Competition in Medicine

Last week’s PPS topic involved self-care amidst the hectic life of a healthcare professional. Some of us feel that we’re inadequate compared to our peers. Others strive to attain perfection in a dynamic science. Even more are on the verge of burnout from the long hours, constant pressure to succeed, etc. So the topic got me thinking about how people approach competition in medical school.

A long time ago, I found the best way to maintain humility while still being a competitive student is by focusing the majority of my time on maximizing efficiency. I’m not referring to proper time management or studying diligently, but rather… acknowledging my limits. For example, I can’t sit in one place and study for more than an hour. I have to get up, move around, play a game, read the news, heck… anything! I try to accomplish the most studying possible when I’m actually capable of doing so, and in turn, have maximized my retention of a.) the material and b.) a normal lifestyle. At the same time, I’ve learned that in a dynamic science like medicine, change is rampant. You can’t be paranoid about memorizing every single detail, because sooner than later, many discoveries will alter or perhaps entirely disprove existing “facts.” Doctors really are lifelong learners. 🙂

Furthermore, I don’t really care about how others are doing grade-wise as long as I see an improvement in my own grades and approach to medical school over time. In the end, someone will assign class ranks and whatnot, but self-improvement is far more important to me. After all, no one really wants to be labeled as a gunner, and this is a great way to challenge myself without being directly competitive.

In grade school and undergrad, I was always satisfied with mastering 90% of the material, because the remaining 10% would take just as long to learn as the initial 90% (if that makes sense :-P). Medicine is a whole new game. No longer can we afford to be content with knowing the exam material. For the sake of our future patients, we have to go above and beyond the expectations of our course directors and seek an even higher understanding of this wonderful machine we call the human body. As it turns out, it’s quite simple to do so while remaining humble if one keeps their mouth shut and lets a patient’s well being serve as a constant reminder for why we are here.

Nothing else matters. Period.

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  1. You’re completely right- nothing else matters. If you don’t learn something as an undergrad, the worst that can happen is that you lose a few points on a test. If you miss something in med-school, someone might end up in the morgue. Thankfully, you have a lot more reason to learn in med-school- everything matters, which I imagine makes all of those facts less impossible to learn. Your attitude about competing with yourself is especially true- if you always think of medicine as a competition, you would probably have less reason to keep learning after residency.

    Great post.


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