Brainstorm with me for a second here.
What characteristics do you want to cultivate as a medical professional? Why did you go into medicine?
While working with medical students and undergrads, the characteristics that I hear most often are: “altruism,” “compassionate,” “integrity,” “great bedside manner,” “passion,” “hard-working,” “humility,” and “knowledge.” Most people go into medicine wanting to help others.
Now think of what schools teach.
“Achievement,” “knowledge,” “high test scores,” “discipline” – all characteristics that are rather limited to the workplace.
There’s a little overlap since education in medicine, discipline is required to master the knowledge required to be a competent professional. However, as achievement is often measured by test scores, class rankings, and awards, sometimes, you tend to think narrowly and focus your attention on what’s on the test. It doesn’t help that a lot of schools screen you out based on GPA and standardized test scores, only granting you interviews if you meet certain metrics. It is my opinion that focusing so much on these cold, objective metrics makes the other character traits of great medical professionals seem less important.
Research has shown (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5767243/) that greater well-being, which comes from working on core values and character strengths such as kindness and self-discipline, actually improves your academic performance. In short, it’s a win-win if you work on self-care and working to be the healthiest version of you. This self-care needs to come first, as it doesn’t really work the other way around. How many people do you know that are considered to be “successful” but never seem to be happy with themselves or ask themselves constantly “what’s wrong here?”
In addition to working on signature character strengths, as discussed in this post (
https://latinxenmedicina.com/blogs/resources/flourishing-in-medicine), there’s another exercise that you can add to your repertoire – the “Three-Good-Things” exercise.
- Write down three good things that happened to you, every single day.
- They don’t have to be monumental, it could be as simple as, “I did laundry and actually put it away,” or “I raised my hand in class and answered a question right!”
- Next to each event, write about:
- “Why did this good thing happen?”
- “What does this mean to you?”
- “How can you have more of this good thing in the future?”
It seems so simple, but this has been proven to improve well-being and improved social skills (empathy, cooperation, assertiveness, self-control) in elementary school students (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x). Regardless of age, these seem like good skills to continue working on, especially for those in medicine.
Now, I’m not telling you, “just think positively and you’ll stop being sad/anxious.” The difference here, and what makes this effective, is that you go through a mental exercise to figure out what events are considered “good” to you. These “good events” aren’t the same for everyone. Not only that, but you unpack why and how. This method is very similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where you work through events, unpacking ‘the worst that could happen from this,’ and ‘the most likely thing that could happen from this.’ It’s a form of recoding your brain and how you interpret events, which is so key to personal growth.
What’s also important is having a sense of community, belonging, and improved interpersonal bonds. Leslie’s goal for Latinx en Medicina is to provide this sense of community and to have shared experiences, and I view it as part of a mission to improve the culture of medicine. In my next post, I’ll talk more about evidence-based methods of improving interpersonal bonds, which will help you figure out how to have good bedside manner and demonstrate your altruism to the people that need it most – your patients.