5 Key Traits of Successful Medical School Applicants | Education

Physicians come from diverse backgrounds and opinions, but share several characteristics: strong communication skills, presence, critical thinking, compassion, and resilience. Although they are uniquely expressed by each physician, they are an integral part of the practice of medicine.

Prospective medical students should consider developing these same traits during their undergraduate studies.

Strong communication skills

Medicine depends on the communication of ideas, concepts and orders. Not only do doctors communicate verbally, but also through their body language, patient records, writing prescriptions, and how they react to certain situations.

Additionally, physicians communicate with the full spectrum of people – from patients to nurses and other physicians – and must learn to discuss critical information with all kinds of audiences.

Speaking with the correct tone, idiom and language is integral. It is important for a doctor to know his audience and to speak at the appropriate level. Additionally, compassion and caring are key to engaging the other party and effectively communicating ideas and instructions.

Be aware of how you communicate. Are you engaged? Are you rigid or aloof? Are you explaining things at an appropriate level? Improve your communication skills by participating in speech courses, classroom presentations, and undergraduate organizations.


This trait is essential for speaking effectively to colleagues and patients. Focus on what the person is saying instead of thinking about how you’re going to react.

This especially comes into play when you are meeting with patients and you know you will need to document your encounter or you might be behind in your schedule. Every patient deserves your time and it is important to always respect what they tell you.

Be present by focusing your attention on the other person when talking in person or on the phone. This means that it is forbidden to send e-mails, to send text messages to others or to wander in thought while you are chatting. Being present nonverbally communicates that you are there with them while focusing your attention and intellect on the issue at hand.

Critical mind

Regardless of their specialty, physicians evaluate volumes of data to quickly form a working conclusion, using deductive reasoning and inferences based on knowledge and experience.

No two patients are the same. Although their treatments may be similar, each patient should be assessed individually. Otherwise, potentially fatal errors may occur.

Often, doctors need to quickly synthesize information to formulate a plan that can be quickly put into place. Although this skill is mastered during medical school and residency, you can start laying the groundwork as an undergraduate student.

Undergraduate courses in the humanities and sciences promote critical thinking. It is the appropriate application of knowledge by the critical thinker that distinguishes “intelligent” from “brilliant” and creates an excellent clinician or diagnostician.


Compassion is more than kindness and civility; it is genuine sympathy for oneself, patients, colleagues, and co-workers, regardless of race, class, creed, or personal behavior. Patients seek a doctor’s advice for warmth and understanding, not just medical expertise.

Having a good “bedside attitude” is actually being compassionate and showing genuine concern for your patients.

Most people who gravitate towards medicine do so because of their inherent compassion for others. However, it is still something that needs to be encouraged and developed.


Becoming and being a doctor is difficult. You face rejection, an endless to-do list, and tough hurdles to get accepted into medical school. Then, in medical school and beyond, the stakes are even higher.

Resilience is what gets you through those times when seemingly everything has gone wrong. For a successful career and life, discover healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to function at your best.

This may include daily exercise, such as going for a long run, swimming a few lengths in the pool, or practicing martial arts. It may be writing poetry, keeping a journal, practicing religion, meditating, or taking a long drive to deal with the vicissitudes of life.

Balancing classes, volunteer work, intramural athletics, and extracurricular activities with everyday life helps shape and hone your resilience, allowing you to see more of the beauty in life.

Overall, the development of character along with the learning of scientific and technical knowledge creates a well-informed and well-rounded physician. Start developing these skills now and you’ll have an easier time transitioning into practicing medicine as a medical student and future physician.

Comments are closed.