum. This is especially true when it comes to doing procedures.

Regardless, Dr. Davis says, it’s important to get residents involved in patient care to the extent that your patient is comfortable.

“If you regularly work with residents, you’ll find out what they can do and where they need more experience,” he says. “I don’t do many procedures myself anymore, because I’m always trying to get a resident involved.”

Dr. Davis often reaches out to his specialist colleagues, encouraging them to offer residents meaningful learning opportunities.

“Specialists don’t always have the benefit of knowing residents personally,” he says. “I encourage them to take a moment at the beginning of the day to ask residents what procedures they are interested in learning, or what procedures they’ve done that may be similar to those on the schedule.”

He says you can gauge a resident’s comfort level or abilities by asking them to walk you through all or part of a specific procedure.

I’m more apt to let a resident try something as long as they can walk me through it,” Dr. Davis says. “As practicing physicians and teachers, we must extend our own comfort level and help others learn.”

2. Slow down to show or explain.

Explaining what you’re doing during a procedure can be extremely helpful to the learning process. But that kind of narration requires you to be comfortable doing the procedure and communicating it so the patient and others can understand.

“I consider it a high-level skill to be able to narrate — in a patient-centered way — what you’re doing while you’re performing a procedure,” Dr. Davis says. “Being able to model this or watch while a medical resident does it can be a highly effective teaching tool.”

He cautions to always ask for your patient’s permission before narrating each step of their care.

3. Be timely and sensitive with your feedback.

Offering immediate feedback can help residents improve their medical decision-making and communication with patients.

“In my experience, feedback offered in the moment is often given and received better,” Dr. Davis says. “But providers need to read the room. If a resident is having a difficult day, they may not be in the right mental space to receive immediate feedback.”

4. Create a culture of curiosity, safety and inclusivity.

Residents need to know they can make decisions and even make mistakes without bringing harm to a patient. Physicians can foster this sense of safety, Dr. Davis says, by making it clear they are there to help.

“Embracing fallibility in an environment that’s not detrimental to a patient can provide tremendous growth,” he says. “We can create that environment each day by encouraging curiosity. Residents should feel like they can ask questions without being judged or punished.”

Physicians can also intentionally promote an inclusive culture.

“Think about the spaces where your residents work, learn and attend meetings,” Dr. Davis says. “Are these spaces welcoming to all? Check with residents to see if there are ways you can improve and make sure they have the resources and the support they need to feel included.”

5. Help residents during and beyond their residency.

Medical residency is a stressful time, and many residents juggle the pressures of training alongside the demands of their families. Providing the right kind of support within and even beyond the traditional scope of residency can set these new doctors up for success.

“Within our program, we offer residents both an advisor and mentor,” Dr. Davis says. “While an advisor guides residents on program requirements, a mentor — often a graduate of our program — is in daily communication with a resident and models practice style.”

His program is also focused on residents’ mental health.

“We created an opt-out behavioral health program,” Dr. Davis says. “We schedule two behavioral health appointments for each of our residents during the early part of their residency training. Our goal is to normalize behavioral health care and remove the burden of scheduling these appointments from the resident.”

To Learn More

Whether you’re interested in residency training or you’ve just wrapped up your residency and you’re looking for that first job, Provider Solutions & Development can help. We offer holistic, personalized career guidance to help you find the right fit the first time. Reach out today to get started.