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Medical Student Personalities and Performance

You may have seen this comic strip on the 12 types of Med students by Michelle Au. There are all sorts of personalities in medicine and they often correlate with a medical specialty too!

Research on Medical Student Personalities

A recent research article titled Associations of Medical Student Personality and Health/Wellness Characteristics With Their Medical School Performance Across the Curriculum got me thinking about personality types and performance in medical school.

The authors did a retrospective study of medical students who had just finished their first clinical year (3rd year). What the results show was that personality traits of conscientiousness, extraversion, and empathy were strong predictors of clinical skills, interpersonal behavior and humanism.

Looking through the literature, there was another study a couple years back that looked at Medical students’ personality characteristics and academic performance: a five-factor model perspective. They similarly concluded that extraversion and agreeableness were important in interpersonal communication in a clinical setting.

Self Reflection on My Own Personality and Performance

These studies and having recently finished reading Success on the Wards got me thinking about my own personality type and its influence on my medical school performance.

Out of the Big Five Personality Traits, I would probably score high in Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, low in Neuroticism (the lower the better) and Extraversion.  Not surprising, my clinical rotation evaluations often reflected these traits. Many preceptors have commented on my excellent organization, preparedness and empathy. However, many have also encouraged me to participate more in discussions, a shortcoming of my introversion.

How Can Identifying Personality Types Make Better Doctors?

I think identifying and measuring a student’s personality traits can be a powerful tool.

For myself, I know my introversion may be a source of miscommunication. With this knowledge I can make a concerted effort to talk more with other team members despite my introversion. Similarly, you can find role models who have traits you lack and emulate their behaviors.

Another way that personality types can help shape our future doctors is in through our medical school admissions. Currently schools mainly use a number based system (GPA, MCAT) in making their decisions. But clearly the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

In a way, we are using these numerical criteria as an indirect measure of personality traits. Applicants who have high grades tend to exhibit conscientiousness. Applicants who volunteer are probably compassionate and empathetic. Applicants who have leadership positions probably have extraversion and confidence.  If there were a way to measure an applicant’s personality traits directly and objectively, it might even be a better metric than what we use now.

What Makes a Good Doctor?

Ultimately, medical schools want to produce good doctors who will show empathetic care to their patients, inquisitiveness in their research and leadership in their health care teams. To think that looking at a GPA, MCAT score and list of extracurriculars can determine what kind of a doctor an applicant will be is a joke. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to predict what makes a good doctor. I can only hope admissions continue to evolve to a holistic evaluation of an individual.

The new MCAT 2015 is already hoping to address some of these deficits by adding a social and behavioral sciences section. Perhaps there will be a personality assessment in the near future. Who knows what will come next?

Do You Think Personality Types Matter in Medical School Admissions and our Doctors?



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  1. m
    m April 11, 2012

    It would be really interesting to see how med schools would weigh an applicant personality score against the standard evaluations. Is it better to have a kind and caring doctor who might not always have the best diagnosis or one that is strict and impatient with the correct solution every time.

  2. Cerena
    Cerena April 16, 2012

    Is there an actual test you can take in order to see how you score on the personality traits?

    • medaholic
      medaholic April 17, 2012

      Hi Cerena, there are actually many personality tests out there based on various models. One of my favorite ones, and favorite of many of my friends, is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Our school actually had a longitudinal survey where they made us take the full version of the test in our first year, and compared it to our match results in our final year to see if there was a correlation between personality type and specialty. I think figuring out whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling helps you know yourself much better. There are lots of free MBTI tests online for free, do a couple of them, your results should be quite similar. I’m an INTJ!

      • Cerena
        Cerena April 17, 2012

        Oh I nearly forgot about that test! I took an online version a few months ago: I’m INFJ!
        PS did they find a correlation bwatch specialty and personality type?

  3. Queen's Medhopeful
    Queen's Medhopeful April 17, 2012

    Interesting article! Yeah, I do think that personality types matter in med school, but I always heard that there are so many different personalities in med…

  4. patient advocate
    patient advocate August 13, 2012

    Confident, extroverted doctors lack one crucial skill- LISTENING!

    • jack
      jack August 24, 2016

      Gold star patient advocate. As a 4th year medical student, the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much doctors talk… talk first, listen later, if at all. Seriously, it would be funny if it wasn’t such a hindrance to communicating with patients and team members.

  5. Janet
    Janet December 13, 2015

    My current primary care doctor has strong personality traits: inquisitive to a fault, opinionated, likes to make referrals and multiple tests.
    She is super intelligent, thorough, experienced, calm and professional.
    Underneath I think she is kind but she keeps her emotions in check.
    She drives me right up the wall.

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