Am I Smart Enough To Be A Doctor?

Where do you stand? Do you tell your kids to avoid medicine or do you tell them to do whatever the heck they want to do? I have now been a board certified internist practicing as a hospitalist for the last ten years.  I remember thinking as I grew up that high school was going to be so dang hard and when I graduated I remember thinking that college was going to be so dang hard.  When I graduated from college I remember thinking that medical school was going to be so dang hard and when I graduated from that, I remember thinking that residency was going to be brutal. Then, when I  graduated from residency,  remember thinking I'm done, until I realized that it never ends. Then I thought my internal medicine maintenance of certification exam was going to be so difficult.   I took that test in October,  2012 and it was a piece of cake, but the busy work never ends.

If you are thinking about the medical field and you can't decide what field to enter, you may be asking yourself if you are smart enough for the rigorous training required to become a practicing physician.   Naturally, you'll find yourself asking the question, "How do I know if I am smart enough to be a doctor".  Is there a test or quiz I can take to see if I have the stamina, endurance, intelligence and drive to succeed in this grueling education track?  Are there special classes that can train my brain to pass all the road blocks set up to make the journey from lay person to doctor a difficult one?  Is there a sure fire method I can implement to guarantee my success for  getting into medical school and completing it with excellent grades?

The simple answer is no.   There is no magic bullet to success and there is definitely no such thing as being smart enough to be a doctor. The one criteria required to become a doctor is to work hard enough to become one and then be prepared for a life of people with no medical background telling you how to do your job you trained over to decade to master.  I've never once seen an IQ test as a substitute for the MCAT that is required by most medical school acceptance committees.  How smart you are is decided by how good you are at winning the acceptance process.  After you're in, how smart you are is defined more by how good you are with time management, study habits, memorization skills and kissing butt (for your clinical years).  

Most folks need to work very hard for many years to win the game.  A few wealthy ones may have the needed connections to buy their way in and through medical school or be of the right race to help achieve racial balance in medical schools, sometimes at the expense of objective MCAT scores and college grades.  If you're asking whether you're smart enough to be a doctor, you're asking the wrong question.  Instead, ask yourself if you are determined enough to put your life on hold to experience the most intense educational experience you can't ever imagine.  Some people succeed, despite all the objective evidence that says they shouldn't have.  This original Happy Hospitalist medical ecard helps put things in perspective.

"How did THAT doctor pass?  --- any nurse."

How did that doctor pass any nurse ecard humor photo.

Some of this post is for entertainment purposes only and likely contains humor only understood by those in a healthcare profession. Read at your own risk.

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9 Outbursts:

  1. My kids won't be going to med school, at least not with any encouragement from me. They need to make money to support me in my old age because I don't think primary care is going to fill the 401K adequately.

    We have a very bright PA. She's also smart enough to be a doc (to get into med school), however, she was smarter than us and avoided med school and all that debt and lost years. She now makes only a bit less than a primary care physician and has no call.

  2. I'm in a different profession (teacher), but received the same comments. At the time my stock reply was that someone had to do it and that I knew what I was getting myself into.


    Yes, somebody does have to do it. If some of the parents of the kids I teach were to home-school their children, I would be afraid -- very afraid.

    But my other point, that I knew what I was getting into? Nope, I couldn't even fathom it would become this bad. I knew about taking work home, not being paid well, etc. Besides the extent of all of the NCLB crap and figuring out just how many other certifications I would need beyond my basic certification, what I did not learn until I started is that a lot of precious time is wasted either documenting things or soothing ruffled feathers. I also learned that many of the parents believe that you do not know what you are talking about (even though you may have *majored* in the subject!) or that their precious babies are so unique and gifted that they deserve preferential treatment or that too many kids have SDs and baby-mommas instead of actual "parents".

    My point to this long-winded response? While it is frustrating to have people constantly asking you if what you are choosing is what you "really want to do" people need that reality check. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our world of idealism that we cannot see realistically until experience is shoved in our faces.

  3. I am a surgeon who has been fortunate enough to get into a very sought-after subspecialty within an equally-desirable specialty. My work is enjoyable. But I would not go through what I have gone through for this again, having sacrificed what I have of other opportunities, and I would not ever recommend to someone leaving college that they follow the same path as me.

    And I am a good doctor.

  4. Our middle daughter wanted to be a pediatrician, which I subtly discouraged by telling her how much reading and studying she would have to do in med school (she doesn't have the world's greatest work ethic, despite constant prodding). What really changed her mind, tho, was learning she'd have to dissect a cadaver. That was the deal breaker.

    Now she wants to be head football coach at Ohio State. Sigh. Whatever.

    I'm just going to let them figure it out on their own from now on.

  5. "There is no such thing as smart enough to be a doctor. The one criteria required to become a doctor is to work hard enough to become one. I've never once seen an IQ test as a requirement for entrance into medical school. Ever."

    There is definitely a minimum requirement of intelligence to become a doctor. This may be overshadowed by ability to work hard, but there are minimum intelligence requirements for every profession from manual labor to astronaut. If this were not true you could look at a bell curve of intelligence, point to any part of that curve and say yes, such a person could be a doctor simply if they work hard enough.

  6. Yes, actually there is such a thing as "smart enough to be a doctor." I'm pretty sure everyone who has ever been in an ER for any worthwhile period of time has met at least several people who could never be doctors.

    People love to bitch. All the time. About everything. Ohmygawd, this is soooo hard. Fourth grade was really hard, man. I struggled to be at the top of my class, and I missed it by a hair.

    The grass is always greener. I'm tired of endless complaining.

  7. When I'm at work, and I see the young little LVN/RN students, looking so serious, I ask them if it's too late to change their major. For some reason, they always laugh. I don't know why.

  8. Happy,

    Knowing what you know now, would YOU do it again?


  9. i think some people (those outside of medicine) don't necessarily realize the amount of hard work that one has to put in. does it require smarts. sure it does. but there is a ton of hard work behind the scenes... that the public may not ever see... nor understand... and perhaps not even appreciate.


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