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PE-llars of Strength

​Did you know that behind every Resident is a Programme Executive (PE) that helps to ensure that he or she never misses a submission deadline when it comes to administrative work? For some, PEs even extend to being their level-headed friends who offer fresh perspectives when the going gets tough. 

In the July/August issue of INSIGHT, we speak to three SingHealth PEs, Charissa Ng (from SingHealth PGY1), Romano Soliano (from Neurology and Neurosurgery Programme), and Nur Suhaila Binte Ishak (from Internal Medicine Programme), who share helpful tips on how to cope with key challenges that every new PGY1 and Resident will face.

Charissa ​Romano ​Suhaila

1. What are the common issues that new PGY1s and Residents typically face?

  • Learning and practising teamwork. Transiting from medical studies to your PGY1/Residency training is definitely stressful. As a medical student, you would only be accountable to yourselves. But when you begin work on hospital grounds, you will find yourself having to answer to an entire team of seniors, Faculty and various healthcare professionals. This will inevitably lead to a clash of personalities, which can be a source of stress. Clashing personalities is also a potential hotbed for conflicts when you add the emotions that run high during stressful situations.  

Tip: It's always helpful to build good relationships with the people you work with, from your Programme Director, to seniors and peers, as well as the PEs. These are the people who will be journeying closely with you throughout the entire PGY1/Residency training. *Pro Tip: Treat your PE with utmost kindness – they are your gateway (to the bosses) and a happy Residency life! :)

  • Learning how to cope with work demands. When you first start your PGY1/Residency, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of work, the gruelling working hours and its demands. This includes experiencing negative feelings of being unable to please everyone. Ultimately, the situation causes PGY1s and Residents to experience burnout prematurely.

Tip: Develop a sense of self-awareness. This helps you to identify triggers that may lead you to feel upset and the impact of these emotions, so that you can better cope in Residency. A keen sense of self-awareness is always the first step to help transform into a better version of oneself.

It's also important to actively practise self-care, and not neglect your mental or physical health. While we are expected to take good care of our patients, it is important to also focus on your personal well-being, so that you can handle the challenges that come your way and ultimately, fulfil your purpose to heal others.

  • Striking a balance between serving their patients, receiving medical education and clinical training, and administrative obligations that are part of the training curriculum.

Tip: Update your duty hours and complete your evaluations diligently. These are commonly neglected by new PGY1s and Residents. Unbeknown to them, neglecting administrative matters can cause more stress once they snowball.

  • Specific to PGY1s, facing the dilemma of not knowing when to escalate patients to their seniors is a common issue. Being inexperienced, PGY1s tread a fine line between escalating the patients too late and causing their conditions to deteriorate, and passing off the responsibility of every decision-making to the seniors and not learning to manage the patients independently.

Tip: No one expects you to know everything. So when you are in doubt, don't be afraid to ask and clarify. The bottom line is to always keep the patients safe. Hence, be willing to admit you don't know. There is no better time to seek guidance and gain new knowledge than during your training.  


2. Share a priceless moment with your PGY1s/Residents.

Charissa: I once met a PGY1 who was experiencing anxiety and wanted to give up. On my first encounter with her, I asked her if she had lunch and she immediately broke down. After speaking to her further, I understood that it was the 1st month of her 1st posting, and unfortunately, she was cast in an unfavourable light by her peer, which led the team to believe that she had not been pulling her weight and contributing to the team.

Facing the gambits of the peer and the brusque attitude of the team was an everyday occurrence. She became very distressed and her morale plummeted. Seeing no way out of the situation, she was desperate to exit the posting and was on the verge of taking no-pay leave. There was not much I could do except listen; it was probably what she needed to sort out her thoughts.

Two weeks later when I met her again, she seemed calmer. She divulged that she had mustered the courage to speak with her peer. The issues between them were resolved and things were better, though the team's poor impression of her remained. It was a very difficult first posting for her, yet she chose to be brave and show up daily to face her challenges. Her resilience has left a great impact on me and reminds me to be resilient too in my role as a PE.

Romano: There are too many moments, but the one time when I witnessed Neurosurgeons out of their element was priceless. By out of their element, I specifically mean out on a yacht braving choppy waters of southern islands. It was thoroughly enjoyable seeing the some of the Residents and the bosses try to outdo each other at water sports and a steak-cook off (with minimal ingredients); while others fought uncomfortably against extreme nausea and seasickness.

Learning point: Doctors give patients the best advice concerning their health, but doctors give other doctors the 'worst' advice when dealing with their health! (e.g. "Drink more beer! It will help with the nausea/seasickness).

​Romano with his programmes on a yacht

Suhaila: I think every moment spent with the Residents is priceless. Each time I bump into my ex-Residents who share words of gratitude for the help that I have given them during their Residency training, I am spurred on to keep going in this job (7 years and I am still here :))!

Suhaila with Faculty and Residents from Internal Medicine

3. Describe your relationship with your Residents using an object.

Charissa: A packet of tissue paper. Tissue paper is easily one of the most overlooked inventions, but you will realise its usefulness when you need it. For instance, tissue papers will come in handy while nursing a runny nose or when you find yourself in a predicament, like running out of toilet paper (gasp!) – tissue paper will save your day.

Like the packet of tissue paper, I will go to the PGY1s' rescue every now and then – be it to offer them some advice or lend them a listening ear. Due to their short 4 month rotations, the PGY1s have a limited contact time with me. But I guess they must have realised that I am a rather useful resource to tap on, especially when they run into problems!

​Charissa with her PGY1 colleagues

Romano: My Residents are like bottles of whisky; every bottle (Resident) is different but equally special. Some whiskies (Residents) are relatively young, whilst others are relatively old, but both require much attention from me. Some are more palatable (responsive to my chasers to settle their admin matters) than others. The effect of each bottle is unpredictable; some leave you thirsty for more, whilst others leave you with a bad hangover. Nevertheless, ALL are enjoyable! :)

                                                 ​Romano at dinner with fellow programme Faculty and Residents

Suhaila: There is no particular object that comes to mind to describe my relationship with my Residents. But if I could use a phrase, I would probably describe it as a 'relationship that lasts a lifetime'.

Suhaila glammed up with her Residents