Top 11 qualities of a good doctor
What they are and why they’re necessary.
A Medlink article by Sarah English MSci, May 29th 2019
There are many qualities you need to attribute if you want to pursue a career in medicine, but which are the most important and why are they so necessary?
In this article we’re going to go through the top 11 characteristics needed by doctors, what they require from you and just why they are so important.
1. Excellent communication skills
Are you great at imparting information?
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From patient contact, to staff teamwork, to talking with relatives, good communication skills are essential for a doctor. You have to be able to clearly and concisely explain what is happening to your patients, ensuring that they understand what is going on, all while remaining professional and personable. You will also be working in a multi-disciplinary team, and it is critical that you pass on information to other members of this team accurately.
Frequently you will also come across patients who struggle with communicating, whether it be through neuro-degenerative problems, language barriers or simply an unwillingness to divulge information. It’s critical that you learn how to extract and impart information to these patients, adapting to your situation and finding alternative ways to communicate successfully.
2. The ability to work as part of a team
Can you work well with other people?
No doctor works alone. Medical settings are filled with interdisciplinary teams and you will have to work alongside other doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists, social workers, as well as many more categories of staff. You will be working with these staff members day in, day out, so it is vital that you are able to collaborate well with other people to achieve the best for your patients. This requires you to give ideas and help where possible as well as delegating any jobs you need doing and following any instructions given.
Sometimes you may find that you disagree with other people on your team. It’s important that any problems like this don’t escalate and you can do this by raising any concerns politely and professionally.
3. A strong work ethic
Do you prioritise work over play?
Being a doctor means a lot of hard work, beginning at GCSE’s, going into A Levels, throughout medical school and it certainly doesn’t stop once you graduate. You need to be able to put in the effort needed. Working long hours, evenings, weekends and holidays is hard, and that means you really need to have that drive to get the job done. It’s crucial that you are able to dedicate yourself 100% to work despite any personal problems, how tired you are and any plans with friend and family that you may want to attend.
How much do you care about your patients?
Being scientifically brilliant might make you good at curing your patients but without compassion you won’t be the best doctor you can be. You have to care about your patients. Fundamentally a doctor is someone who helps other people and there’s no way that you can do that job day in, day out, if you don’t have the concern for the welfare of your patients. You will be seeing people at the most vulnerable points in their lives and they will need to know that you truly care about what happens to them and are on this journey with them.
A strong work ethic is vital but compassion is the quality that will get you out of bed at 2am when you are on call, to help someone that needs you.
5. Excellent people skills
Can you work with the general public?
This may seem like the same thing as teamwork and communication skills, but they are subtly different. Communication skills are all about imparting information and understanding what’s being conveyed to you while good people skills look at how well you get on with whoever it is you are dealing with. Having good people skills will allow you to adapt to the varied types of people you will meet as you work as a doctor. No two patients will be the same and it is key that you have the skills to get on with people of different ages, cultures, and from any walk of life.
Furthermore, you are bound to come across patients and relatives who are distressed, angry and maybe even aggressive. By having excellent people skills, you will be able to diffuse any potential problems, keeping these patients onside and building a better doctor-patient relationship.
6. Leadership material
How well can you lead a team?
Being a doctor means that the buck often stops with you.There will be times where you need to make a final decision and stick with it, instructing your team members what to do and when. There is a lot of responsibility with this role and you need to be sure that you are able to step up and take charge when needed.
Bearing in mind this may be when you are already tired and overloaded with jobs to do.
Sometimes these decisions can be hard to make, and members of your team may disagree. It’s key that you are able to evaluate a situation quickly, taking on board differing opinions but ultimately coming to a conclusion and ensuring that your team follows along with you. There’s a fine line between authoritative and dictatorial.
7. Fantastic organisational skills
Can you prioritise and keep on top of tasks?
As a doctor you’ll be juggling many patients, possibly even on multiple wards and maybe even at different ends of a hospital. With patient contact, paperwork and meetings, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. This is where organisational skills come in extremely handy. Being able to prioritise which tasks are urgent and which can be pushed back will make your job so much easier, ensuring that patients receive the best quality care as well as your own deadlines being met.
Often people forget just how much paperwork is involved with being a doctor, so it’s key that you understand you will need to be able to cope with this aspect of medical life, without losing track of whose file is whose!
8. Being academically excellent
Do you have the ability to learn and understand the information you will need?
Compassion ensures that you care what happens to your patients and a strong work ethic gets you through the doors day in and day out, but having the medical knowledge to treat people is what will save lives. Doctors need to learn and understand an encyclopaedic amount of knowledge, being able to recall it whenever necessary and at a moments notice.
You need to be able to achieve high grades at A Level and continue that trend throughout your time at medical school.
And the learning doesn’t end when you graduate. Medicine is a constantly advancing field and you’ll need to keep on top of it throughout your career as a doctor, attending seminars, doing extra reading, as well as completing your own studies and writing papers yourself.
9. Stress management
Can you deal with the pressures of being a doctor?
Stress is part and parcel with working as a doctor. Long hours, dealing with death, difficult patients, hospital issues (such as funding and under-staffing), little down time, plus many other factors all combine to provide a tremendous amount of pressure for doctors. Quickly you can find yourself overwhelmed by it all unless you have good stress management skills. These will be different from person to person, but it is key that you find what works best for you to keep your head above water in these situations.
Perhaps you wind down with a run, or maybe doing some arts and crafts in the evening puts you back in tune with the world. Whatever it is, ensure that you are able to de-stress so that work doesn’t take over your private life.
Are you polite, punctual and proficient?
While a very noble field, being a doctor is still first and foremost a job, and as such being professional is vital. That means remaining polite, courteous, attentive and well presented. Like any job, you can receive complaints and be reprimanded for being unprofessional to both other members of staff and patients, so it’s important that you can maintain a high standard of behaviour while at work.
It’s not something many medical applicants think about but you need to be able to be punctual and keep up with paperwork as not doing so could have serious consequences.
As doctors you might also find that people hold you to this high standard even outside of work. That doesn’t mean you have to be straight as an arrow 24/7, but it may mean maintaining your professionalism while in public and definitely means keeping your social media relatively clean.
Do you want to be a doctor?
Being a doctor is hard, and a high salary won’t be the thing that keeps you going at hour 13 of a 12-hour shift. You have to want to be a doctor.
It’s vital that you have the passion that keeps you studying through medical school and makes you willing to sacrifice parts of your personal life to go into work on weekends and holidays.
If you have that enthusiasm and intense desire, then being a doctor will be the most rewarding career for you. But without it you will soon find yourself in a job you resent.
No single one of these qualities on their own will make you the perfect doctor, but combined they provide an excellent template. It’s vital that you display all of these characteristics in some way if you want to be a doctor, so if there are any that you feel you are lacking then try improving them where possible! If you struggle working in a team, join a sports club for practice. If you feel you aren’t compassionate enough, volunteer at a hospice and really spend time with the patients to build this up.
None of these qualities you either have or don’t, you can work on all of them and make yourself the best doctor you can possibly be!
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