Jan 25, 2012

Don't Be THAT Guy: Tips From a Third-year Medical Student

I've heard quite a few of my classmates comment that they discovered the “real personalities” of many of their colleagues in the third year of medical school, when students begin to practice clinical medicine. There are a number of pressures that push people to be petty, selfish, and annoying – academic pressure, the pressure to impress your residents and attendings, the attempt to get more experience than the next guy.

And it’s not just medical school. As pressure mounts in nursing school, pharmacy school, or whichever health care path you choose, unfortunate new attitudes and behaviors can rise to the surface. Everyone goes through this, and I think everyone makes at least a few mistakes through the process.

At the end of my third year, I put together this list of things I learned to be a better student (and a better person!). The people that stick to these principles are respected, well-liked, and I think, generally happier. I also think they are far more professional than their counterparts.
My hope in sharing these tips is to create some dialogue about the importance of professionalism.

Each week for the next month, I’ll share 3-4 lessons I’ve learned and invite you to share similar stories and experiences of your own.

(As a disclaimer, I’m sure I’ve made ALL of these mistakes and probably still slip up. No one is perfect, but being conscious of these mistakes has really helped me grow throughout the year.)

Without further ado, here are my first three tips:

1. Roundsmanship. Don't make your classmates/residents/anyone look bad. If you know an answer to a question that the attending is asking and your intern doesn't, don't jump in with it. If your classmate is slipping up, don't blurt it out. It will itch, and you will want to say it (because it feels great to actually know the answer), but it is an important and difficult skill to develop knowing how and when to say it to show your knowledge while not throwing others under the bus. Sometimes you won’t even realize that this is what you’re doing until later, but believe me, there is one right way to do it and many wrong ways.

2. Humility. Don't look down on anyone and find the fine line of respecting yourself and making yourself to be a respectable professional without overstepping your boundaries. (In other words, don't be constantly hiding in the shadows, but know how and when to speak; it is rarely about you). You’ll encounter people of all levels of training that treat you like dirt, and it should just go to show you that it has nothing to do with your experience or rank –everyone should be treated with respect. The classic example of this going wrong is the OR – scrub techs berating medical students, for example. Just roll with it and learn from it, and remember that people react the exact same when you do it to them. I found that just by being nice and acknowledging the roles that other people play, everyone was suddenly bending over backwards to help me out.

3. Don’t Complain. Ever. You will have to do a lot that you think is a waste or possibly beneath you. Don't complain about it. Everyone hates people that complain. You will become well known for it. In fact, you won't even realize that you're complaining until you are critical of yourself about it. Don't talk about things being unfair to you, or about how someone else got to do something, got time off, etc. Remember, the people you’re complaining to have probably dealt with much worse!

- Lakshman Swamy, MD/MBA Candidate, 2013, Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University