Personality Traits of Successful Medical Students

One of the new trends in medical school admissions is examining personality traits of applicants, in addition to considering more cognitive factors such as GPA and MCAT. Because medical school is so difficult, and because schools invest so much time and effort in training physicians, it is becoming increasingly important to predict which type of student will be most successful. According to studies, there are certain personality traits that medical schools are looking for because these traits have been shown to be good predictors of success. They are:

Self-discipline and competence: The first two years of a medical school program has a strong emphasis on science courses. The very rigorous curriculum can take a toll on students if they are not motivated and self-disciplined, not to mention extremely competent in study, learning, and test-taking skills. Before any other trait is considered, medical schools must determine that an applicant has the self-discipline to get through four tough years and the unusually high intelligence required to absorb the amount of material necessary to become a physician.

Conscientiousness: Following two years of science courses, students will transition to clinical experiences, where interpersonal skills like dependability and attention to detail are especially important. For students to succeed, they not only need to be conscientious, but also honest, agreeable, and have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others. They also need to have a genuine interest in what they are doing.

Interpersonal skills: During the first two years of medical school, students will depend on each other for support and cooperation in preparing for courses and studying for exams. They cannot be afraid to ask for help if they need it. The last two years are the clinical years, where interpersonal skills and team effort are critical. Students who do not cooperate, who are not agreeable, and who do not work as a team are not going to be successful in clerkships and residencies.

Emotional stability: It goes without saying that getting through medical school requires a lot of sacrifices, and there will be times when students get depressed and feel as if they cannot handle the pressure. Being emotionally strong and having a good support system is essential for success. One of the things that admissions interviewers look for is whether they feel the applicant has the emotional fortitude to make it through their program.

Time Management Skills: If there is one constant in medical school, it is stress. If a student cannot cope with stress because of procrastination or poor time management skills, he or she will have a difficult time getting things done, may get physically ill, and will find it impossible to stay on track. The most successful students are the ones who thrive in stressful situations because they know how to handle the pressure and have learned to manage their time well.

No single personality type makes the best doctor but lacking certain traits will make it that much more difficult to successfully complete an M.D. degree. Prospective applicants need to take a step back and consider whether they have the personality and the motivation that it takes to become a physician. If they do, then medicine may very well be the perfect career choice.

From:The New Medical School Preparation & Admissions Guide, 4th edition by Dr. Andrew Goliszek Order on Amazon

Types of Students Who Should Not Consider Medical School

Before you even consider premed, you need to be honest with yourself, know your abilities and your personality, and do some soul searching. The time commitment involved in a premedical curriculum is more than it is for most college majors. It is not a decision to be made lightly. For many students, premed is so tough that they change their career goals after the first year. Although there are always exceptions, you probably are not the type of student who should consider medicine as a career if:

1. You are not a team player. Although some physicians such as pathologists work behind the scenes, most do not. They are constantly working together with hospital administrators, nurses, other doctors, and office staff. Medicine is a team effort, and unless you are a good communicator and willing to work as a member of a team, medicine may not be a good fit. Medical schools recognize this and are changing curriculums to be more group oriented.

2. You hate red tape, bureaucracy, and competition. In medical school, there are no easy days, and many of your classmates will be highly competitive. The first two years are especially stressful, not only because there is so much to learn but also because you have never had to work that hard before. Once you become a physician, the red tape and bureaucracy continues. So if you are not the type of person who can handle the daily grind, find another career path.

3. You are not a lifelong learner. Physicians are students for life. And because medical advances are happening so fast, you will be left behind and feel incompetent if you do not keep up with the latest medical therapies and trends. The amount of information is incredible, so unless you look forward to learning for the rest of your life, medicine is the wrong career choice.

4. You are not willing to put your life on hold until you finish school. Ask any doctor, and he or she will tell you that medical school is a big sacrifice. You will have to put lots of things, including family, on hold while you study, cram, and learn.

5. You are not interested in learning how and why things work. If you think memorizing facts in college was a big deal, multiply that a thousand times and that is what you will be doing your first few years of medical school. But even though you will have to memorize countless facts, you will also have to understand how and why things work. So, for example, if you’re not interested in how diseases start, what their mechanisms are, and why therapies work to treat or cure those diseases, then you probably don’t have the drive or natural curiosity it takes to be a doctor.

6. You do not have a love for learning in general. Some students learn because they must pass exams and get through the course. Others learn because they love to learn. These are the students who do well in medical school and become good doctors. It goes back to being a lifelong learner. Unless you have a passion to learn and keep learning, you will not be successful in medicine.

7. You do not have a strong desire to help others. For the most part, people become interested in medicine because they have a genuine desire to help others. If your only reason for going to medical school is to have a career in which you make a lot of money, soon you are going to be miserable. The most successful people are the ones who love what they do and, as a result, become great at their jobs.

From: The New Medical School Preparation & Admissions Guide, 4th edition by Dr. Andrew Goliszek Order on Amazon

Why Organic Chemistry is the Weed-Out Course for Premeds

Ask any premed student and most will tell you that organic chemistry, especially organic chemistry II, is the toughest course that they have taken in college. At some schools, professors take pride in making this the weed-out course for potential medical students; and I have personally known good students who have given up on medicine just because of organic chemistry.

There are a few reasons for this. At one large university, where a thousand freshmen wanted to go into medicine, a professor actually said that he needed to weed out as many of the weak students as possible to make the advising and the application process more manageable. What school, according to the professor, wants to have hundreds of weak applicants who have no chance of getting into medical school? Another reason is that organic chemistry requires more study time than just about any other course, and naturally the weak students will drop out. If a student cannot spend 10 or more hours a week studying for a single course, there is no way that they are going to get through medical school.

The reason admissions committees look closely at organic chemistry grades is that organic chemistry requires not only memorization (although some claim that it does not) and lots of study time, but problem-solving skills. Even though you won’t have to know much organic chemistry as a physician, the fact that you were able to do well in the course says a lot about 1) your study habits, 2) your motivation, drive, and determination, and 3) your problem solving skills.

An A or B in organic chemistry tells the admissions committee members that you have what it takes to get through a tough medical school curriculum. One of the reasons that students do poorly in organic chemistry is that they have a preconceived notion that it is the toughest course they will ever take. That may be true for some, but many students do very well in organic chemistry and find it fun and challenging. It does not have to be the hell-on-earth class that everyone dreads and that many students fail. It could actually be the course that makes you a much better applicant and helps you do well on the MCAT. The following are 6 ways to make organic chemistry easier and keep it from being the weed-out course that will keep you out of medical school:

Do not believe the hype. Many students go into organic chemistry scared out of their wits simply because they have been told that it is the toughest course they will ever encounter. Some professors also scare students into believing this. Although it is a tough course, it does not have to be any more difficult than other science classes if you apply yourself and study hard. The material to be mastered in organic chemistry does not change, only the way professors teach it. So go into the class expecting to spend a lot of time studying and reviewing, and then study.

Study hard and study every day. The only way to get an A in organic chemistry is to spend at least 10 hours a week studying. If you are not used to spending this much time on a single course, get used to it because it is quite easy to fall behind and get lulled into a false sense of security. Organic chemistry requires that you study and review every single day so that the material becomes familiar and less intimidating.

Understand, do not memorize. One of the biggest mistakes that students make when learning organic chemistry is trying to memorize everything. Naturally, there will be memorization involved, but more important is your ability to really understand what is going on so that you can solve problems that you have never seen before. Each concept in organic chemistry builds upon previous principles, so get in the habit of reviewing summaries and notes from previous material as new material is introduced.

Draw out mechanisms. Even if you do not have to draw out mechanisms to get an answer, do so anyway. By drawing mechanisms, you will get a better understanding of the chemistry involved and you will become more intuitive. One of the best books I have seen for helping students visualize organic molecules is Pushing Electrons by Daniel Weeks.

Work as many problems as possible. It is not enough to read and understand the material. You must work lots of problems in order to apply the concepts you learn. Always study with a pencil and paper, and never resort to the answer page until you have seriously attempted to solve the problem. When you get an answer wrong, understand why. It is not enough to read through problems and look at the answers. You must do the problems.

Work in groups. Organic chemistry is one of those courses where it is helpful to study in groups. Ask each other questions, solve problems together, and teach one another. If you can explain a concept to someone else, then you know that you understand it.

Do not wait to get help. Falling behind is one the biggest reasons for failure, so as soon as you encounter problems, go see the instructor or tutor for help. Do not underestimate the value of extra help sessions. If they are offered, go to them, ask questions, and review what you have learned. It is hard to catch up in organic chemistry once you have fallen behind, so the best way to do well is to try to get ahead of the class and look for help at the first sign of trouble. The way in which you learn and practice organic chemistry will be beneficial to the way you will learn material in medical school. Courses such as medical biochemistry, pharmacology (which has a lot of organic compounds), microbiology, and pathology all involve concepts that build on each other, much like in organic chemistry. Perhaps that is why admissions committees believe that doing well in organic prepares you for the way you will have to think and approach classes in medical school.

From: The New Medical School Preparation & Admissions Guide, 4th edition by Dr. Andrew Goliszek Order on Amazon

How To Think Critically

Critical thinking is the process of gathering material and then evaluating and analyzing it in a disciplined way. Good critical thinkers, rather than just getting and retaining information, ask lots of questions in order to understand the material, are open-minded, and use evidence, reason, and honesty to come to reasonable conclusions. In order to develop good critical thinking skills, students need to go beyond just memorizing; they need to think about what they are memorizing and why they need to memorize the information. If you’re not a critical thinker, you can learn to think critically by starting to ask yourself why about whatever you’re reading or studying. That’s because critical thinking is about questioning; and asking why is the simplest form of questioning. Think of it as an exercise that you need to do on a regular basis so that it becomes second nature. The more you do it, the more subconscious it becomes. You also need to develop certain character traits. Here are the main characteristics necessary to become a classic critical thinker:

Be reasonable. Don’t rely on feelings, hunches, educated guesses, and emotions; demand evidence, and then follow that evidence to a reasoned conclusion no matter where it might lead. Get out of the habit of needing to get quick answers, and instead use facts and reasoned arguments to solve problems.

Be skeptical. By nature, critical thinkers are suspicious and skeptical. They ask questions, which often lead to more questions, and they demand that answers are based on analysis and fact. They also challenge existing facts and beliefs and investigate what they read in order to come to reasoned conclusions. This will be especially valuable if you’re going into a scientific field.

Be honest. Everyone has biases and a point of view. This can get in the way of critical thinking because we tend to ignore what we don’t like. Thinking critically requires brutal honesty without assumptions or prejudices.

Be open-minded. Consider all possibilities and viewpoints, regardless of what you might think of them or have heard in the past. This is especially true if a viewpoint is unpopular or has been rejected before. Look for novel explanations, and always be open to alternative or different perspectives.

Be disciplined. Avoid quick decisions. Critical thinkers are accurate, clear, precise, comprehensive, and thoughtful. They never make judgments based on what they feel is correct, and they never look for answers based on self-interest and personal preferences. So, don’t make snap decisions or go by what your gut tells you.

Be an effective communicator. Analyzing information and solving complex problems is more effective when others are involved in the process of figuring out solutions. Forming a group and brain-storming is a great way to share ideas and come up with creative solutions.

Be curious. Don’t depend on a single source for information because this can bias your opinion. It’s like watching the same news program or reading the same magazine without getting an opposing viewpoint. If you look at various sources of information, you won’t be as slanted in your thinking and you’ll be better prepared to make a decision based on fact rather than prejudice or opinion.

Be inquisitive and reflective. Critical thinkers are naturally inquisitive because they want to know why as much as what, where, and how. Think of yourself as a trial lawyer who needs to get to the facts as well as search for the motive behind the crime. To instill curiosity, complete statements such as: Some of the real-world applications are . . . The key issues involved in this topic are . . . The main question I have with this topic is . . . The problem I have with this issue is . . . It’s hard for me to accept this because . . . Another way to look at this is . . . What I’m most curious about is . . . What I find most difficult to understand about this topic is . . . The reason this can’t be right is . . . The key takeaway from this topic is . . . Questions like these lead to curiosity and future thinking.

Most of us just listen to a lecture or read something and not give it another thought. But once you get in the habit of being inquisitive and reflecting on the material, it becomes second nature. So, to become a critical thinker, be open-minded, be skeptical and, above all, be inquisitive.

Using critical thinking skills is one of the most effective ways to solve problems. That’s because you’ll have a roadmap that will guide you every step of the way. You can break any problem down and come up with a solution by using the following 4-step approach.

1. Identify. The first step in solving any problem is to put it into words as clearly as possible and identify what it is that you’re trying to solve. Unless you can define the problem and state what your goals are for solving it, the rest of the steps will be difficult if not impossible.

2. Analyze. Once you’ve identified what the problem is, learn more about it by researching, reading, and asking others for their perspectives and input. This is the time to drop your biases and be open-minded to fresh ideas and possibilities.

3. Reflect. Based on your analysis, consider a number of possibilities. Now is the time to be imaginative and creative, not closed-minded. Evaluate the effects of each solution, and consider alternatives, even if they seem at odds with current thinking. Sometimes it helps if you talk through the possibilities out loud or brainstorm with others. It also helps to free your mind of the problem and allow your subconscious to process it for a while before thinking about it again.

4. Decide. After identifying and analyzing the problem, and considering a number of possible solutions, choose the one that you think will work best in solving the problem.

As an alternative to traditional classroom learning, PBL is a method of critical thinking in which you actively explore issues and work with content in order to solve a problem. You can break PBL down to 6 simple steps as follows:

1. List the important parts of the problem. Discuss with your group the issues and the significant parts of the problem. Also discuss your current knowledge about the problem and how you can use that knowledge to help you solve it. Use each group member’s strengths and expertise to assign tasks.

2. Write the problem out in your own words. This is a good way to get a handle on what you really need to do to solve the problem. Make sure the group agrees on the statement, and don’t be afraid to change it as you get new information and input.

3. List the possible solutions. Brainstorm with the group and come up with a list in order from the strongest to the weakest. Don’t ignore strange solutions, but concentrate on the strongest possibility.

4. List the actions to be taken. Make a timeline of what actions are to be taken. You may ask, “What do we need to know?” or “What do we need to do to solve the problem?”

5. Research the knowledge and data base. Do a literature search, read books and articles, and search data bases for information that will help you solve the problem. Assign specific tasks to members of the group so that everyone is participating.

6. Write up the solution and defend your conclusions. State the problem you are addressing and the conclusion, and give supporting evidence to defend that conclusion. If you are going to present your findings, you need to include: the problem statement, the data gathered and generated in the process, the analysis of the data, a summary of the process you used, the problems you ran into during the process, and the solutions and recommendations.

From: Making a Valedictorian by Andrew Goliszek, PhD. Order on Amazon