Doctors have a reputation for being hardworking, intelligent people doing good service for others and rightfully so. They pay their dues through years of hard work, student loan debt and unbelievable amounts of stress. A common concern amongst premeds, and medical students is “Am I smart enough to be a doctor?”. You see the final product of an attending physician and the way they are able to figure everything out and it can lead to questioning yourself. While there is certainly a baseline level of smarts you need to succeed in school and the application process, being a doctor is much more than being book smart. Certainly, you need a baseline IQ that allows you to think critically and succeed in school, but who’s to say what that level really is. Life as a student and as an attending physician are very different and your success in school doesn’t directly reflect how good of a doctor you’ll be or how good of a life you’ll live. I dropped grade 12 physics with a 31 in the class, so believe me, if I can do it, you certainly can. Here is what we believe really determines if you’re “smart enough” for medical school:
- Ability to learn
As a physician, you are a lifelong student. There is never a finish line where science isn’t changing and new guidelines aren’t coming out. Your ability to process information at a fast pace is a major deciding factor in your success as a medical student. The information you learn in medical school isn’t particularly difficult, there is just a lot of it. By the time you wrap your head around one block, the next one is already around the corner. The only way to hone this skill is by using it. Learn and learn a lot, whether it is school work or reading books, or learning about a hobby, strengthen that learning and memorization muscle.
2. Applying knowledge
It’s one thing to learn a bunch of information but unless you can apply it to real-world scenarios, it doesn’t count for much. Yes, throughout premed and medical school you will have to memorize and regurgitate a lot of information but in reality, it’s your ability to use that knowledge to diagnose and treat patients that counts. No one cares what your grades were, it’s all about if you can get the result or not. This is why it is important to “do” more than “learn”. If you’re studying for school, use practice questions to reinforce information. In medical school, use practice cases rather than just memorizing facts. In your free time, seek new experiences and get in the trenches of things you’re interested in rather than just consuming information about them. This will help to get you thinking outside of the box and applying information you learn in the real world which will help immensely as a doctor.
3. Time Management
Your ability to manage your time and work efficiently is one of the most important things in determining your success in medicine. There is always a list of things you have to be juggling, and your ability to do this is without burning out or giving up is very important. In premed, you have to balance class, MCAT, jobs, extracurriculars, social life etc. In med school its very similar. As a doctor, balancing patients, teaching residents, documentation and family life. Again this is a muscle that can only be trained by doing. Get in the habit of scheduling out your weeks/days and following through on that schedule. Learn how to do things in the most efficient manner so that by the time you get to medical school, you already have a system in place.
4. Communication Skills
Medical schools are becoming more progressive now and looking for students who display social ability and street smarts. You have to study a lot to get to med school and it may sometimes get in the way of social development (if you let it). At the end of the day, you have to be able to communicate what you know. Whether it’s with patients, nurses, other doctors or whoever you maybe working with. You don’t have to be a loud extrovert but you do need baseline communication skills to succeed in medicine. Try to get out there and do social activities, volunteer with other people, study in groups, go to social outings etc. so you can get this down.
5. Grit and Discipline
80% of it is just showing up and doing things you don’t want to do when they need to be done. Regardless of how passionate you are about medicine, you won’t necessarily enjoy every, or most parts of it. We all like working with patients and solving their problems but not so much the hours of memorizing and boring work that goes into it. You need to be able to just stick it through and put long term achievement over short-term gratification. Your ability to do this, again, is much more important than IQ. You can work on this by doing hard things that take discipline before/during medical school. Things like learning an instrument, lifting weights, competitive sports, building a small business, reading a certain amount of books etc.
These traits are much more important than your IQ/grades in determining if you’re able to be a doctor. Of course you need enough smarts to get a high enough GPA and MCAT, but don’t let anyone, especially yourself, tell you that you’re too dumb or not good enough to pursue this career. Work on the above traits, and it will pay dividends.