How to be a good intern.

I feel like I’m qualified to make this post now, having run the full gamut of medical interns from so-barely-there-I-don’t-your-name to here-take-my-job-you-awesome-machine.  When I was an intern I really really wanted to be that star intern that was just basically awesome in every domain that everyone raved about.  The only problem was that I had no idea how to achieve it, or really even how to define it.  I was pretty good, sometimes great, but never the full package the perfectionist in me wanted to be.  And Googling it was NOT helpful unless you’re an American intern where you’re actually expected to know stuff.  As an Australian medical intern, you’re expected to do more and know less.  Only you don’t know how to do more because you know less.  It’s a tough year, and I wanted to write my list on how to be a good intern.  As usual, a big chunk of it is tongue-in-cheek and not be taken seriously, but could be, and if you did that would be AWESOME.

How to be a good THE BEST intern.

  1. Your registrar needs coffee whenever you think of coffee.
  2. Don’t bake.  I bake.  I have to bake.  It’s procrastibaketion for exams.  If you bake then what will I do?  You can however, bring coffee.  All the coffee.  You may also bring chocolate.
  3. If you could have my patient list and all the blood & imaging results written out on them and a photocopy for yourself done before I get to work, then you’re a little bit awesome and a little bit frightening in equal measure.
  4. Telling the nurse/NUM/physio/OT/social worker our plan right after we’ve made the plan shoots you to the top of the list for star intern.  Bonus points if I see it.  Full winning points if the boss sees it.
  5. When I come to work and find new patients on our list and you say “yeah I’ve read the plans they wrote down in Emergency and I’ve done the plans” then I will hug you.  And again, full winning points if the boss is there when you say it.
  6. Say “I haven’t done that yet, I’ll get right on it” when I ask if x has been done, rather than “I dunno…”
  7. Your gut instinct is key.  If I or my boss or anyone asks you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, whether that reason is real or just a lack of knowledge on your part, saying “I don’t feel comfortable” is actually really appreciated.  The swiss cheese model of error lines up when this doesn’t happen.
  8. Be cheerful.  Yes the job stinks some days.  Yes you get asked to do stupid administrative things or call for consults when you think it’s pointless.  There is actually a point I promise.  It takes years to see that point.  If I have to pull out the “if this were your mother…” argument, you are not heading towards a good evaluation.  A friendly attitude is everything and remember, the boss often has 30 years of experience.  You have months.
  9. Hurry me up.  Tell me to go faster.  Tell me to finish the round so I can study.  When the round is done, get my mobile number, kick me out and tell me to go study and call me while I’m studying with any questions you like.  Please don’t ask me to sit next to you to keep you company while you do all your jobs and check everyone’s results.
  10. Did I mention coffee?  Now is a good time for coffee.  Feel free to suggest it.
  11. If the ward clerk loves you then I know you’re good. Ditto the NUM, and the nurse named Dazzle whose been there for 30 years.


  1. Good advice! Looking forward to putting it into practice come January.

    (Many years ago you encouraged me to apply for medicine. I graduate in a few weeks. Cheers!)

  2. Thanks for the hot tips, I’ve just started as an intern on ED but I will put this into practice on the wards. the med interns I worked with last year actually did most of these things so I feel lucky to have been trained by some good role models. The coffee one is interesting – at my hospital we have a culture of shouting coffees down the chain of command rather than up, so I’ll be buying the Med student’s on my team coffee (if they’re good).

    1. Oh yes the coffee technically flows downhill but my very best interns have always stuck one in my hand. Not expected but always welcomed. The difference between an intern and a registrar is that a registrar buys the med students coffee all the time, even when they’re not good 😉

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