Work Hard – But Also Smart

It was post-admission day on the medicine unit.

I had “slept” for a couple of hours in the last 24.

Like zombies, we all went through our assigned tasks.

After all the bloods were drawn, and all the case sheets written, at 8:30 a.m. I rounded up cases scheduled for echocardiograms – and prepared to leave.

“Wait, today I’m going with the echo cases!” said my fellow intern. “You handle the ward chores.”

I was a bit surprised. Turns out he believed that it was “unfair that I finished my tasks” by half past ten.

Today, he wanted to take the “quick and easy” path – while I did the scut work here.

I smiled in agreement.

By 12:30, all our work was done. We were getting ready to leave.

Just then my co-intern staggered into the ward. He looked exhausted and desperate.

“Finished with all the echo cases?” our PG asked.

He shook his head.

“No, sir. They say it will only be done last – around 2 p.m.”

“Then why are you here?” the PG said angrily. “Go back and sit with the patients. Come back with them when you’re done!”

Next week, I asked if he wanted to go for echocardiograms again.

He practically begged me to handle them. I knew the cardiology chief personally, as he was my dad’s friend. As always, I jumped the queue – and finished my scans in half an hour!

Working hard is absolutely necessary.

No doubt or question about that.

But so is working smart.

Tailoring duties and tasks to suit an individual’s skills, interests and ‘connections’ is smart.

Demanding equal distribution isn’t.

Dumping your work on someone else is rude and nasty.

But swapping stuff you’re not good at, for others that you enjoy, can help everyone finish sooner.


Which brings me to one of the most important lessons of all that you’ll learn during internship.

I myself learned it only towards the end, after around 10 months.

So you’re short-circuiting your ‘learning curve’ by reading this today!

An intern should not only work hard… but also SEEN TO BE working hard.

In other words, just getting the work done won’t do.

Other folks must be aware that YOU did it.

You should learn how to subtly slip in such references to your performance, sincerity and responsibility – so that others are aware of it.

Like asking an ‘innocent’ question:

“Sir, what does ‘NPO’ mean? The duty PG asked me in the emergency ward this morning, when I went to write progress notes for our patients.”

Or clearing up a ‘doubt’:

“Madam, when I went to the blood bank to reserve blood for tomorrow’s cases, I asked for 4 FFP… Will that be enough?”

Or sharing an interesting observation:

“There was a crowd in the pathology department when I went to collect our patient’s results. It seems there was a…”

It looks odd if you declare, over and over: “Today I did this. And that. As well as those.”

But you’ll achieve the same result – subtly.

You’ll seed the fact that you’re working hard – into a more general observation!

Now, here’s the bigger question:

Why does this even matter?

Won’t people notice anyway that you’re working hard – and treat you accordingly?

In an ideal world, yes.

This world is NOT ideal.

Your seniors – PGs, APs, chiefs and others – honestly don’t care WHO does the work… only that the work gets done.

If it’s not finished, everyone gets scolded.

If it is done, they’ll simply assume that whoever claims credit for it – actually did the work!

That’s why it’s smart to be SEEN TO BE DOING the work!

You can’t count on luck and chance to handle this for you.

And if you’re paired with a savvy co-intern who knows the tricks of claiming credit… you’re stuffed!

So become that savvy co-intern – yourself.

Take control of your own propaganda.

Definitively stake a claim for credit – to everything you’ve done.

And if you like, try and get some for stuff others did – but didn’t own!

(Don’t worry about this being ‘so unfair’ – because it all evens out anyway. Some things you do will get claimed by others. Net-net, at the end of your internship year, you’ll have got just about as much credit as you’ve done the work for!)

There’s a corollary to this point:

If you see a clown getting away with doing nothing – and yet cons people into believing s/he’s slogging real hard… don’t get annoyed.

Understand this:

Your seniors have all reached where they are after YEARS of experience with this kind of behavior.

We’re good at spotting ‘work shirkers’.

And often can intuitively tell that a certain guy or gal is going to be one of them… even before seeing it happen.

In the short term (days, or a couple of weeks), the lazy intern can get away pretending.

In the medium to long term, s/he won’t. And can’t.

By trying to fool/cheat others (seniors, colleagues, authorities, etc) – you’ll only end up cheating yourself.

And your patients.

Don’t do it.

Internship is a formative phase in your medical career.

A period during which your lifelong work ethic is being shaped and firmed up.

I’m yet to see a lazy, work-shirking intern magically transform in later years into a hard-working, sincere, dedicated physician… and doubt if it could even happen, unless as among the rarest of exceptions.

By and large, the kind of attitude and approach towards work that you establish as an intern – will extend into the rest of your professional life.

Hence the consistent advice…

To work hard, and to work smart.

To be seen to be working.

To avoid shortcuts and ‘cheats’.

To develop discipline and stamina that will last you forever.

Now… get back to work!

Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author -

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