Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pretty Hues of Vanilla

I interviewed a medical school applicant for the first time today. As a student-interviewer, I am supposed to ask open-ended questions in order to develop an accurate impression of an applicant. Basically, we are told to make sure there is a “real person” to go with the shiny résumé that sits in the admissions office. This being my first interview, I found myself struggling to formulate questions sharp enough to probe the “realness” of the lady sitting in front of me. What the hell kind of questions can you ask to penetrate the bullshit of interviews and reveal the true substance behind a person’s character in 50 minutes? And if by some odd play of fate I do elicit something meaningful and true, who the hell am I to judge that which is unveiled before me? It all seems quite silly and random to me—a microcosm of the entire medical school application process. This is why I ask silly questions like “what do you think about healthcare reform” and “tell me about your extracurricular activities.” It’s not that these questions aren’t important. It’s just that part of me feels like the ringleader’s accomplice, holding up another hoop for a tiger to jump through. This doesn’t tell you much about the tiger except that it is beautifully-trained to perform circus acts. Alternatively, if you want to know the true character of a tiger, you'd probably be better off throwing some raw meat on stage.
This is the problem with the medical school application process. It selects not so much for creative and brilliant minds as it does for individuals with an uncanny ability to jump through hoops. The Ringling Brother’s figured out that if you erected enough flaming rings, you could easily raise up a pride of felines both talented and tame enough to navigate a stunning barrage of obstacles. And in many ways, medical schools have taken on this model. A med student is essentially the Darwinian product of a countless number of unnatural forces, including standardized tests, GPAs, research projects, volunteer work, recommendation letters, two dozen short essays, soul-draining interviews, and expensive business attire. This supposedly “weeds out” the faint of heart and leaves you with a handful of elite specimens (minus the ones who figured out that law school is only a 3-year commitment). However, the fact is that this process too often leaves you with trained performers, a superb collection of conformists all of similar color and trait. Great for the circus. Perhaps not so great for the future of medicine.
It isn’t that medical students aren’t wonderful, intelligent, and compassionate. Because from my experience, they are—with little exception—all these things. But there is danger in creating a generation of physicians, all pretty hues of vanilla like the lab coats that they don. A homogenous group of leaders both in mind and motivation is always at risk of perpetuating tradition over pursuing new ideas. This is especially true when you consider that student physicians are masters at manipulating their schedules, efforts, and intellect to fit success’s long precedent. So while we may be great for shaking hands with the dean and rocking the medical board exams, what creativity and innovation will we bring to healthcare’s most daunting problems? Or will we stick to the script, put on a show, and leave the next generation asking the very same questions—what do you think about healthcare reform? Please, tell me about your extra-curricular activities.


  1. Oooo I like the new laptop and the new entry!

  2. Okay. I just looked at this... and i have NO idea what I was referring to when I said "laptop" I have a feeling I meant to say something different-- like website or blogger or something.... just to clarify!

  3. Every week when I come back to this comment, I forget what this even refers to. Ugho. I miss you!

  4. Jay only accepts super geniuses - this isn't Laura btw


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