The Best Extracurricular Skills To Learn In Medical School
Studying to become a doctor is so much more than sitting down with textbooks and passing tricky exams. When the studying stops (and suddenly you’re graduated), you’ll want to have more to offer than just your degree.
That’s where learning to master the major skills of a doctor can really help you stand out!
Here are the types of major skills we’ll be talking about:
- Diligence and perseverance
- Confidence and communication
- Positivity and responsibility
As med students ourselves, we feel there’s a lot further we can take this conversation. Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- What are the best skills to develop outside of study
- How you can work to improve them
- Why doctors need a mix of soft and hard skills
- When you can apply them
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Major Skills of a Doctor: What to Work On Outside of Study
We know that studying to be a doctor is a full-time pursuit. But just being aware of the following types of skills, and how you might develop them, is doubly important. Working on them in your down time, or unconsciously in the back of your mind, can really help you stand out later on.
Here are our picks on the top things to focus on.
As doctors, you’ll need to gain the trust of those around you. Showing you’re diligent; that you’re there exactly when you’re needed and that you’ll take full responsibility for your actions, is one way to earn that.
You can practice this in med school by ensuring you show up on time, do all your assignments and contribute where you can. Taking on further responsibility, whether in societies or your own projects, can also really help.
Every doctor has good and bad days. Sometimes everything runs smoothly on the wards, other times mistakes and setbacks happen. Good doctors are able to handle the ups and downs, managing the stress and still remaining professional.
Medical school is full of opportunities to develop the skill of perseverance. Bouncing back from hard exams, understanding where you went wrong and moving forward despite the setbacks can help sharpen this skill.
Almost everything doctors do is about communication. From instructing colleagues, to speaking directly with patients themselves, being an effective communicator is one of the best skills a doctor can possess.
Work on getting good at all forms of communication (not just speaking!) Take on assignments and volunteer to present. While you do this, focus on where it is you could improve. Always ask for feedback!
Patients come to doctors in a time of vulnerability. They want to get reassurance that they’re being listened to and help whenever possible. A confident doctor, who’s empathetic and an excellent listener, is one that will be valued above others.
Working at developing the skill of confidence isn’t easy. If you’re introverted it can do you good to step outside your comfort zone now and again. Make a goal to try one new thing a week, or meet one new person.
It’s little actions like this that can add up in med school and help you really grow.
The ability to remain positive, despite how challenging the situation, is a crucial skill for an effective doctor. Being able to do so helps you better direct a team and make better decisions, influencing others to rise to the occasion.
Cultivating positivity isn’t straightforward. One way to do so is to deepen your involvement in something that makes you happy, or to stay connected with family and friends. Knowing how to strike a balance (between work and study) can also help.
Being good at working with others, taking criticism and delegating is a hugely important skill for a doctor. Faced with complex clinical problems, things are more easily achieved in teams. Lone wolves only further isolate and divide.
You can develop this soft skill by volunteering to work with others on things like group projects, presentations and demonstrations. Rotating who you work with, and not just sticking to your friends, is another important tip.
Last but not least, great doctors are fantastic leaders. They know how to set goals, break things down into achievable steps and show others how things work. The world’s best hospitals and clinics are nothing without strong leaders, both at departmental and central level.
As a student thinking about becoming a doctor, think about ways you can develop as a leader. Are there small community projects you can take on? Is there a club or society you could start? All these things can go a long way.
Although clearly doctors have to be experts in the sciences and professional clinicians at the bedside, there are still a ton of other skills that help make them great.
Identifying and actively working on the types of things mentioned above, no matter what stage of your education you’re at, will never be a waste. Developing your leadership skills and actively working to become more diligent? Highly transferable!
Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas on how best to get started.
What Are the Most Important Soft and Hard Skills of a Doctor?
It’s clearly important for doctors to have a good mix of soft and hard skills but deciding which are the most important is tough. Different circumstances call for different skills. And doctors in different specialisms need to have different things in their toolkits.
A GP obviously won’t need the hard skills of a surgeon (to operate etc.), while the surgeon probably won’t need to be as strong as a communicator. As a prospective student thinking about these things beforehand, it’s probably best to focus on broadening your soft skills as much as you can first. Picking up the harder skills comes later in your career (specialist training etc).
What Are the Key Responsibilities of a Doctor?
A doctor’s key responsibility, before everything else, is to their patient. Meeting their needs and doing whatevers best to help solve their problems is fundamental. That’s why learning how to prioritize is another one of the best skills students training to become doctors should focus on.
What Are the Best Personal Characteristics, Interests and Abilities of a Doctor?
Here’s what we feel are the best picks:
- Friendly and warm, openly receptive to new people and patients
- Conscientious; tightly focused on the small details that make the big difference
- Wide interests across culture, sports and society; to help better connect with patients and colleagues
- Analytical abilities; not just in diagnosis but also the ability to read people’s body language and situations (and then act optimally)
What Is the Best Way To Describe Skills on a Medical CV or Resume?
We believe medical CV’s or resumes should be brief but impactful. You should focus on detailing the most impressive things from your academic and extracurricular career only. This communicates confidence, eliminates any fluff and ensures nobody’s time is wasted.
Here are a couple other general rules:
- Always tailor your CV/resume to the job at hand. Read the description carefully and look up the hiring team. Think about relevancy and the reason why you’re choosing to select specific pieces of information.
- If you’re relatively inexperienced, talk about how you developed these skills (the types of things we’ve talked about above) throughout your time in med school (and beyond). What activities did you pursue that showed your commitment to develop new skills?