Monday, January 09, 2012

What Medical Students (and Residents) Should Bring On Call

This is a guest post by Medaholic

Essential Items to Bring when On Call

Being in-house overnight call is a rite of passage for all medical students and residents. From sleeping on old uncomfortable beds to being awoken in the night for scutwork, being on call can be miserable. However, there are somethings you can do to make your call more bearable. Having done a fair share of call, I've put together a list of items that you should pack in your bag whenever you're on call. Some are practical, some make your life more comfortable and some are absolutely necessary. Hope you find this list helpful


1. Hospital ID / Access Card - Granted you should be wearing your identification normally, having a hospital ID when you're on call is a must. At night, many hospitals doors are locked and need special keycards to access. During the day, you may be able to get by without one but at night, be sure to bring it with you always. 

2. Pager - As much as I hate this device, it is a must carry at night. It is often the only way someone can find you in the hospital. Worse, if you have unanswered pages from ward nurses or other health personnel, it can be considered unprofessional and have consequences. 

3. Cellphone - if you're in a place with no wired telephones, a cellphone is crucial for returning pages. Similarly, lots of students, residents and staff communicate via text or direct calls to their personal phones. Also having a smartphone to look up medication dosages and references is handy. 

4. Food / Snacks - It's important to take care of yourself and address your basic needs when on call. Bring a healthy dinner. Have lots of small snacks just in case you're up all night. Managing your energy levels is important for surviving busy call nights.  

Useful to Bring

5.. Pocket Handbook - Whether it's a medication guide like Tarascon's or Pocket Medicine, having a quick reference can keep you out of trouble especially when you're not certain as to what's going on with a patient. 

6. Money (Cash) - Most hospital cafeterias close early in the evening. You may want to grab some food from a vending machine or delivery to get you through the night. It's always helpful to have coffee money for your post-call morning. 

7. Phone Charger - Most smartphones these days need to be charged daily. Nothing more inconvenient than having your phone die on you the next morning. 

8. Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
 - Going to sleep with poor oral hygiene feels terrible. Similarly, nobody likes a presenter with bad breath. Brushing your teeth in the morning is refreshing, and is a quick thing you can do to not feel gross in the morning. 

9. Study Notes / Books
 - Some nights on call are not as busy as others. There is often some downtime if all the wards are quiet. Since you're in the hospital already, you might as well make the most of your time. Catch up on some of your studying while you're in the hospital, so you won't have to when you're post-call. If you still haven't taken Step 1, 2, or 3, bringing the relevant edition of First Aid can be quite useful. Bring a leisurely read if you want to have a bit of respite too. 

10. Sleep wear - Lots of times call rooms can be quite cold - be sure to bring some warm clothing. Fleece jackets tend to be popular. Similarly, if you don't like sleeping in scrubs, real pajamas can make sleeping in the hospital a bit more bearable. 

11. Comfortable Shoes - Running to the emergency room at 3am in heels or nice dress shoes is less than ideal. Bring comfortable runners like Dansko or Crocs clogs, something you're not afraid to get dirty, and something easy to slip into. 

12. Alarm Clock - You can use your pager or phone to double as an alarm clock. If you would prefer being awoken by a more pleasant sound, a small travel sized alarm clock can do the trick. 

13. White Coat - Some people find the extra pockets and warmth of a white coat useful. Try not to overload your whitecoat with too many tools, pens and books. Save some strain on your neck and only carry what is necessary and nothing more. 

Final TipsLeave your valuables at home - jewelry, laptops, important documents. Pack only what is necessary and have a secure place to store your belongings. You are often the only one looking out for yourself when you're on call, so come prepared. Stay warm, remember to eat, rest when you can and your call nights will not be as stressful. Good luck on your next call shift!

Medaholic blogs about his journey through the Canadian medical system and offers advice for people at all stages of medical training at

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