A foundational concept you NEED to understand is to Aim for Zero. I encounter so many students who aim to be a +1 and end up being a -1 as a consequence. At the end of the day, the students I most enjoy working with are the ones who are quietly competent. The students who ask esoteric questions, who try to chat me up, who stress about their grades, and who try to be more competent than they are are among the worst I work with.
So, if you can avoid being a -1 by aiming for zero, what if you want to be a +1? Honestly, I would follow the steps in the How to Be Successful series. But I will outline them here, in order.
#1 – Show up. You HAVE to be there when you’re supposed to be. Ideally, you should arrive before and leave after everyone else. As a general rule, the students should arrive before the interns who should arrive before the residents who should arrive before the faculty. And inverted at the end of the day. I would say fully 70% of students don’t even Show Up so, if you do, that is a big step towards becoming a +1.
#2 – Be humble. Arrogance prevents you from having a growth mindset, impairs empathy, makes sure you don’t learn from your mistakes, and leads to an unhappy life. Every now and then I encounter someone in their 60s or older who is an unhappy person and I think, “You failed at life. No matter how much money you have or anything else, I believe you Missed The Point.” I think a lack of humility is the first step down that dark path. If you can’t admit your mistakes and accept responsibility, I don’t want to work with you.
#3 – Continuous improvement. Do I like students who know A LOT on the first day of rotations? Or residents who can handle a colic after 3 months? Sure, who wouldn’t? But you know what I like at least as much, if not more? Students, interns, and residents who IMPROVE over time. They listen to what I have to say, incorporate that feedback, and become better. That suggests they will continue to do so throughout their career. Have you heard the statistic that medical knowledge doubles in an incredibly short time? A medical professional needs to be able to continue to learn once they finish their training.
You know what, I think that’s it. I usually find that, in any group of 8 students, generally one is below average, one is above average, and the rest are average. When I think about the students who are above average, they hit each of these three items. There are a lot of other things I think you should do to be successful, but if you hit these key points, I think you will be well on your way to being a +1.
It doesn’t seem hard, but you would be surprised at how few students I see achieve this. More interns and most residents hit all of these, as would be expected given the progressively challenging selection process. FIRST, you HAVE to aim for zero. If you are able to accomplish that (and many students don’t), THEN you can think about these steps to try to head towards being a +1.