Gosh, watching all those episodes of "House" and "Grey's Anatomy" was engrossing. Hearing that medicalese bandied about, seeing racy dramas among residents unfold, following rope-you-in plot lines of patients and their mysterious ailments makes the medical profession appear so dynamic. But to get the skinny on what wards are really like and the personality traits that advance M.D.'s to the top, listen to the words of seasoned, real-world doctors. "Highly successful physicians are disciplined, independent and self-starters," says Dr. Stuart Sealfon, professor and chair of the neurology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Medical professionals and students must be diligent and well-organized. It's often initially minor observations that later solve problems."
Those who embark on this path are on a long journey, typically involving four years of med school post-college and three to eight years of internship and residency, depending on the specialty. "When you enter the field of medicine, you've got to be mentally prepared to spend 10 to 15 years training before you can start working on your own," says Dr. Sonia Lal, headache specialist and assistant professor of neurology at Loyola University Chicago. The commitment, she adds, requires not only hard work but loads of patience. "Expect to see friends in other fields get into the nitty-gritty of their work a decade before you will."
It takes drive and determination to succeed, says Dr. David Armstrong, professor of surgery and director of the Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In addition to requisite compassion, it's this ambition that is imperative and keeps doctors striving to create, discover and make a difference in their fields, Dr. Armstrong says. "I've seen some trainees over the last decade that reach a certain point and shut down. But the stick-to-it-ness that carried you through school, your residency and into your specialty is what can set you apart in medicine."
From medical school to hospital corridors, organizational skills are key to becoming an accomplished doctor. “We’re expected to keep massive amounts of information at our fingertips and juggle multiple problems simultaneously,“ says Dr. Amber Taylor, endocrinologist and director of Mercy Hospital's Diabetes Center in Baltimore. “It can start to overwhelm without solid systems in place to help you keep track of it all," she says. Dr. Taylor admits to learning from mistakes along the way. “As an intern, I was constantly shuffling papers, trying to manage labs, X-rays and histories for multiple patients." When a colleague showed her a method for keeping organized on the wards, she saw the light.
Whether doing research to improve treatment for a disease or developing a practice, physicians need to keep plugging away at long-term goals and overcome obstacles as they arise. In Dr. Sealfon's medical research, he headed studies that spanned years and even decades. "Without the perseverance to focus and keep teams of physician researchers motivated, the eventual success, the answers to the big questions, the ones that lead to the development of new treatments, may not have been achieved."
- Dr. Stuart Sealfon, MD; professor and chair of the neurology department; Mount Sinai School of Medicine; New York
- Dr. Sonia Lal, MD; headache specialist and assistant professor of neurology; Loyola University Chicago
- Dr. David G. Armstrong, DPM, MD, PhD; professor of surgery and director, Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance, University of Arizona College of Medicine; Tucson, Arizona
- Dr. Amber Taylor, MD; endocrinologist and director, Mercy Hospital's Diabetes Center; Baltimore
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