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.

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