Applying to medical school will be a true testament to the fortitude a doctor inherently possesses. The common misconception of those contemplating a career in medicine is that it is only for those with the greatest intelligence. Uncompromising determination, formidable resilience, and inexhaustible compassion coupled with a moderate level of intelligence are imperative to have a successful medical career. The beauty of medicine is that there are many paths one can choose, aside from the traditional, clinical route, and all these elements are important, regardless of the path. Being a determined, resilient, and compassionate pilot with just enough intelligence to get through the journey to medical school are the fundamental elements that will get applicants to their destination.
The only promise that I make to aspiring doctors is that they WILL face obstacles and set-backs throughout the process and repeatedly ask themselves, ‘How badly do I really want this?’ From the first day of the prerequisites, you will feel like you are fighting for every point. The stereotypical pre-med student can be spotted in any classroom because s/he will be the one justifying “wrong” answers to the professor and subconsciously begging for the points back, even after being recognized as achieving the highest grade in the class. Even the most stellar pupils face the challenge of graduating with that perfect 4.0. The emphasis on GPA and MCAT scores have distracted applicants in thinking that those two components are the sole determinants for acceptance into medical school, which could not be further from the truth. These overachievers have grown accustomed to “success” that any semblance of adversity is met with gut-wrenching anxiety. They have never been forced to get up, dust themselves off, and persevere.
As Confucius so eloquently stated, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Medicine is one of the few professions that are commonly described as both a science and an art, and only true scientists and artists know that adversity is only a learning experience waiting to be realized, which is applicable to any route, whether it be research, corporate, or clinical. In research, making slight modifications after failed attempts are essential in order to titrate to the correct result. Medical doctors are perceived as inherent leaders, whether in biopharma companies or hospitals, so knowing how to overcome hurdles with the utmost poise and humility is imperative. A diagnosis along with its appropriate treatment does not always equate to a fully recovered patient, so a doctor must be able to take a step back and approach the case from another perspective. The clinical setting not only needs a doctor who is resilient but who also has infinite empathy.
Those with a well-established IQ as determined by their admirable GPA and MCAT score are often severely lacking Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which is the ability to recognize one’s own, and other people’s emotions, to differentiate between them and subsequently use the emotional information to react to the scenario at hand. Medical schools have recognized this deficiency in their applicant pool, which is why they like to see volunteering and shadowing on a curriculum vitae. The quest for EQ has been ingrained to the extent that the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) incorporated Clinical Skills to Step 2 in applying for residency to improve the bedside manner of future doctors. High scores demonstrate resolve without accounting for EQ, the true essence of what makes good doctors great.
Becoming a doctor requires equal parts IQ and EQ. Although possessing some intelligence is necessary, determination, resilience, and compassion differentiate the extraordinary doctors, regardless of the medical career path chosen. Possessing both IQ and EQ as well as knowing how to navigate through the arduous medical school application process are vital components in obtaining the enviable acceptance confirmation on Match Day. The road to becoming a doctor is long and oftentimes, will feel like there is no end in sight, but reaching that destination will be the first of many gratifying achievements.
By Brian Almojera