Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources

5 Professional Skills High Schoolers Should Hone Before Pre-Med (and How to Do It)

If you want to become a doctor, you’ve chosen a prestigious, rewarding, and important profession. But you’ve also chosen a educational path that’s very competitive.

Once you’ve graduated from medical school, finding a job as a doctor won’t be difficult. The difficult part is getting into medical school: Only about 40% of all medical school applicants are accepted. The most prestigious medical schools — like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, and the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine — accept 5% or less of their applicants.

That may sound scary, but the good news is that you’re still in high school. That means you have plenty of time to build the skills, knowledge, and experiences that will make you a competitive medical school applicant (and an awesome doctor in the future).

In this article, we’ll look at important professional skills high school students should develop for a career in the medical field. Better yet, we’ll tell you why these skills are so important and how you can develop them. Let’s dive in!

1. Leadership

Why it matters in pre-med and the medical field:

Doctors lead teams of nurses, medical residents, and other professionals. They must make important decisions with confidence and communicate these decisions to others.

For these reasons and more, leadership is a vital skill for an effective physician. It’s also listed as an essential skill by many top medical schools.

How to develop leadership skills:

You can develop leadership skills in high school by:

  • Joining Student Government/becoming a class officer
  • Taking a leadership role in a club or extracurricular activity
  • Captaining a sports team
  • Suggesting new ideas and taking charge of new events, even in an unofficial capacity
  • Reading books or taking online courses about leadership

Even if your title isn’t “president” or “vice president,” you can still be a leader in the groups, clubs, and extracurricular activities that you enjoy. Suggest ideas for fundraising, recruiting new members, or simply making the club better. Volunteer to lead these initiatives.

Whatever you do to develop your leadership skills, be sure to document it. When you apply to college, you’ll want to explain how you contributed to the organizations and activities you participated in.

Tips on Getting Accepted to BS/MD Programs

2. Communication

Why it matters in pre-med and the medical field:

Both verbal and written communication are a must for doctors. You’ll need to interact with patients, work with a team, and talk people through major life events and crises. You also have to provide lots of documentation and paperwork.

How to develop communication skills:

 Work on your communication skills in high school by:

  • Paying attention and working hard in English class
  • Taking a public speaking course if available
  • Participating in extracurricular activities and talking to people
  • Working a part-time job that involves customer service
  • Interacting with diverse groups
  • Taking foreign language classes
  • Practicing listening, not just talking
  • Keeping a journal or starting a blog

Doctors work with diverse patients and people who may not be fluent in English. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to develop your foreign language skills.

Additionally, it’s important to and build experience communicating with people from many different backgrounds. For example, if you know that you want to practice medicine in a rural community, volunteer in a rural community now. If you want to work with underserved populations, volunteer with underserved populations now. Learn about the experiences, needs, and backgrounds of the people you’ll be working with to ensure understanding and effective communication in the future.

3. Empathy

Why it matters in pre-med and the medical field:

Empathy is an essential component of the doctor-patient relationship. The way doctors interact with patients is often referred to as “bedside manner,” and patients want doctors who are kind, understanding, and genuinely caring.

Doctors must also deliver bad news to family and friends, and the ability to do so with empathy is key.

Studies show that doctors who demonstrate empathy are more devoted to ensuring positive patient outcomes. In addition, they show fewer signs of stress, burnout, and cynicism.

How to develop empathy:

Empathy may sound like an inherent skill that can’t be developed, but that isn’t the case. Build empathy by:

  • Volunteering in diverse communities, especially in a medical capacity if possible
  • Listening to the experiences of others
  • Trying to understand other perspectives (putting yourself in someone else’s shoes)
  • Challenging your prejudices and biases
  • Learning about other cultures and groups
  • Considering the motivations and feelings of others
  • Practicing non-judgment

Become curious about what other people think and feel. Step outside of your comfort zone and interact with people you haven’t spent time with in the past.

Instead of immediately labeling someone’s actions as “good” or “bad,” think about how they might be feeling. For example, someone who always pushes others away may have been trained by past experiences not to trust others. Someone who is grumpy or snappy may have had a bad day or might be going through something difficult at home.

The more you learn about, listen to, and interact with other people, the more empathy you’ll develop. Remember that the way you view the world isn’t the view; it’s just one perspective. Explore and consider other perspectives and opinions, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

4. Integrity

Why it matters in pre-med and the medical field:

Integrity means being honest and living by strong moral principles, values, and ethics. Medical school applicants are evaluated on their integrity because doctors are trusted with the health and lives of others.

How to develop integrity:

Develop your integrity by making a commitment to keep your promises and be honest with others. Take time to consider what you believe in and what’s important to you. When you see something that isn’t right, speak up about it.

Examine how you react when you’re stressed or upset. If you don’t like what you see, make a conscious effort to change it. Practice taking a moment to pause, breathe, and consider what you’re about to say before you say it.

Build friendships with people who have strong morals and act with integrity. Find role models who do the same. Avoid people who do not act with integrity, so that you aren’t influenced by their actions.

Like exercising to build muscles or studying to build your brain, you can develop integrity by practicing it on a regular basis. Reflect on your actions and behaviors and work to make changes when necessary.

5. Resilience

Why it matters in pre-med and the medical field:

“Resilience” is another skill identified as important by medical school admissions officials. It’s the ability to cope with a crisis or bounce back from failures.

Doctors deal with stressful circumstances and difficult situations every day. They must be able to manage stress, long hours, and difficult emotions.

How to develop resilience:

You can develop resilience by:

  • Building a strong support network
  • Focusing on the positive
  • Taking good care of your physical and mental health
  • Embracing change and challenges
  • Working on your problem-solving skills
  • Examining your self-talk (Do you say, “I’m so stupid,” or, “I made a mistake. I’ll do better next time”?)
  • Meditating/practicing deep breathing
  • Offering compassion to others and to yourself
  • Journaling about difficult experiences and feelings

Practice developing a growth mindset. That’s the idea that you can learn and grow from challenges and mistakes. Instead of thinking that you aren’t good at something, develop strategies for how you can improve. Rather than dwelling on something negative, think about what you learned from the experience and how you can apply those lessons moving forward.

If you build these strategies and skills now, you’ll be able to use them even when you’re in a high-pressure or stressful situation as a doctor.

See the Best Colleges for Pre-Med

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.