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7 Ways to Be the Best First-Year Resident in Your Program

Starting a pathology residency can be both exciting and overwhelming. During the recent webinar, Welcome to Pathology: Celebration and Q&A for Newly Matched Pathology Residents, expert pathologists Swikrity Baskota, MD, FCAP, Jerad Gardner, MD, FCAP, Xiaoyin 'Sara' Jiang, MD, FCAP, Kamran Mirza, MD, PhD, FCAP, and Nicole Riddle, MD, FCAP, shared their wisdom to help prepare newly matched residents for their journey ahead.

Here are seven tips highlighted during the webinar on how you can be the best first-year pathology resident at your institution.

Take every opportunity to learn.

Nicole Riddle, MD, FCAP: Take every opportunity during the workday to learn and read about cases, especially during a slower rotation.

Kamran Mirza, MD, PhD, FCAP: Reading for just a few minutes a day can significantly increase your baseline level of knowledge, which is critical in pathology. Remember to speak up and ask questions; residency is a unique environment where people care about what you're learning.

Swikrity Baskota, MD, FCAP: Make a habit of requesting recuts from day one! Don't hesitate to ask questions, even if they feel silly.

Take Home Point: The College of American Pathologists has a variety of expertly-crafted resources available. Find a few minutes every day to read cases and ask questions, or even try a FastFive on the MyCAP app or Pathology Case Challenge.

Look at the way attending physicians sign out cases and note useful phrases for later use.

Xiaoyin 'Sara' Jiang, MD, FCAP: Make a reading plan to cover all the chapters in a textbook at least once during your residency. Look at the way your attending physicians sign out cases and take note of impactful ways to communicate.

Jerad Gardner, MD, FCAP: Document commonly used phrases from your mentors and save them for future use. By taking notes and asking questions during attending sign-outs, you can learn from your mentors' thought processes and perfect your own method.

Take Home Point: You can learn so much from observing the physicians around you. Pay attention to the small details, what they say and how they say it.

Get exposure to both branches of pathology in your first year of residency.

Amanda Herrmann, MD, PhD: Balancing AP and CP in the first year of residency helps residents get exposure to both branches of pathology early on. Taking the opportunity to get to know the EMR at your institution and having a foundation on navigating it can set you ahead when starting residency.

Matthew Luo, MD: Cytopathology and surgical pathology are great rotations to start off with and give a lot of foundational concepts that can help throughout your residency.

Take Home Point: Starting with a broad base can set a strong foundation for your residency and provide an opportunity to see your future career options.

Choose a subspecialty that is both enjoyable and marketable.

Dr. Gardner: Avoid picking something only for its marketability if it isn't enjoyable. You should choose a subspecialty that you enjoy—but which has the benefit of also being marketable.

Dr. Herrmann: Consider attending a national meeting like the CAP annual meeting and presenting a poster to get a feel for the community of a specific subspecialty.

Dr. Mirza: Know what you don't want to do! It can help you make an easier decision from there.

Take Home Point: Knowing which subspecialties you don’t enjoy is helpful for narrowing down your options, especially when it comes time to make a decision.

Find a work-life blend that works for you.

Dr. Gardner: Try to prioritize tasks and learn to reframe your thinking through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Dr. Baskota: At the end of the day, leave work at work. If necessary, plan to come in early the next day instead of bringing work home.

Dr. Herrmann: Explore resources your institution has available, such as counseling services. Don't underestimate the importance of building a community of support.

Dr. Riddle: Be aware of your communication skills, show up on time, and do what's required to avoid being a frustrating co-resident.

Dr. Jiang: Pace yourself when it comes to taking on research projects, especially if you're new to research.

Take Home Point: Work-life balance is not really a balance, but more of a blend of work and life. Everyone manages these responsibilities differently, so find the tools and strategies that work for you. 

Engage in self-care routines to avoid burnout.

Dr. Jiang: Establish good self-care routines like exercising, reading for fun, or picking up a new hobby.

Dr. Riddle: Set aside time for self-care, such as exercise or meditation, to avoid burnout.

Take Home Point: Pathology residency can be demanding, and it's essential to take care of yourself. Find a quiet place to work without interruptions and prioritize tasks to help yourself stay organized. Check out these additional resources on wellness curated by the CAP's wellness workgroup. 

Seek mentorship opportunities.

Networking and mentorships are beneficial for career development.

Dr. Herrmann: Attend conferences and meetings to network with professionals in the field.

Dr. Gardner: Find a mentor who can guide you in your career path.

Dr. Baskota: Consider doing repeat rotations to help you make a final decision on a subspecialty.

Take Home Point: The CAP has many resources available for you, including the Residents Forum, which gives trainees a voice in organized pathology, promotes involvement of young leaders in CAP activities, and establishes a network for pathology residents.

Watch the full recording of Welcome to Pathology: Celebration and Q&A for Newly Matched Pathology Residents, to hear even more insights.

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