WCICON 2021

The next Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference (WCICON21) will be online from March 4-6, 2021. I’ll be there virtually to answer questions and give two talks, one about writing (worth CME) and one about student loans. It’s a great opportunity to use those CME funds that are feeling neglected during the pandemic. Registration is now open.

In related news, this week is the White Coat Investor’s “Continuing Financial Education Week,” which means that all courses including Fire Your Financial Advisor are 10% off and they’re throwing in the original WCICON Park City course for free. You can nail that deal through this link.

A Virtual Step 2 CS: More convenient, equally if not more useless

The NBME announced a new virtual USMLE Step CS would replace the pre-pandemic in-person exam that’s topped the list of medical student headaches for recent generations. While light on details, it sounds like it’s going to be a bunch of telehealth visits that will do away with the pretense that the exam evaluates students’ ability to perform or interpret a real physical exam.

This week they released a brief and extremely scripted sounding podcast. Details are still forthcoming, but a couple of highlights:

David Johnson, “Chief assessment officer” with the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB):

The community feedback that we received reinforced some of the already understood challenges with the past format, things we were aware of. For instance, the limited number of test sites…the cost of the exam, and some perceptions of [an] artificial nature of the standardized patient interaction and the patient note, as well as admittedly the limited feedback that was provided to examinees and scoring. Those were the things that came up that frankly, we were not surprised to hear about.

Bit of an underplay here.

Conspicuously missing: I guarantee that the most common feedback they received was that the exam should be canceled forever. Clinical skills assessment was previously and could easily be performed by medical schools, which all conduct standardized patient assessments anyway. If the LCME accreditation can’t confirm that schools are able to perform this core function, then what’s the point of students spending all these years and all this money going to medical school.

Dr. Chris Feddock, Executive Director of the NBME’s “Clinical Skills Evaluation Collaboration”:

The rework of the prior exam using a computer-based platform…will enable the USMLE to meet its mission, which is serving the state medical boards.

I do like how honest this statement is. Make no mistake, the mission of the USMLE is to serve the state medical boards. Not the public. Not doctors. Not science. Not to ensure anything measurable or meaningful. These box-checking endeavors are in service to bureaucracy, not to produce good outcomes.

They go on to say that there was “broad agreement among stakeholder groups” that Step CS is important. It’s worth noting that “stakeholder groups” in this context refers to the incestuous tangle of mostly highly-profitable non-profit medical organizations like the NBME, ECFMG, and the FSMB. The many students and doctors who are actually involved in the education/training process or the practice of medicine are part of the “community.”

The community, of course, has no recourse, and these “self”-regulatory bodies have no oversight. They have no need or desire to prove, for example, that their tests do anything close to what they’re designed to do other than be standardized and consistent year-to-year (psychometric validity without predictive validity).

They have never, and probably will never, prove that Step CS, in its current or future form, does anything other than transfer student loan money from students to the NBME.

Pedigree is a poor proxy for quality

From “Graduates of Elite Universities Get Paid More. Do They Perform Better?” an article published in the Harvard Business Review about comparing the “performance” of graduates from elite and non-elite universities:

All in all, our results suggest that hiring graduates from higher-ranked universities would lead to a nominal improvement in performance. However, the university rank alone is a poor predictor of individual job performance. Employers can get a much better deal by hiring the “right” students from lower-ranked institutions, than “anyone” from better-ranked institutions. It would also be wise to use additional tests designed to evaluate the technical and interpersonal competencies needed for the job.

Pedigree is a poor proxy for quality.

In real life, a single datapoint like school identity or the acronym of your medical degree doesn’t adequately summarize a whole person. I’ve personally benefitted from this sort of nonsense but I know better: How well you play the game is different from how good of a person you are or doctor you’ll be.

Averages don’t help you evaluate individuals.

Some people think that Step 1 going pass/fail will mean that programs will just start just interviewing people from big-name schools and other groups will be marginalized (forget for a moment the practical reality that there aren’t enough ivy league graduates to magically fill all residency spots or that every ivy league student wants to enter a “competitive” field).

Any program that really wants the best people should know enough not to do that.

And any program that doesn’t is either intellectually lazy or isn’t valuing its residents as individuals.

There are plenty of convenience metrics programs use to filter applications. Step 1. MD vs DO. US vs IMG. With unlimited applications combined with interview hoarding from well-qualified applicants, everyone is wasting a lot of time and money. The 2020-2021 virtual interview season is compounding that by removing the time constraints of physical travel.

This should be a wake-up call that we need to implement changes that allow–no, force–programs to perform holistic reviews and remove the incentive for students to shotgun-apply.

Application caps pave the way to move away from convenience metrics like Step 1, degree-type, or pedigree by giving programs a fighting chance to give applicants their due attention and forcing students to limit their applications to places they’d actually consider.

But in order for that to be fair, programs likewise need to be transparent about what they’re looking for and their interview criteria. Students need better data to know what types of programs are generally feasible so that they aren’t sending their apps to programs that are going to snub them or overutilizing the limited resources of their “safety programs.”

People who are being filtered out by ERAS deserve to know in advance not to waste their money and emotional energy applying.

Pedigree always sounds good on paper. A nice name looks good on a list just like it does on a CV.

But deep down, as scientists, we should know better.

How to Start a Psychiatry Private Practice

Last year my wife left her employed academic position and started a cash/direct pay solo psychiatry private practice. Despite how crazy 2020 has been, it’s been a great experience and we have no regrets. If anything, the flexibility of one self-employed parent was instrumental to our sanity as parents when all childcare options imploded in March. We’d like to share some of what we’ve learned in the process. This is absolutely not exhaustive.

I also used the royal “we” throughout this post even though I was mostly along for the ride.

(Disclaimer: there are a few referral links in this post. Your support is always a wonderful surprise, but as ever, feel free to ignore.)

Motivation

One of the big downsides of many physician jobs these days is that they are employed positions. When someone else is your boss, you have limited control. In general, you may not be able to control where you work, how much you work, with whom you work, what kind of patients you see, and how much your time is worth. That’s basically everything except for a steady paycheck.

Psychiatry is almost unique within medicine in its almost complete lack of overhead. While many practices will employ office staff, nurses, etc, they aren’t a requirement, especially if you don’t work in-network with insurance companies and instead choose to be directly paid by patients for your services. Billers, coders, admin, etc become largely superfluous.

The downside is that physicians in private practice need to work to generate revenue to “feed the beast.” Since you only make money when you actually see patients instead of a consistent salary, your income goes up if you work more, which can in some cases create an unanticipated drive to work harder. However, if your expenses are low (and especially if you have a working spouse with benefits), the flexibility is nearly unlimited. With one young child and another on way, her maternity leave was a great time to transition to and ease into a new practice.

If you’re doing a true solo practice, you can definitely be your own admin for a while. It has the added benefit of teaching you how to do what you need and what you’re looking for in an employee when/if you choose to offload these tasks to someone else.

Office

If trying to keep overhead low or starting very part-time, you might consider subletting someone else’s office for the time you need. Many people start a PP part-time as a side hustle or as a way to test the waters before leaving the security of an employed position. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there are plenty of folks out there with an extra empty office in their suite or who work part-time and don’t need theirs every day. Doing PP one or two days a week at first while still working a regular (or 60-80% FTE) job or making some quality of life cash by covering a variety of ER or CL shifts is a great way to make sure your business is viable and limit the financial pinch of a slow start. You need to be prepared for a slow and grow situation, especially if you’re fresh from residency or new to the area and therefore don’t have any contacts, referral sources, or old patients that might follow you.

Location is a big deal. I would encourage you to pick a place near your home that’s an easy commute. Part of the point of being your own boss is to enjoy the practice of medicine, and the data show that a long commute is consistently misery-inducing. It’s also important to figure out what location is right for the kinds of patients you want to see and their expectations. Not everyone needs a super swanky office, but certainly, the area of town, age of the building, surrounding commercial stock, and ease of parking are all going to play a factor in how your practice feels to potential patients (and how you feel about working there).

If you plan on actually charging what your time is worth (i.e. your current salary/benefits + what your employer is earning from your labor), then patients will likely appreciate both the location and the thought you put in your physical (and digital) presence. This is the world we live in.

When you find potential sites, there are lots of things to take note of for potential negotiation The obvious metric is price per square foot (+/- fees for utilities). But other important considerations are improvements (including but limited to new floors and paint, new partitions/walls) either performed by the owner or getting a lump of cash to make changes yourself, a signup incentive like a free month’s rent, the length of the contract, cancellation provisions, so on and so forth. Cancellation may not have been a big issue for a lot of folks, but I bet COVID has turned that into a top ticket item for others.

Get absolutely everything in writing in the contract.

Note that it probably won’t hurt you to use a real estate agent who might know the area, provide “comps” (valid comparisons), and help negotiate. Some buildings themselves prefer you don’t, but that’s because an agent’s commission comes from the building owner. If you know people who rent offices in the building or area, get their details to make sure you are getting at least as good of a deal.

Note you’ll almost certainly also need Business Insurance for your office as well, which covers the more mundane damage and personal injury type stuff not related to your practice of medicine. The minimum amount of required coverage is something you’ll often find in your lease.

Office Stuff

One of the most fun things about leasing your own office is getting to choose all the fun stuff to put in it. Chances are where you’ve worked in the past didn’t have the vibe you’d have otherwise chosen.

Some things to consider:

Furniture (duh), but do you want a desk and chairs or more of a seating area (or both)? If the latter, chairs only or chairs and a couch? Do you want the psychiatrist chaise or the ubiquitous Eames chair knockoff (um, who wouldn’t?)? How many bookshelves do you need in order to show off how learned you are? Do you want coordinating frames for all your diplomas so that you can intimidate patients with the sheer weight of your training?

Are you going to have a dedicated waiting room? If so, how big? If you offer beverages, is the coffee bar in the waiting room or your main office? Bottled water as well as coffee/tea, and if so, a small fridge or no? For coffee, the typical Keurig my wife and her partner purchased with its endless variety of dubiously tasty K-cups or upgrading to a luxe Nespresso that you know patients will make note of (and that I was advocating for)?

You’ll almost certainly be using a cloud-based EMR (see below), so you’ll need reasonable internet. For flexibility, a laptop will work well if you’ll be swapping around different spots in your office (and from home). If you’ll be at your desk a lot but are using a laptop, you might consider a dedicated monitor and keyboard to plug into for better ergonomics.

You’ll at least occasionally be scanning things, and while you could use an app on your phone, it’s much easier to get an all-in-one printer/scanner that has a document tray so that you can scan multiple pages at once. I am partial to this Epson, which we use at home, but for the office we bought this compact HP, which fits inside the shallow Ikea Billy bookcase, which we use with bottom doors (like this). You’ll also want a decent (at least cross-cut) shredder.

Don’t forget items for vitals/biometrics:

Business Prep

You’ll want to create an “entity” for your business that is separate from yourself for all your business dealings, which for a solo doc is generally a PLLC (professional limited liability company).

Many people hire a lawyer for this but you can also do it yourself and it doesn’t really require much information outside of your desired business name, address, contact information, and what your business does, like “practice psychiatry and psychotherapy.” In Texas, where we live, it takes a few minutes to do and a few weeks to get back.

State rules vary, but you should typically have an operating agreement on file even if the state doesn’t specifically demand a copy. If you’re doing it yourself, for example, you can get something that checks the boxes with a free trial of Rocket Lawyer. If you’re going into business with a partner or plan to have real employees, you might be better off making something a little more futureproof.

Please, please note that an LLC is not by default a “corporation” despite the fact that people sometimes call it “incorporating yourself.” You also don’t need an LLC in order to deduct business expenses; any sole proprietor (anyone with something they’re calling a business) can do that. It’s just important to form one so that you and your business are not one and the same, as you would be if you simply functioned as a sole proprietor. You don’t want to be using your personal social security number on anything (even if you get a separate EIN for your business as a sole proprietor, your business would still be you). An LLC also doesn’t have anything to do with malpractice, but it does mean if someone slips and falls in a puddle on the floor that the lawsuit won’t go after you personally. Separating out your personal and professional assets is important.

It’s also required if you end up wanting to be taxed as a corporation. Whether or not you choose to file taxes as an S-corp or C-corp or just have all that income go on your personal taxes (aka “a pass-through entity”) is a separate question from the general need to form an LLC, which will have its own EIN and give you the ability to open up business bank accounts, credit cards, etc.

As for actually filing with the IRS as an S-corp, the White Coat Investor has a nice post about it. Doing so, for example, would allow you to divide your revenues between salary and distribution (profit-sharing), the latter being exempt from payroll taxes. Whether or not filing as an S-corp is worthwhile for the extra hassle depends on how much money you make.

Most accountants will recommend you file as an S-corp, but that is in part because most people don’t think they are able to do that level of taxes on their own and will be locked into professional help forever. You’d need a salary of ~$150k to max out an individual 401(k), so underneath that the benefits are debatable. You can file as an S-corp later when you’ve grown, so you can wait until it grows or just keep things simple if your plan is to stay small with a part-time lifestyle practice.

Payment & Insurance

If you’re looking for how to apply to be on an insurance panel, you’re in the wrong place. There’s of course nothing wrong with taking insurance and doing so will open you up to a larger potential pool of patients. In some locales, taking insurance may be necessary in order to drum up business in the first place.

It’s important to realize that there’s no rule that says if you take insurance that you need to take all insurance. If there’s one decent insurer in your area you could apply to that insurer and take only them. Again, you’re one person. It’s not going to take tons of people to fill up your slots. If you’re full, you’re full.

Direct care, however, is very liberating, and there are many patients who prefer to pay themselves or have insurance plans that are unhelpful for routine psychiatric care (either high-deductible plans or ones that poorly cover mental health). Either way, what matters is that you’re able to find patients and fill your schedule.

If you have a strictly direct-pay practice, you will need to opt-out of Medicare. While patients with private insurance can submit out-of-network claims for potential reimbursement, Medicare patients cannot.

Malpractice Insurance

The two big categories to choose between are claims-made vs. occurrence policies. Claims-made policies are cheaper, particularly at first, because they only cover issues while the policy is in place. You would typically need to purchase a tail if/when you cancel unless you’re retiring. An occurrence policy is more expensive upfront because it covers the time period in question even after the policy has lapsed (i.e. no tail).

There are multiple companies that have good ratings, but the two we liked the most in our search were The Doctor’s Company and MedPro. Of the two, The Doctor’s Company only offers claims-made but had great reviews and slightly lower premiums. They also had a part-time discount if you only work up to 20 hours/wk on average. MedPro has both claims-made and occurrence options and was only slightly more expensive apples to apples. We went with The Doctor’s Company and customer service has been excellent; someone from risk-management is always available on the phone in just a few minutes.

Other Practice Stuff

If you’ve only been working as a trainee or in a university setting, you may have a restricted DEA limited to official institutional duties. You’ll need to pay for an unrestricted DEA.

You’ll also probably want some prescription pads for when e-prescribe isn’t working.

You’ll need to update your contact info for your NPI, DEA, and your state medical board. If you form an LLC, your entity is supposed to have an organizational “Type 2” NPI in addition to the personal Type 1 NPI you’ve had since earning your degree in order to interact with insurance companies.

Banking & Accounting

You’ll need a business checking account and credit card. There are many options. We used Chase because it was easy and they have two branches nearby.

You’ll probably be taking credit cards through your EMR, but you also need a way to track expenses, payments, send invoices, and basically generate profit and loss statements so you know how you’re doing (and can use said information to file your taxes). We use Quickbooks. It’s super easy, can link with your checking and credit cards to automatically track everything and categorize expenses. You can also use it to measure mileage if that’s your jam. The basic QB Self Employed is over half off for the first 3 months with a referral link and then $15/month after that. If you file your taxes with TurboTax Small Business, you’ll get it for free the following year. The other really popular choice is Freshbooks.

You’ll want to track expenses as soon as possible because chances are you’re going to spend a lot more money upfront getting started than you will later on. Try to avoid mixing business and personal expenses.

EMR

While you could decide to go old school and do everything on paper, as doctors of the modern era we wanted an EMR that let us write notes, use templates and some type of dot-phrase/shortcut, do electronic forms and signatures, bill patients and receive payments electronically, and send electronic prescriptions.

If you ask online, you’ll hear a lot of different names including Dr. Chrono and Practice Fusion, but Luminello was our pick for its psychiatry-focus, core features, and low cost. Luminello was designed by a psychiatrist specifically for psychiatry.

It’s browser-based so it works on every platform and device and you don’t want to worry about security (except a good password). There’s a handy free version you can use to see if it’s right for you. They also offer a “lite” (part-time) plan for $69/mo that allows up to 30/notes per month, so you’ll likely be paying less for a few months as you get started. The full price is $100/month, but you can save two-months’ worth if you prepay the whole year. You can also get a free month if you sign up with a referral link, like this one. If you are doing only therapy, the cost is even lower at $29-49/mo.

I will say that setting up the credit card processing and the e-Rx add-ons are a bit cumbersome and tedious and can take a couple of weeks to process, so don’t wait to set it up. All customer support is initially via email, but they can call you to work out kinks when necessary.

In the era of COVID-19, Luminello also added a discount to incorporate the Doxy.me telehealth platform, which has been useful.

In the year since we choose Luminello, a lot of folks have also started talking up chARM EHR. Their a la carte pricing makes it a little confusing at first glance but it looks overall analogous in cost and has a good feature set. I would definitely look at least both of these prior to making your pick.

Privacy Policy

You need to post these in your office.

(In Texas, you also need to post the TMB Complaint poster, so check your state rules)

Your patients should be signing your privacy and office policies before their first visit. In Luminello, for example, you can up upload the form for e-signature.

In general, we’d recommend uploading everything to the EMR so you can run a paperless office. If patients bring paper records, just scan and shred.

Other Technology

Note that for any HIPAA-compliant service, you will always need to sign some type of Business Associate Agreement (BAA) in order for everything to be kosher.

Phone

While you could get an office phone, it’s probably easier to just get some sort of internet-based phone number. There are lots of phone options, but we use iPlum, which is a HIPAA-compliant secure phone service that you can run as an app on your cell phone. It’s $5/month for 200 “credits” or $8/month for unlimited. We got to choose a new local number, and the software allows for creating office hours, phone trees, and secure texting etc.

Fax

Doximity is free and HIPAA-secure.

Faxes are stupid, and I can’t believe we’re still using them in the 21st century. There is no reason to pay for a separate fax line.

Email

We’ve purchased Neocertified for 100 dollars/year in order to send secure emails, which can run on top of Outlook, Gmail, etc., but we didn’t renew it because we never used it (because we strictly avoid using email for anything patient care related). You should never use a normal email for any PHI.

It is now possible to set up G-suite directly for HIPAA-compliant services like Google Voice phone and email as well, which may be a good solution, but we’re happy with our current setup.

Translation

Technically, you need to be able to offer patients services in their language of choice. If you end up with a patient that needs a translator, there are a variety of options. LanguageLine, for example, can charge you by the minute.

Check-in

If you end up with a waiting room and want to know if your next patient has arrived without physically checking, you could consider setting up a check-in iPad with a service like Envoy.

Marketing

Worth mentioning: patients can and will find you online, but you will need real-life referrals in order to fill your practice.

Digital Presence

You should make business pages for Google Business and Yelp. Know that when you create a Yelp page, you will be spammed repeatedly to buy advertising (for a cost of $2-10/day). When you Google “best psychiatrist” in your area, you’ll often see Yelp results very high up. But once we created our website and linked it up with our business profile on Google, local people started finding us in their searches organically.

You should also claim all your doctor profiles like WebMD, Vitals, ZocDoc, etc. WebMD actually seems to own several of the others anyway. It may take multiple attempts to claim and update pages because these sites also want to frustrate you into paying for advertising.

We were surprised at how many patients use Psychology Today to find mental health professionals. You can get a free six-month trial if you use a referral from a friend. Unfortunately, there’s no code or link, so if you want a referral email just drop a comment below asking (I can see your email privately) or shoot me an email (address located in the footer). It feels their referrals are overall more likely to not read the website, to be looking for insurance, etc, but it’s definitely been useful. You can choose to have calls routed through a special Psychology Today phone number so that you can count referrals and see if it’s worth the cost. It’s normally $30/month.

Business Cards

Are totally still a thing. One of the things you’ll likely want to do is send business cards to other folks in your area that might be a source of referrals like psychologists, therapists, PCPs, Ob/gyns, etc. Word of mouth may eventually be enough, but you need to put in the work upfront to make sure the professionals and their patients who need you can find you. Non-physician therapists of all stripes are a particularly important referral source (and it goes both ways; you’ll want to know good therapists to refer to as well).

We looked at several options including Canva (didn’t love the print quality), Vistaprint (very inexpensive), and Moo (awesome quality, expensive). We ultimately went with Moo (you’ll probably get ads following you around on social media once you visit them), and the paper and print quality were exquisite. People notice and comment on them all the time. Ultimately, you’re trying to give people the right impression about you and your practice, so I think a well-designed quality card is a no-brainer.

We also made cute stationery to write handwritten letters to send out with said business cards to potential referral sources.

Meeting with others

Some fraction of the people we sent our stuff to wanted to meet and learn about each other. We brought snacks or meals to some folks, and others brought stuff to us. It’s all part of the process, and referral sources are the lifeblood of a growing practice.

Website

Your website can be and do different things, but no matter what it’s a digital business card and represents your brand to prospective patients and referral sources. It doesn’t need to say much or be complicated (in fact, it’s probably better that it’s simple and straightforward).

A focused site will include your name, brief bio/mission statement/practice description, physical address, phone number, fax number, and a link to the patient portal of whatever EHR you choose. That’s all you really need.

I’ve written before about how to make a website, and I think that post will be helpful here as well, but the bottom line is that your website should try not to suck. You can use a website builder like Wix, a more robust hosted solution like Squarespace, or a more hands-on DIY solution like WordPress, but no matter what you pick you for hosting and design you need to have a good simple memorable URL–ideally your name–and you need to pick a clean non-tacky design. Most hosted solutions will include a URL for free with a paid plan, so you won’t need to buy one in advance. You should pay extra if needed to remove lame branding things likes “Created with Wix” or other less than professional looking inclusions.

Knowledge of Your Locale

It really helps to have a local network and be familiar with the resources available to patients. Who are therapists to refer to (including for DBT, CBT, etc), what to do for IOP, PHP, colleagues/specialists, support groups, and even book recommendations. What hospitals are around and which actually provide meaningful mental health services, especially after business hours. If you’re staying where you trained, crowdsource while you’re around a lot of people. When you work with anyone (other docs, social workers, etc), ask them about their experiences, practice parameters, how they do things.

You need to know how to help your patients, and you also don’t want to reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to. (My wife was well-informed after being an academic for three years before opening her practice; she would also say that going out straight into practice is a bit more of a challenge as opposed to working first in a supportive environment. She had a great network of experienced colleagues to bounce tough cases on and grow. Given how many residencies are disproportionately focused on high-acuity inpatient and emergency care and short-term follow-ups, outpatient care [especially with an insured or otherwise high-functioning panel] may be a surprisingly fresh practice setting.)

Consider joining the “private practice psychiatry” group on Facebook, though be prepared for the usual bevy of less-than-useful advice and shared experiences.

Conclusion

It’s been a fun challenge and a joy to practice medicine this way.

Studying during residency

Here are some questions I received a long time ago about studying during residency:

  1. Do you have any thoughts on studying to become a better doctor?
  2. What and how do you study when not preparing for some fun standardized test?

The easy answer for the latter is that in our modern system of medical education and board certification, you’re always preparing for a fun standardized test.

But I think the real answer to both of these questions to make it about your patients as much as possible.

Approach

You should always consider a broad differential and use real patients as opportunities to consider and learn about alternative diagnoses. If you have the motivation, consider further broadening your differential or treatment considerations unnecessarily just to have a relevant excuse to learn more about given topics. Think “I know it’s not disease X, but what if it was?”

Grounding as much learning as you can with patient care will give you the broad foundation you need in your field to build on when new things come along. But on top of that, linking up the information you learn from resources and articles with real live patient memories gives that information more staying power and helps you fight against the forgetting curve.

In medical school, you are hyper-directed in the content you must master, though in many cases toward low-yield material and wasted energy. In residency, you have more leeway toward becoming an expert in things that will directly impact your practice.

Content

I think for many residents it’s generally difficult to “study” in the medical school sense of systematically sitting down with a book or resource without a test looming in the near future. You’ll have the in-service, which you can use as motivation for dedicated review and MCQ fun, but preparing for your patients/daily activities is something you can do continually and, when done aggressively, can cover a large fraction of the relevant material. You may find relevant book chapters helpful on occasion, but squeezing in UptoDate articles and occasionally reading their references, the infrequent Google Scholar/PubMed search, and reading up on the next day’s procedures/surgeries (or the equivalent for your field), are going to work well in general.

I do think that Anki style flashcards and question banks are still good tools. If you have rotations that contain relatively well-defined material, these may even be straightforward to consider and implement on a schedule. In radiology, for example, it’s pretty easy to (at least plan) to read a book on chest radiography and do the chest RadPrimer MCQs on a dedicated chest rotation.

You may need to give yourself a long-term curriculum to work through, whether that’s guided by a commercial question bank or just following the table of contents of a gold standard textbook.

The Crux

The real limitation here is time and energy. Residency is busy. Call shifts can be brutal, and by the time you recover, you’re on call again. You may have a spouse who needs support and children who deserve a parent. And people keep trying to dump boring research projects on you. Sometimes, something’s gotta give.

But what I would say is that you’ll be more able to learn efficiently if your outside-work-life is harmonious enough that you can be fully present for your daily work. That part is almost non-negotiable. So before you guilt yourself for not studying enough at home, make sure you’re doing the things that you need to in order to recharge your battery to be a thoughtful physician for your patients. The trite lines with all the burnout talk out there is that you need exercise, eat healthily, and spend time nurturing your meaningful relationships. And you know what? That’s probably a good start.

Most of the things that really have an impact will come up as you engage actively with patient care, but some of the other BS will only come when its time to review for that next standardized high-stakes exam.

Ultimately, you caring about your patients as individual human beings and paying attention are the two most important things you can do to provide good care and to learn.