Day in the Life: On Call


Good morning! I get a lot of questions from people about what it’s like to be a doc on call at the hospital, so I thought I’d do a “day in the life” post. I did a similar one here, when I was in medical school in Waterloo and in the midst of training for my first half ironman. Now I’m covering obstetrics (catching babies on their way into the world) in downtown Vancouver.

I wrote this post on a holiday Monday, so my shift officially started at the blissful hour of 8 am. Normal days start at 6.30, making this shift 24h instead of the usual 26-28h. Sorry in advance for the iPhone photos!

5:55 My alarm goes off, and I hit snooze… twice

IMG_68016:13 Ok, I’m getting up. I check the weather and read a couple of emails while I adjust to being upright. I start this post.


6:35 I fold the laundry on the drying rack (so much running stuff!) and then start getting ready.


6:55 Breakfast! On the menu today is blueberries, strawberries, banana, granola and almond milk. One of the things I have learned about being on call is the importance of breakfast… there’s no guaranteed time for lunch!


7:10 I get dressed, brush teeth etc., and pack up my bag for call. Generally, I bring lots of snacks and water, my laptop, phone+computer chargers, a warm sweater, and toothbrush, plus the usual stethoscope/ID/pager. I was on the ball last night (it was a Sunday) and got most of this ready ahead of time.


7:25 Bye to the sleepy Belgian and out the door! I shake my head at the eight (?!?!?!) pairs of running shoes in our front hall closet.


7.30 Stop at Whole Foods for caffeine – I usually get an almond milk latte from here or JJ Bean. Today I also consider giving myself an actual pat on the back for not adding a cookie the size of my face.

7.45 Arrive at work, put everything away, change into scrubs


7:55 Check the board to see what’s happening and meet yesterday’s team for handover.


8:00 Rounds


10:00 Paperwork

11:00 I assess lots of new patients – one needs an induction of labour because she’s past her due date, one has itchy hands and feet (does she have IHCP? Nope, just itchy), one has a cyst that needs to be incised and drained, and one needs a dressing changed.

15:00 I realize I’m starving and eat cheese, a cracker, a Clif bar and an apple (Did I mention I was starving?!)


15:30 I put my things in my call room, and sit down to work on this post, plus some scheduling for the Summer and Fall. I’m also a bit behind where I want to be in my research project, so I’m trying to carve out some time to work on that.

16:30 I get called to assess another patient – she had very limited prenatal care and thought she was in labour. She’s not, but trying to figure out her history and health status proves challenging. I decide to admit her anyway for a full pregnancy workup so that when she is in real labour, we have all the info we need. I also do an ultrasound to check on her baby’s position and look for amniotic fluid.

18:00 Jan stops by on his way home from work and we chat for a bit!   

 19:30 The on-call OB, senior resident and I order sushi, and I run out to pick it up. Yum! I eat my salmon roll and snack on a bunch of grapes.


20:30 Back to working at my desk. Definitely going to make some progress on a proposal I’m writing. I also work on this post! Thank you to my iPhone for time stamping all of my photos today – SO much easier. Quiet time + leftovers from last night’s dinner (Macrobiotic bowl! I’ll post a recipe soon) = happy resident.


23:00 We go to the OR to fix up the inside of the uterus for a woman who miscarried. The OR desk holds onto my pager for me.

01:30 Our lady from earlier in the day goes into active labour and delivers!

03:00 Sleep. Yasss.

05:00 The day team is going to be here soon, so I get ready for the day – teeth brushed, pack up my stuff, and head down to the ward to start seeing inpatients before handover.

06:30 Rounds with the day team, dictate on a few patients going home.

07:30 Handover

08:00 Changed out of my scrubs and head home.

08:30 Ahh. Home! I relax for a bit, eat breakfast and catch up with Jan before he heads to work.

The next question is – now what? I try really, really hard not to sleep post call because it keeps my body in a better sleep/wake rhythm that way. On this particular night, I managed a solid 2 hours of sleep… not ideal at all but definitely enough to function! My post-call rules are:

  1. All rules are flexible. Listen to your body.
  2. No sleeping. If I really have to, I’ll relax in bed or on the couch with a book or Netflix.
  3. On call, no eating after 10 PM/before 6 AM. Water doesn’t count.
  4. Post-call, move! I try to run before 3 PM
  5. Minimize junk food and caffeine (1 cup only) both on call and post call.
  6. Early to bed to reset myself.

And that’s it!


2 thoughts on “Day in the Life: On Call

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