Great Scores Don’t Necessarily Mean Great Doctors

Written by yvonnethornton on April 16th, 2012

If you’re planning to go into the medical field like I did, then you’re probably aware of the strict application process most medical schools will put you through.  If you don’t have the right grades or MCAT scores, you might not get into the school of your choice, no matter how badly you want to help people.  Unfortunately, this means top medical schools are letting in bright students who are great test takers, but who can’t take care of patients.

Being a physician is about much more than memorizing information from medical encyclopedias and science classes.  I’ve found that a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others, as well as a generosity of spirit has been crucial to my success in medicine.  It allows me to put myself in my patients’ shoes, which in turn gives me a better sense of what to ask and what to look for.

Many aspiring doctors don’t have the grades to get them into the top schools, but they may have more emotional intelligence than the students who beat them out for those spots.  Eventually, the positions of physicians are filled with very smart people who just don’t seem to take the time or care patients need.  It takes patience to listen to everything a patient has to say and then to dig even deeper.  It’s not about solving a puzzle as fast as possible.  It’s about understanding underlying issues that may not be obvious at first glance and knowing how to uncover them tactfully. It all goes back to bedside manner, which seems to have disappeared in an absurd dichotomy of doctors having the attitude “I know it all and you know nothing”. Doctors must listen to patients. Our patients know their bodies better than their doctors do. After all, patients live in their bodies. We only visit those bodies.

Luckily, after three years of study, the American Medical Association has realized this and is encouraging medical schools to look deeper into their potential students than just their test scores.  As a result, many are adding comprehensive interviews that attempt to find out who the applicant is as a person, not just as a student.  The Association of American Medical Colleges has also announced that it will be changing the scope of the MCAT exam to include more emphasis on psychology, sociology, and biology.  President of the AAMC, Darrell Kirch, said about the changes, “Being a good doctor is about more than scientific knowledge.  It also requires an understanding of people.”  I couldn’t agree more, and I hope this changing philosophy will help bring patients more compassionate and effective doctors.

— Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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