Applying to Med School? Better Work on Your People Skills

A recent article in the New York Times examined a trend in medical school admissions to care about more than just top grades and MCAT scores. “New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test” by Gardiner Harris described a new approach to med school interviews, the “multiple mini interview.” It measures such things as teamwork, relational ability, and ethical reasoning. At least eight school in the U.S. are using this approach, including Stanford and U.C.L.A.

“We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion [one of the schools that uses this approach].

Today, medical care is increasingly a team sport, requiring not just individual expertise, but also the ability to work well with others. Those who might have excelled in a previous generation may not have the people skills necessary in today’s collegial world.

“When I entered medical school, it was all about being an individual expert,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Now it’s all about applying that expertise to team-based patient care.”

Lest you think this is evidence of a touchy-feely approach to medicine, the new approach actually focuses less on personal questions like “Why do you want to go to med school?” [To help humanity, of course] and more on questions like “whether giving patients unproven alternative remedies is ethical.”

I find all of this quite fascinating, not just because of what it says about med school and the medical profession, but also because of what it suggests about leadership in general. Strong leaders are people who are able to work with teams, to cooperate, to learn from others, and to help their colleagues to excel.

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  • John Key MD

    I applied to medical school 40 years ago, and I would argue that medicine was not a “Lone Ranger” activity even then…teamwork was very important in medical school, and in postgraduate training.  I am not convinced that the “team” aspect is more developed today but one can definitely applaud the concept.  As to the “touchy-feely” interview questions, well, the questions were pretty dorky 40 years ago too….

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, John, for this observation.