Special Report: the makings of a medical resident in the corridor

Residency can be up to eighty hours a week of medical graduates putting their knowledge to work, but is not always on their own. (Courtesy: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics)

Each day, hospitals in the corridor are raising the next generation of healthcare professionals through medical residency programs.

The Association of American Medical Colleges says there are nearly nine-hundred active medical residents in the state of Iowa.

Local residents said putting their knowledge from medical school to practice is both rewarding and challenging, and in many ways, it is also unlike what people see on television.

"All the portrayals that we see on tv are probably not very accurate, but there are a lot of moments where you do kind of have times that can get a little chaotic," said Dr. Kurt Chamberlain.

However, the chaos that Dr. Chamberlain sees and works on each day as an emergency medicine resident, is real.

"That's the part of emergency medicine in particular that appealed to me," he said. "You kind of always have to be prepared and ready for whatever comes through the door."

He is a third-year resident at St. Luke's hospital in Cedar Rapids, through the University of Iowa's Emergency Medicine program.

His first year was a challenge, but Dr. Chamberlain was surprised the pressure was not as daunting as TV shows portray.

"You are still able to see anyone that comes in through the department as far as whatever level of acuity or severity of illness people might have, but you always have more oversight the younger you are...the earlier on your program I should say," he said.

"I think I delivered one baby on my first day, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever," said Dr. Edward Nguyen.

Doctor Nguyen is a third-year OBGYN resident at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

"I thought it would be kind of cool to be in a specialty that specializes in bringing life into the world," he said.

He is striving to bring patients and families joy, and prevent the kind of pain he faced growing up.

"I didn't really realize I wanted to become a doctor until my freshman year of college," said Dr. Nguyen. "Unfortunately, at that time was when my mother passed away [but] [a] few years [before] that my brother actually passed away as well. [By] the time I was 18 I lost half of my family."

Now, he gets to think about the families he is creating as a resident.

"Depending what day of the week is or how busy a shift is you could have like six/seven deliveries at most," he said.

Residency can be up to eighty hours a week of medical graduates putting their knowledge to work, but is not always on their own.

"Any hands-on procedure, I'm in the room assisting, providing guidance, giving instruction, [and] making sure they are doing it correctly," said Dr. Brian Shedek, the Clerkship Director for medical and residency students.

It is also not all patient care all the time.

"A lot of it is really boring actually," said Dr. Nguyen. "Probably 70-80% of what you do is documentation, especially in a clinic setting. You kind of see a patient, do your exam, and then you document. [The actual] patient interaction part is just a fraction of what my day is like."

"How much do you do as a resident? A lot. A lot, except you are being supervised," said Dr. Josiah Zubaireu, a Chief Resident in general medicine at UIHC.

Dr. Josiah Zubaireu stayed an extra year in his residency to be a chief resident and lead younger residents in their training.

"Most of us go into medicine with the aim of helping people, and most of us at our core...that's our job," said Dr. Zubaireu.

That mission can still take a toll on residents when they cannot always give good news to patients.

"I've helped deliver a child that hours later after [the child] passes at that time," said Dr. Nguyen. [Then I have] to go in and kind of examen him and declare the child as deceased."

"Any time where you have to have those conversations, where you have to break bad news to a family member, it's very challenging," said Dr. Chamberlain.

Dr. Zubaireu said he couldn't save a man with terminal lung cancer.

"We had a conversation about what are [his] goals in this situation," he said. "Do you want to go to the ICU where you'll be hooked up to a machine to help you breathe? Or do you want us to do less aggressive things? [Knowing] well that if we went that route, death would be soon."

After honoring his patient's wishes for comfortable care, the patient died two days later.

Even in those moments. He said he is learning.

"Number one it's always about the patient and their wishes," said Dr. Zubaireu. "Number two, you end up building relationships with people."

UI residents say it is the relationships they build with their supervisors that make those moments easier too because they know they are not alone in their journey to a lifelong career in medicine.

"Medicine is not just a job for us...It's a way of life," said Dr. Zubaireu.

Medical resident are matched with a health care facility through the national resident matching program, which evaluates top preferences for both residents and locations accepting candidates. This year's match day is March 16.

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