10 Traits You Need to Succeed in Medical School

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10 Traits Premeds Need to Succeed in Medical School

Session 07

In today’s episode, I’m joined for the first time by my wife, Dr. Allison Gray. Allison is a Senior Neurology Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Today we’re answering an email from a senior high school student who sent us describing her dream of becoming a doctor and her struggles in life. She also posed two questions:

  1. What qualities are essential to have in order to succeed in medical school?
  2. Do you really have to be academically gifted and grow up in an advantaged family?

In response to these questions, we came up with a list of qualities that would help students through medical school and even through undergraduate, residency, and beyond.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

10 Traits You Need to Succeed in Medical School

  1. Discipline

  • Self-discipline can come from your own motivation or can be instilled by parents and teachers.
  • As a medical student and physician, you’re a lifelong learner, and you need the discipline to be able to keep studying.
  • You need to be able to study regardless of what else is going on in your life.
  • Discipline is important to practice on an ongoing basis, so you can serve the patients you’re taking care of.
  1. Persistence/Drive

  • The journey to become a doctor is a long road.
  • You need to be able to keep pushing yourself even when it gets hard.
  • You need to pick yourself up after each problem you encounter and move on.
  • It’s not how many times you fall that matters but how many times you pick yourself back up.
  • Remember that medical school is a very big investment. You’ve already come so far. You have to keep pushing yourself.
  1. Humility

  • You’ll run into some arrogant people in medical school who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread.
  • Learn how to be humble and how to be a good team player.
  • Challenge yourself to be the best, but realize there are other people around you who have skills and knowledge.
  • In medicine, there is too much to know all by yourself, so you have to work as a team.
  1. Being a Team Player

  • This is a skill you need to hone even when still in high school by doing things like working in study groups.
  • Participate and do whatever it takes to help out with patient care.
  • Medicine today is carried out by healthcare teams.
  • You will work with nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, technicians, physician assistants, social workers, case managers, and office staff.
  • Be willing to do “scut work.” This is when a resident or attending asks you to do little tasks such as getting a chart or running errands. Be a team player, and try to pitch into whichever clinical tasks need to be done. (But it’s a different story when they ask you to pick up their dry cleaning.)
  1. Intelligent

  • You don’t have to be a valedictorian or the smartest person in your class.
  • Quantifying smartness can be difficult, but you can look at your grades to measure your academic success.
  • You need to be able to do well in college since medical school only gets harder.
  • Part of being bright is knowing your limits and what you need to ask for help with.
  1. Adaptable

  • You go through many different rotations in your clinical years, so you need to be open-minded and flexible to these different workplaces.
  • In medical school rotations, you’ll be exposed to many different teams of people and exposed to different subject matters very quickly. You’ll be exposed to different areas of medicine all the time.
  • You switch teams constantly with different attending physicians. Every attending works differently, so you have to be able to change accordingly.
  • You should be able to go with the flow and adapt to change.
  1. Empathic

  • You should be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand what they’re experiencing.
  • Empathy is not sympathy.
  • You will be taking care of patients from all walks of life. Even if you come from a completely opposite background as someone, you need to provide the best care for the patient.
  • This is one of the most important traits for being a good medical student and a good physician.
  • Your judgments or biases have no place in the patient’s room and at the bedside.

[Related episode: Lack of Empathy: A Med School Dealbreaker.]

  1. Good Attitude/Enthusiastic

  • A good attitude will help you stay motivated to get through the material and do well on exams. A good attitude is also important in your clinical rotations to make the job more fun.
  • Put a solid effort into each thing you do.
  • Residents appreciate working with medical students who are positive and enthusiastic.
  • The more interest you have in the subject matter, the more you’ll learn.
  • People respond well to someone who has a positive attitude.
  1. Having a sense of humor

  • In medicine, you’re exposed to really tough stuff, so finding humor in the process will help you avoid burnout.
  • Even oncologists have the best sense of humor.
  • Know how to live your life and be present to the things that make you laugh.
  • Dealing with emotions is not taught in medical school or residency. So being able to find the humor in things will serve you well.
  • Laughter is a form of healing. Don’t feign laughter with somebody, but if you’re good at getting others laughing, don’t hide it.
  1. Confidence

  • Patients want to go to a doctor who really knows what they’re doing.
  • Do not confuse confidence with arrogance.
  • You want to be able to express confidence to your patients to make them feel that they’re in safe hands.
  • Don’t assume you know it all, but take responsibility when taking care of people.
  • Confidence builds with time and experience as a medical student and a resident. It’s something you can always work on.

[Related episode: Bragging vs Confidence in Your Secondary Applications.]

One more bonus trait that you need to succeed in medical school

You have to be able to deal with blood and guts. If you faint at the sight of blood, you might want to reconsider, unless you’re able to get over that fear. Some specialties involve more blood and bodily fluids than others, though. For more on this, check out the Goo Tolerance Index for choosing a medical specialty!

Links and Other Resources

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