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Thoughts from a French Major who went to Medical School

I did very averagely, grade-wise, in medical school. (Hello, French major in undergrad.) And by averagely, I mean I graduated and passed my classes, but by no means was it without significant stress and anxiety for me. I was that “non-science person” who got through the first week of medical school saying: “well this is all ok I guess, but there seems to be an awful lot of science and medicine here in medical school…when are we gonna learn something else?” The joke was sort of on me as I got further into the year and beyond when it really was ALL about science and medicine, and so you can imagine I made it a point to really enjoy the 6-week “History of Medicine” class that was peppered in between Physiology and Microbiology.

Since that time I’ve always been drawn to learning more about what many people call the “humanistic” side of medicine: the personal interaction and relational elements, details of what goes into creating effective and high-quality connections between people in healthcare, whether between colleagues or clinician-patient.

doctor with child listening to heart beatSo last week I came across an article that asked the simple question:

Does medicine overemphasize IQ?”  and I knew this would be RIGHT UP MY ALLEY. I’ve thought (and I know I’m not alone) for a long time that there are many brilliant doctors out there who have very little ability to relate to other human beings in a quality way. I’ve seen a few myself. And worked with many. They can make a diagnosis but can’t understand how that diagnosis makes a patient feel or how it affects another’s life in any real way. There’s been a lot written about the doctor-patient relationship with some very positive strides having been made in the last 20 years as far as training resident physicians in better communication skills, but this article is interesting to me because it addresses the medical school selection process: namely, that we all ought to do a better job on our medical school admission committee selecting men and women who have as high or higher an EQ (emotional intelligence) as they do an IQ (intelligence quotient). Hear, hear! We have created such an intense culture of elite academic pedigree that emphasizes test scores and grades that the argument can be made that we have neglected emotional intelligence to a very large degree. And I support the article’s assertion that this culture needs to change.

heart and brain on a scale

But how do we identify candidates with these qualities?

No doubt a certain amount of high cognitive function has to be present to absorb, process, assimilate, apply, and analyze the enormous volume of information that a medical student is presented with, but we probably need to assess different aspects as well. Most of the really good doctors I know have a solid fund of knowledge. They might not be a walking encyclopedia but what they CAN do EVERY TIME is very effectively lead a team and show their patients they care about and will listen to their concerns. What do most colleagues say about these physicians? “She is GREAT to work with.”

Sounds to me like we need to figure out how to admit people to medical school who can be good team leaders and show effective relational skills.

Again, how? This article makes some interesting assertions:

1. Eliminate or at least de-emphasize the basic science requirements like calculus and physics, and add in undergraduate prerequisites in leadership, team management, group dynamics, and psychology.

2. Incorporate formal evaluation of EQ in the admissions process, including more expository writing on applications, recent modification of the MCAT admission test which includes sections on social, psychological and biological foundations of behavior, and requiring applicants to complete specific EQ inventories/questionnaires that have been validated.

So what do you think of that?

Are you ready to have a physician whose background has LESS emphasis on being comprehensively all-science? How much does your physician’s ability to work effectively with colleagues matter to you? I would suggest that it should matter a lot: ultimately your care depends on it. You may have the smartest doctor in the world but if she’s known around town as being difficult to work with, then the second your or your child’s health status dictates a need for coordinated care then you’re immediately at a disadvantage. I truly believe that doctors with higher EQ relate better to peers and patients, are easier to work with and as such are more inclined to deliver care in as high quality and more cost-effective manner as possible. This is obviously good for everyone, so why not emphasize these qualities from the very beginning of someone’s career and education in medicine?

This French major says,”Mais oui, absolument.”
*(Yes, absolutely)

france flag with doctor instrument