Becoming a doctor can be one of the most rewarding pursuits. And the benefits are both economic and social. The average annual salary of a doctor in the U.S. is $294,000, and for some specialties like neuroscience, it can reach up to $663,000.
Salaries aside, the social benefits of becoming a doctor can bring a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the work doctors do. Medical professionals are not only well-respected but seen as role models in the eyes of society. And on a personal level, the idea that you will be looked at as a “superhero” in the eyes of your patients brings a special sense of pride. In addition to the perks of living your dream, don the white coat and you will soon perceive yourself as the valuable member of society you are.
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? But, until you reach that white coat ceremony and officially become a doctor, your reality will be very different. Becoming a doctor requires a tremendous amount of work and patience, not to mention a great personality. In your school years, you’ll have to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to studying, labs, and residency.
Starting in undergrad, you’ll experience countless hours of studying, financial hardships and the need to discipline yourself to tackle all these obstacles.
But don’t be discouraged. Sure, becoming a doctor is hard, and requires you to work harder than you might have ever worked in your life—but there are medical students who trail blaze an easier way to get through it all.
If we wanted to make it simple, we could say: persistence and organization. But that’s a little too abstract. In this article, we’ll share some more specific traits and habits of the most successful medical students. Ultimately, our aim is to guide you and make your life easier throughout the whole duration of your academic journey—from the first day all the way to your white coat ceremony and your new life as a doctor. Let’s begin!
Character traits of successful med students
As we mentioned, a strong personality acts as your launch pad when it comes to pre-med and medical school. Stressful exams, tight deadlines, devoting a lot of time to studying and the financial realities as a student all require not only persistence but a strong character. Let’s see what specific character traits successful medical students have:
When someone thinks about med school, the first thing that comes to mind are the hours and hours of studying. It’s no secret that you’re going to spend a major chunk of time studying during graduate years, in particular. Therefore, discipline is one of the most important character traits a successful med student should have. Forget about being tired or other distractions going on in your personal life. You’ll need to keep studying. And as a physician, you’ll continue studying in new ways, so this skill will carry over into your success as a practicing doctor.
And unless your parents have a thick wallet, you’ll also have to apply discipline in your budgeting, because pursuing a medical degree is one of the most expensive academic routes students choose today.
Discipline requires on-going practice—or else it’s not discipline! Planning in advance and staying persistent in your plan will help you gain discipline, too. And if you fail to stay persistent, forgive yourself for minor slips and keep going. This is the secret to acquiring discipline.
It’s also no surprise that persistence comes immediately after discipline. We’ve already stressed how hard med school is, and without being persistent, chances are you’re not going to make it. Never give up. When you do fail (because you will), come back and try again. During the hard times, pull strength up by the roots from the dream you always had: becoming a doctor. Remember why you want this along with all the things you’ve accomplished so far. This will help you carry on.
During your graduate years, you’ll experience a lot of new and unexpected situations and interact with countless people, both academically and socially. You’ll have to attend theoretical lessons, those anatomy classes requiring a strong stomach, and conferences, not to mention cooperate with different people every day. You’ll be learning to live with less than when you had in high school, you’ll be coping with limited personal time…and the list goes on. Having to adapt to all these situations might be hard, but is an essential trait of a successful med student.
The secret to building adaptability is to approach each situation with enthusiasm and a little curiosity. Remember that you will always learn something new from these opportunities. As a result, being adaptive will be rewarding in school and in your career later on. As a doctor, adaptability will have to be in your arsenal, and honing this trait now will serve you into the future.
Being a good person
The other traits will serve you well in your academic and financial realities. But being a good person is probably the most important trait of successful medical students. Let’s get more specific: being a good person is the most important trait of successful people in general. But, what does that mean? The elements of being a “good person” include being humble, empathetic and a team player.
Let’s start with empathy. You need to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. While you’re still a student, empathy usually refers to understanding what your peers might be experiencing. If you see a fellow student in need of help, help them. After graduation, your job will be to take care of people in need—your patients, of course. A doctor without empathy will never be a good doctor.
Now, on to humility. You’ll definitely come across to some “know-it-all” peers in pre-med and medical school. Humility starts by not taking their behavior personally and remembering not to measure yourself based on their view of the world. These people are what they are, and you cannot change them. Diving deeper into humility, there will also be situations where you might be wrong about something—meaning someone else is right. In those cases, you should accept and embrace what you’ve come out learning. This will make you a better professional and a better person. And finally, when you become a doctor yourself, take your influence on patients and other members of the community very seriously. When you get to this chapter of your life, humility will be that much more important for the example you’re setting for all those in your world.
So, we’ve discussed character traits. The traits we’ve outlined are essential, not only for successful med students but for doctors as well. But traits alone aren’t enough. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “It's the details that make the difference.” Let’s take a look now at some of the daily details in the habits of the most successful med students.
We all know that med school is demanding. And you’re going to have a much harder time if you don’t organize your time properly.
So, what’s the trick to do it right?
When it comes to studying, some of the primary problems in staying organized include:
According to the article we link to above, the solutions to these problems are: repetition, studying circuits, and letting go of past studying behaviors. Read the article for greater detail on any one of those practices. And, in order for these solutions to work, time management is required—meaning you need to be organized.
Start by taking a look at your daily routine and find the best hours to devote to the solutions that will help you build organization skills. And use a calendar online or on your phone, taking full advantage of the notifications you can program in. Finally, remember that personal time is also important, and that you need to take that into account when you organize your time.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle (eat, exercise, sleep)
You study in order to be able to cure and improve the health of other people. Wouldn’t it be ironic if you didn’t have a healthy lifestyle, yourself?
The first habit of a healthy lifestyle is eating healthy foods—at least something nutritious every day. Your diet should supply you with the necessary carbs, fats, and protein. Be sure to eat the right amounts of these nutrients according to your lifestyle, avoid trans fats, and include fruits and vegetables in the daily grind. And don’t forget that performance in studies goes hand-in-hand with proper diet habits.
The second habit of a healthy lifestyle is fitness. Yes, we all know that your time as a student will be limited, but exercising can’t be overlooked. If you keep your schedule organized, you will be able to find time to exercise. Even 30 minutes of running, lifting weights, walking or playing sports each day is enough, and you will definitely notice a difference.
Expert tip: Try exercising in the morning when you can. It will keep you feeling energized and productive through the rest of the day.
Finally, the last habit to keep you healthy is getting the right amount of sleep. However, every person has his or her own needs, and you should adjust your sleep time based on how many hours of sleep you need to feel alert and well-rested. The key here is not to overdo it. Sleeping less or more that you need to can negatively affect your health and performance.
Find time for yourself
If you spend all your time doing the things you must do, it will not only reduce your performance but it can mess with your psychological state as well. Every successful medical student (and person in general) devotes time to having fun. Having something to look forward to every day will keep you going. Eating out, watching movies, spending time with friends or doing anything else you enjoy will make you feel great and will avoid feeling like a single day was wasted.
Another thing every successful med student keeps tabs on are their hobbies. Whether new or existing, a hobby will not only ensure you have a great time, it will also help you maintain a deeply rooted sense of self. Whether your favorite pastime is playing sports or listening to music, collecting or constructing something, writing, or whatever other hobbies you like, find something you enjoy and spend at least a couple hours every week doing it.
Attending med school is nothing to sneeze at, and requires both hard work and a great personality. And it can also be a very fun and rewarding. And finally, the benefits of becoming a doctor will make it all worth the effort. Arm yourself with these habits, draw strength from the dream you always had, and we promise that someday people will look at you inside your designer lab coat and perceive you as a superhero, ready to help anyone in need.