5 Signs You’ll Make a Great Doctor
What makes a good doctor? The ability to regurgitate dense medical knowledge and make the right diagnosis. But also compassion, of course, and resilience.
If you’re finishing high school or college and considering different careers, it can be daunting to commit to a vocation, especially when it’s one which requires as much training as becoming a doctor. However, there are ways to tell from your personality traits whether you’re suited to a career in the health service.
Read on to discover the attributes that make a great doctor.
You’re not afraid to admit gaps in your knowledge
A good doctor should be able to say “I don’t know’ when there are gaps in their knowledge or not enough information to get a clear picture.
Asking for a second opinion or running more tests when you’re unsure about something isn’t incompetence. On the contrary, jumping to conclusions and prescribing treatment within minutes of meeting the patient could put the patient’s life at risk.
Medicine is incredibly complex and may involve lots of moving parts – sometimes you need to run more tests, consult a textbook or speak to a specialist before you make a diagnosis.
You’re not just book smart. You’re emotionally intelligent
If doctors do make the wrong diagnosis, it’s often because they’ve got used to sticking to a script of questions and answers and have failed to pick up on red flags and signs that the issue may be more complex.
Sometimes, an ailment can be psychological more than it is physical, and medical professionals fail to realise this if they don’t pay enough attention to their patients.
Being a great doctor isn’t just about being able to reel off a textbook answer. It’s also about confronting hard emotional issues and your psychological health and life at home.
Jae Won Joh, a physician and healthcare blogger, knows this all too well. Jae recalls a patient in her late thirties who had come to the emergency room with a complaint of chest pain.
He says: “Her electrocardiograms were completely unremarkable, her labs were fine, and as I questioned her at length trying to figure out what was going on, I only became more and more confused.
After informing his attending physician of the case, Jae Won Joh watched him kneel at the patient’s side and ask whether she had any personal issues at home.
He says: “The floodgates broke. The patient’s husband had been laid off and out of work for nearly nine months. They had recently had their home foreclosed on. Their car had nearly been repossessed multiple times. They had three young children to feed and buy school supplies for, with minimal income.
“That’s what this was. It wasn’t a heart attack or arrhythmia or something physiologic. It was psychiatric in origin.”
You’re a good listener and observer
As Gary Larson, a Medical Director at Procure Proton Therapy Center, puts it: “If you listen to the patient, they will tell you what’s wrong with them.
“Most patients have also read quite a bit on the internet. I start with a general question like ‘What is your understanding of your diagnosis so far and why Dr. Smith wanted you to come see me?’
“By finding out where they are in their understanding to begin with, it saves me a lot of time in telling them what they need to know. What are the gaps that need to be filled? What are the misconceptions that need to be corrected?”
Often, listening to your patient talk about their symptoms and medical history will be just as important as the physical exam. Clues about diagnosis will be hidden in your patient’s complaint, and you have to have a good ear so you can sort what’s relevant from what isn’t.
Not every patient will present with a common, easily identifiable condition. In rarer cases, making the right diagnosis can be a long and arduous journey which involves consulting with specialists and other medical professionals, as well as having several conversations with the patient, trying different treatment plans and running multiple tests.
A sign of a good doctor is relentless commitment to the patient’s cause and the ability to keep trying until you’re able to go back to the patient with a clear and accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
That persistence and perseverance will come in handy at medical school too, as you’ll need lots of resilience to keep up your grades and academic performance in medical school.
You have faith in your own judgment
While running several tests to rule out serious conditions is always a good idea, you shouldn’t be running every medical test under the sun simply for good measure. One of the biggest challenges junior doctors have to overcome is not being able to trust their judgment.
In a letter written to her younger self and to all junior doctors around the world, Suzanne Koven, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, writes: “My dear young colleague, you are not a fraud.
“You are a flawed and unique human being, with excellent training and an admirable sense of purpose. Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better.”
Think you know what the issue is? Don’t be afraid to trust your judgment and waste time and money by running lots of unnecessary additional tests to prove your hypothesis. As Koven makes clear, anyone in that situation should believe in themselves and not feel like a fraud.