Tag Archives: pleasant

You Must Stand Out

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

I can’t emphasize enough how much you should try to aim for zero– show up, be competent, don’t try too hard.  On the flip side, if you are forgettable, marginal, or just merely acceptable, you won’t ‘wow’ anyone and you won’t get letters of recommendation.  Obviously, you should read and adhere to all of the How to be Successful series of posts. In addition to those concepts, here are some which will help make sure you Stand Out.

1) Ask questions.  There can be a difficult balance between annoying, constantly questioning/bugging and curious, thoughtful, and engaged.  Asking thoughtful questions indicates you understand the material and are interested in learning even more. You may ask any questions you like, and this is a great way to learn, but if you haven’t done the basic reading and work to understand the foundations of the topic at hand, you probably won’t stand out when you ask your questions. Conversely, try not to ‘wow’ people with the questions you ask- esoteric data and minutia can be all well and good, but whenever a student asks me a question like this, it is obvious that they are trying to suck up or stand out.

2) Help out.  You may think faculty don’t notice all of your hard work, and maybe some of them don’t, but most of us keep a close eye on how hard working the students are.  Help your classmates out whenever they need it. Teamwork is an essential skill for veterinary medicine- demonstrate that you care more about the team than yourself.

3) Don’t be silent.  You don’t have to be the most outgoing, gregarious person but, if you are silent, you will almost surely fade into the background.  You should be engaged when things are happening and learning opportunities occur. Be prepared to answer when you are asked a question.  If you don’t know the answer for sure, you can hazard a guess. It is far preferable to make an educated guess than to be sitting in silence while the faculty waits for an answer.  Participate participate participate.

4) Be energetic.  Again, you don’t have to be an extrovert, but you DO have to look like you are happy to be working and learning.  You’re in vet school or an internship or a residency- isn’t that AWESOME?!? You can’t be excited 24/7, particularly with some of the long, mentally taxing hours we work, but you CAN do your best to express your enthusiasm as often as possible.  Students who are energetic and seem happy to be there make a far better impression than those who seem like they are just putting in their time.

5) Study.  This may seem self-evident, which is why it’s not in the How to Be Successful series, but I am often amazed when students go home and then don’t study.  Yes, you may be able to pass and do a fine job. But do you expect you will be able to excel, to stand out from the crowd? All vet students are above average and all interns much more so- if you want to stand out, you have to work, and part of this is studying when you go home or have down time.

I don’t want you to STRIVE to be outstanding or above the crowd- doing so will almost surely set you up for failure.  However, I do want you to be AWARE of what you can do to be a remarkable student/intern/resident. Find the opportunities to do these things as they arise, but don’t force it into situations.  If you had a long, tiring shift and try to force yourself to be energetic, it will come off as false and disingenuous.

These are some of the characteristics of the students whom I notice and for whom I am inclined to write positive letters of recommendation.  What are some other characteristics you believe are important?

How to be Successful: Be an RFHB

The other day I popped my head into a faculty member’s office to talk with them about their current struggles with some students.  The faculty member mentioned one student who was being needy and dramatic and problematic, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they just acted like a Reasonable Fucking Human Being?”  The faculty member laughed and loved that term, because it summarizes so many important but ineffable qualities.

I can’t remember which of my friends coined this term, but it has been one of the most useful terms in my life: Reasonable Fucking Human Being (RFHB).  This is not “an amazing person” or “an incompetent asshat.”  It is not “Spock-like emotionlessness” or “perfect in every way.”  This is the baseline level at which people should be functioning. It is not a high standard.  Yet, it is amazing how often people who should know better do not meet this simple qualification.

To be an RFHB, you need to not be dramatic.  If you can’t avoid being dramatic, you at least need to be able to calm down and speak rationally.  You need to have expectations which are fair and reasonable. You need to not expect people to read your mind.  You need to treat people with a basic level of respect, because they are also soft squishy smart monkeys trying to stimulate dopamine activity on a rocky ball hurtling through the cosmos.

To be an RFHB, you can be emotional, but you need to acknowledge your emotionality.  You need to listen. You need to not interrupt. If you do interrupt someone, you need to be aware of that and apologize.  You need to present solutions and not just gripe, unless all you want is sympathy, in which case you should make that clear.  You need to think about the future and be aware of the consequences of your decisions.

To be an RFHB, you need to be compassionate.  You need to care at least a little about your fellow human beings.  You need to try to minimize suffering- not just starving children in third world countries, but with the words you use and how you deal with the people around you.  You need to trust and accept the trust that progressively builds as you interact with others. You need to understand the rules and, if you don’t accept them, be willing to accept the consequences of breaking them.

To be an RFHB, you need to look out for the ‘little guy’.  You need to support individuals against the oppression of the majority.  You need to understand privilege and not expect others to do things the way you do them.  You need to understand the relationship between work, effort, and outcome. You need to be humble and accept responsibility for your actions and work to improve as a person.

In a word: just be cool.  OK, that’s three words. It seems really really simple to me.  Just be… reasonable. That’s it. That’s the baseline. From there, you can work on being a zero.

Would you Rather Be Smart or Have a Good Personality?

The Vetducator - Jimmy Stewart in Harvey giving advice about being pleasant over smart.

“In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I belong to a private Facebook group for those who graduated in my class in vet school.  When a discussion about grades came up, one of my classmates pointed out many internship programs select people that are easy to get along with over the ones with amazing grades.  My reply was, “Oh man, personality trumps smart every time for me.” Several of my classmates chimed in in agreement. I thought it was worthwhile to talk about.

When I go about selecting residents, I have often said, “I can TEACH them what they need to know.  But if they are difficult to work with, I can’t change that.” I want to be clear: I’m not talking personality like outgoing, bubbly, constantly cheery.  I get along great with quiet, brooding types. I mean personality in the sense that the person is humble, can deal with other human beings, and is willing to work hard.

Grades don’t necessarily indicate your intelligence- they indicate your ability to get good grades in the system we have.  Almost everyone in vet school is smart. Or at least smart ‘enough’. Those who excel have a curious mind, are willing to take feedback, and seek improvement in their lives.

I have known plenty of people who got amazing grades, but were not necessarily successful clinicians, and people who got poor grades who became amazing clinicians.  Success depends on so much more than being smart, or being highly ranked in your class. For some internship and residency programs, yes, they do look at your grades and class rank.  If you’re not near the top, that is fine- those programs wouldn’t be a good fit for you anyways.

Any program that cares that much about class rank is likely to find others who think that is important.  Some of those programs are successful, which is great. I think there are many more programs which understand that there are so many things people bring to the table and need to be good at other than their grades.

We have been talking a lot about ‘soft skills’ in veterinary medicine for the last decade, and it’s because we had been focused so much on grades and test scores up to that point.  What employers want isn’t the person who gets As, they want the person who will manage their cases effectively and keep clients happy. Doing that requires way more than medical knowledge.  It requires communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

Some of these you can learn and train, like communication skills.  Others may develop over the course of years. But if someone is a Negative Person, or is Arrogant, or some other major personality defect- I can’t fix that with training.  That person needs years of therapy and a strong motivation to change.

I have two major takeaways for you.  1) If you are not at the top of your class, you can excel and be successful nonetheless.  Read all the How to be Successful posts. 2) Improvements to your personality will pay much greater dividends than improvements to your knowledge.  Hiring decisions are based on how you are to work with- NOT how much you know.