Be a Leader: Tips for Medical School Applicants

We talk often in this space about the skills required to navigate the challenges of medical school and to succeed as a physician.  Today we are going to spend time on a less obvious skill—leadership.  Well-developed leadership ability will make you more impressive to medical schools, and will improve your chances of success both in school and as a professional.  If leadership is not a skill that comes naturally to you, don’t worry—leadership, like many other skills, is something that you can learn.  Below are several steps you can take to improve your leadership ability—and improve your chances of a successful career in the medical field:

1) Learn to listen. In contrast to the way leadership is depicted in the movies, leadership is less about speaking and more about listening.  Listening is more than simply hearing the words that others speak—it is taking the time to truly understand them and recognize their perspective on a given issue. If you learn to listen to teammates, colleagues, classmates, and others , you will be in position to fairly and accurately assess any situation and will be able to spot sensible solutions.

2) Practice what you preach. Once again, Hollywood would have you believe that effective leadership is screaming and yelling at your subordinates until they bend to your will.  That type of leadership is not particularly effective in the real world.  Far more effective is a leader who leads by example.  If you preach hard work, practice it.  You’ll find that people are far more willing to follow a leader who walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. I’ve known plenty of people with all the ability necessary to make a great leader—but who simply aren’t willing to risk speaking up.  Don’t hesitate to speak up when you have an idea that could help your team reach a solution.

4) Seek feedback. Finally, once you’ve made an effort to be a leader, seek feedback.  Ask teammates or colleagues for their thoughts on your leadership style.  Maybe you need to be more assertive.  Maybe you need to spend less time speaking and more time listening.  You’ll never know unless you ask!

The ability to be an effective leader will help you in every stage of your journey.  Even if you don’t think of yourself as a great leader, with practice and commitment you’ll be surprised how quickly you can learn.


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“Great presentation! It was great to hear someone tell us about the process and how to stand out. I’m a freshman and now I feel confident on how to become a stand out applicant.” Shelly C.

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