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Medicine as a Career

Desirable Attributes For A Medical Career

The changing environment for medical practice that is gradually taking place, which is discussed later in this chapter, will fully impact on those who will practice in the twenty-first century. Thus, while ten specific desirable attributes are noted below, one major personal quality should be emphasized at this point, namely, the need for a strong commitment to medicine. Having such a commitment will serve to overcome the inevitable obstacles, which include a less attractive environment in which to practice, high tuition costs, a long education and training period, and lower income expectations. An intense commitment will permit one to meet the inevitable challenges and overcome any setbacks that may be encountered. It will also serve to avoid incurring the disappointment that withdrawal from a career goal for nonacademic reasons would generate.

There are ten basic qualities that are desirable for prospective physicians to have.

  1. Intelligence. Medical studies and practice require an ability to learn, retain, and integrate a vast amount of scientific data through study, experimentation, and experience.
  2. Scientific interest. Medicine, while an applied science, rests upon an understanding of the fundamental biological and chemical activities that we define as life. An understanding of its dynamic processes requires a solid grounding in chemical, physical, and biological principles. What is especially desirable is a mastery of the scientific mode of inquiry and the attainment of good manipulative skills.
  3. Favorable personality. A successful practice involves an ability to establish and maintain a good rapport with people at all levels. Thus, you must realize that you will have to treat people coming from different walks of life and associate with colleagues who have different backgrounds. It is very desirable to have warmth and empathy and, thus, be able to reflect a positive response to the needs, suffering, and fears of others in a manner that can provide both reassurance and respect. Another desirable personality characteristic is broadmindedness. This is reflected by a wide breadth of interests, the desire for a wide range of experiences, the habit of forming value judgments independently, the ability to establish close friendships, an open-mindedness to nonconforming ideas, and the capacity of putting issues in their proper perspective.
  4. Physical and emotional strength. Those who plan a career in medicine must possess the capability of enduring the rigorous physical and emotional demands of many years of study and training. You must be able to maintain the self-discipline required during such a prolonged preparatory period. Medical school and specialty training require a disposition capable of expending an enormous amount of energy. This innate characteristic is reflected in the records of those achieving a high degree of academic success while being simultaneously involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. This suggests that as busy practitioners such individuals will also be able to participate in a variety of non-professionalactivities.
  5. Ability to tolerate uncertainty and frustration. The practice of medicine is based on the fact that every patient is unique, that frequently one must intervene therapeutically before all the facts are available, and that even after securing all relevant data it may be necessary to select from several courses of action that are quite different and possibly contradictory. Thus you must have a personality that enables you to function in an atmosphere of ambiguity where clear-cut and precisely defined treatment modalities are lacking. Moreover, since the response to even the most appropriate therapeutic regime may prove disappointing, you also must be able to withstand the frustrations of clinical failure in spite of excellent medical treatment.
  6. Well-organized work habits. It is crucial to professional success that prospective medical students maximize their expenditure of time and effort. This will ensure that opportunities will not be lost and information will not go to waste.
  7. Capacity for self-education. Willingness to learn a great deal about a topic without the prospect of gaining external reward for doing so is essential. The reason is that much of what will be learned in medical school will either be forgotten and/or become obsolete. Inherent in self-education is the necessity to hone one's critical faculties. This will permit clear thinking and independent formulation of judgments. Self-education also includes an ability to assimilate and sustain by continual learning a large knowledge base, as well as the ability to define and solve problems by interpreting data, reasoning critically, and applying learned information.
  8. Social awareness. A gradual change is taking place in health care delivery, in which the focus is not exclusively on the individual patient out of the context of the many psychological and social factors that affect health and produce illness. It is thus incumbent to have an awareness of the current climate relative to the sociomedical issues involved in providing health care to the varying population groups.
  9. Achievement. Evidence of some special achievement, in any one of a variety of fields, is an asset for a prospective medical school applicant. Thus an applicant may have climbed a well-known mountain, organized a band, or learned how to captain a small fishing boat. Achievements that demonstrate initiative, leadership potential, and/or the ability to establish satisfactory interpersonal relationships are indicative of the potential for achievement in the challenging field of medicine.
  10. Creativity. The ability to marshall one's intellectual resources to meet challenges is an especially valuable asset. This capability for creativity may be reflected in self-confidence and by an ability to detect and define problems, to think originally, to question established scientific dogmas, and to demonstrate intellectual courage.

The four years of high school and first three years of college provide the opportunity to determine to what extent you possess these basic attributes. The grades you receive, especially in your science courses, will provide a basis for judging your intellectual ability. Your response to various science courses, as well as other contacts with experimentation and scientific inquiry in class or possibly in summer work, will enable you to evaluate your natural response to this area of studies. Your ability to get along with your fellow students and friends should provide a basis for judging your personality. Finally, how you stand up to the demands of your school work and personal problems will provide some basis for evaluating your inner tenacity and determination.

Objective self-analysis at the end of high school and at the end of each college year will help to ensure that your choice of a medical career is realistic and will provide astimulus for greater performance. Such analysis may, on the other hand, call for reconsideration and a possible change in your career goal. If this is the case, the change should be made promptly after consultation with your guidance counselor and parents, in order to avoid loss of time and almost certain disappointment at a later date.

The aim of the self-evaluation should not be to determine if you are outstanding in all the basic attributes necessary for a successful medical career; rather you should ascertain if you are above average in the sum total, at least average in each, and do not have very serious deficiencies in any. What is to be sought is a determination of how close one actually comes to a hypothetical standard, realizing that there is a broad spectrum of acceptability determined by a balancing of all factors.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesGuide to Medical & Dental SchoolsMedicine as a Career - On Being A Physician, Why Study Medicine?, The Reality Of A Physician's Career