When a group of medical students goes out on the town, I have often wondered how long it takes the average person to guess that they are medical students. Let me put it this way: some of us have spent one too many hours looking at books and not enough time interacting with other human beings.
Because of this, I think that some of us often stick out of the average crowd (we are even easier to spot when two classmates are having a lively discussion about pterygopalatine fossae in a bar. *true story*). To be fair, it is easy to carry on a conversation with a significant proportion of my class. For completeness’ sake, I must also mention there is a tiny minority who I don’t even know because they are always in the library and I can only assume they are allergic to human interaction.
One must also realize that the selection process for medical school is heavily biased towards selecting heavily type-A personalities who are used to being the best. When the emphasis is on accomplishments and how well you can write about them, schools are bound to accept students with large egos, students who will never utter the words “I don’t know, but let me find out,” and students who are impossible to work with.
In the past, when solo practices could be found on every corner, this was perhaps less of an issue (though I am certain that it still was a significant barrier to patient care). As solo practices die out and medicine becomes more and more of a team effort, the doctors that either don’t possess the social skills to interact or are too arrogant to care are causing major kinks in every area of the healthcare system. Be it with health IT professionals, nurses, other doctors, patients, or family members, effective communication is essential to providing safe, efficient care.
Because of this, medical school interviews have slowly morphed in an effort to find students with personalities and social skills. Although some interviewers still ask “Why do you want to be a doctor?” or “What is your biggest weakness?”, most medical school interviews attempt to get to know you as a person rather than dwell on academic accomplishments or cliché interview questions. During my interviews, I found myself talking about my hobbies far more than class, work, research, etc.
According to this article published in the New York Times, several medical schools are foregoing the typical interview process entirely in an effort to only accept those students who can both think on their feet and effectively communicate with others. Rather than the two thirty minute interviews most schools subject their students to, these schools are adopting a process in which each interviewee has up to ten mini-interviews. Just before each interview, the prospective student reads a scenario or controversial ethical statement.
After a brief period of time to read the interview prompt and gather his/her thoughts, the interviewee steps into the room and discusses with an interviewer. If the interviewer disagrees with the prospective student’s viewpoint, the interviewer is able to see how well he/she deals with conflict and if he/she is able to see the issue from a different angle. Students receive poor scores if they reach illogical conclusions, don’t listen well, are overly opinionated, etc.
I fully support efforts that ensure that future doctors have the necessary social skills to perform their job effectively. I feel that this quality is just as important as possessing the necessary entrance scores.
Interestingly, while discussing this article with a few classmates and physicians, I received the same response several times: What about the neurosurgeons, pathologists, etc.? Many seemed to think that there is not a uniform requirement for communication ability. In other words, does a family medicine doctor need more communication skills than a pathologist? Do you care if your surgeon is personable, or would you rather have the most intelligent surgeon possible, ignoring all other qualities? I would like to hear your thoughts on this. I agree with these sentiments to a certain degree but I feel like communication skills and the ability to think on one’s feet is very important regardless of specialty.
This change in the application process fascinates me, as I feel it shows one way in which medicine has shifted lately. The ability to work in teams, educate patients, and be sensitive to cultural issues is now considered a requirement in the medical field instead of an afterthought. Medical schools have realized this and are showing that they are willing to change in order to better serve the needs of patients and their families.
Who knows, by the time I am practicing medicine, I may not be able to identify a group of med students by their social interactions. I suppose I will still be able to follow the smell of formaldehyde…
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