Relocating for Residency? 10 Things You Should Know

Relocating for Residency Map

Every year as July 1st approaches, newly minted physicians start the process of relocating for residency. After four years of medical school, belongings are either packed or sold, and moving trucks, U-hauls, and cars are stuffed to the brim as the newest cohort of doctors makes the big move to begin their training.

It is an exciting moment for new residents, filled with both anticipation and fear. This is when they begin the journey that will serve as the foundation for the remainder of their professional careers, starting with their intern years.

Whether you’re moving across town or across the country, living with your parents to save cash or not moving at all, this is our advice for making relocating for residency that much easier. We polled Team Thalamus for tips and tricks, and here is what our staff found to be most important.

1) Start looking for housing immediately.

Obviously, all interns need a place to live. What makes residency different than medical school is that you are no longer a student, and so the option of student housing is eliminated.

While some universities and/or hospitals may offer some staff lodging or accommodations, the number of available units will likely be far smaller than the number of applicants. For instance, one Team Thalamus member vividly remembers being #647 on the waitlist for a one-bedroom university-subsidized apartment. Just because a residency program advertises housing, it does not necessarily mean that it is a viable option.

Senior residents and program coordinators are indispensable starting points for possible apartment and housing leads. Many rental properties are passed from resident to resident. Websites like Craigslist are also great while relocating for residency.

Once Match Day is over, it is never too early to start your housing search. Some areas like the Bay Area in California are very difficult to move to because of limited supply and high prices. Have a strategy, use your resources and secure housing ASAP. Find something in your budget; remember it likely isn’t a forever home. It is just a place to stay when not on-call and taking care of patients, that will ensure an easy transition into clinical practice.

2) If you don’t find housing prior to starting residency, DON’T WORRY.

In rare circumstances, you may not be able to find housing immediately and the housing search may extend beyond the start of orientation. Maybe you’re buying a house, and the closing process is taking longer than anticipated. Or maybe you thought you were getting an apartment only to realize you were scammed at the last minute. Whatever the reason, it does happen.

For one team Thalamus member, his journey began at a La Quinta hotel for the first two weeks, followed by couch surfing on his co-residents couches prior to his house finally becoming ready. While not necessarily ideal, it is a great way to get to know your new colleagues. Go with the flow. Be upfront with your program leadership and others at your hospital, as they can probably help you find a place.

DO NOT live in your car, sleep in a park, or bum around the hospital call rooms. If you need help, get it. Soon you’ll have a wonderful place to live (which you won’t see much of anyway because you’ll be working at the hospital…).

3) Moving is harder than anticipated… and will take more time than planned.

Nearly everything you do in moving for residency will take longer than expected. Give yourself ample time to move.

In fact, we recommend that you ensure you have at least a week to rest up before the start of orientation (if possible). This likely means starting your move approximately one month before residency starts. You’ll need to not only move into your new place (assuming you found one), but receive and unpack boxes, go to the DMV, finalize employment documents, set up your place, make several trips to Ikea, make even more trips to Home Depot, shop for food, and all the other day to day items that go with moving to a new area. Everything will be more difficult than it should, so give yourself some buffer.

4) Save money wherever you can.

Medical school is expensive, costing most graduates upwards of $200K. Depending on your repayment plan, loans may become due and interest will capitalize, while cash flow remains limited. While the good news is that many residency programs offer moving stipends, exactly when these funds are disbursed to resident paychecks may vary. It may take several weeks to receive your first paycheck, so ensure you have enough cash or available credit. Make a budget and ensure it has wiggle room.

Other money-related hacks we recommend include:

  • Sell your large furniture and any non-essentials prior to moving. Unless it is something you’re really attached to, moving furniture is expensive and may cost more than the value of the piece of furniture itself. Underclassmen at your medical school are always looking for a deal!
  • Save your post-interview season credit card points (or any other credit card points) and convert them to cash or gift cards to buy essentials.
  • Pack your spices and other kitchen staples. It is amazing how expensive paprika, garlic powder, and olive oil is when you have to buy it all at once (which may be upwards of $200, and not an expense you need at the moment).

5) Moving companies are expensive and unreliable. Plan on something going wrong.

Hiring a white glove moving service or purchasing a POD are expensive options that are also unpredictable in certain instances. Cheaper moving companies are even more undependable. Even renting a U-haul and doing the drive yourself will carry a much heftier price tag than anticipated, and things can go wrong.

Whatever option you do choose, select one that is right for your budget and time. While we do recommend saving every penny, exhausting all of your energy to move yourself likely will drain reserves prior to starting orientation. Try and avoid burning out before you even start work.

The thing is, regardless of which option you choose, something will inevitably go wrong. Something you care about will break. Or the moving company will completely lose a box or two. Other shipments will come grossly late, as much as several weeks.

If you plan ahead, you can ship your items via Greyhound or Amtrak for a fraction of the cost of alternative options. Also, in some instances, mailing boxes via FedEx, UPS or USPS may also be cost-effective.

Flying on an airplane? Paying to check extra bags may be even more cost-efficient than shipping.

Conversely, some moving companies may offer a deal that seems “TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE,” and it usually is. One Team Thalamus member had some of his boxes arrive in the following condition:

Back of Truck

On this note, having the expectation that something will go wrong while relocating for residency will hopefully make the process easier to tolerate.

We would also recommend reviewing the insurance policies offered by the moving companies, because many offer pennies on the dollar to replace your stuff. Investing in supplemental insurance options, such as NSSI while still a student, are cheap ways to ensure your possessions are protected. You will feel like the smartest person in the world when everything does go wrong, and you have the coverage that reimburses you quickly and replaces everything.

Again, something will likely go wrong. So be ready both mentally and financially to rectify the matter.

6) Protect your most treasured possessions.

Beyond insurance and the right moving partner, you should keep your most treasured possession on your person or close by while relocating for residency. Create an “Important Stuff” box that will ride with you in the main cabin of the U-haul, pack important items in your airplane carry on, or leave your most treasured possessions at your parents’ house to then follow with you after starting residency.

Moving companies move many boxes. They all look the same to them. And some items, even if insured, are irreplaceable. These items include “must-not-lose” documents, keepsakes, family heirlooms, photographs, birthday cards, and other items with significant sentimental value. They will serve to remind you of the important things in life during the more difficult times in residency, so ensuring they successfully move with you means they will be there when you need them.

7) Marie Kondo Your life!

The KonMari Method, an Internet sensation,

“Encourages tidying by category—not by location—beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service—then let them go.”

Our modified MedStudent Method includes the following:

  • Start with your clothes. Take what you need. Donate what you don’t.
  • Throw away 90% of your preclinical textbooks and 99% of your preclinical notes. Everything you need in residency will be clinically focused. Keep only the essentials. Sell what you can for extra cash.
  • You would be amazed at how many underclassmen will buy your miscellaneous items (silverware, mattress, desk, etc.) Sell what you can and buy new stuff wherever you move.
  • Keep the important stuff in the “Important Stuff” box (see above).
  • Thank yourself for your service. Then go move!

8) Do this with your hanging clothes.

Hanged Garment

Saves time packing and unpacking. A garbage bag can work wonders!

9) Something will go wrong, redux!

Pack a suitcase with toiletries, medications, and a few days of clothes including business casual and formal outfits. This way, regardless of what happens while relocating for residency you will have clothes for training. “The Doctor Has No Clothes!” would be a less-than-fun story that helps no one, emperor or otherwise!

10) Take a deep breath, have fun and know that it will all work out in the end.

Anything can happen while you move. The great news is that you will soon learn the satisfaction of caring for patients at the most vulnerable points in their lives. It is an honor and a privilege few ever get to experience. Med school, navigating the interview season and all the troubles and stresses along the way are worth it.

And even the most tragic of relocating for residency stories becomes funnier over time. Trust us, we’ve been there and done that, and now we have written a blog about it. Good luck and enjoy!