Too Many Smart People

“Being smart is not enough, there’s many smart people in the world.” This was a phrase my dad repeated to me many times and I am finding it to be truer everyday. Often it is the simplest words of advice that take a lifetime to fully understand.

In medical school, I am surrounded by bright minds. Medical students are the cream of the undergrad science degree crop. They were the students who were most capable of post-secondary education. People who excelled in their university academics, aced the MCAT and still had time to pursue extracurricular activities. All medical students have a certain level of “smartness.”

I am amazed at the talent of my classmates. A few have ran multiple marathons and triathlons. Another has worked for the United Nations. Others have completed their PhD’s and are already “doctors”. Watching my classmates assimilate large amounts of information in a short period of time for a test is proof of their abilities. I often feel insecure in medical school among all these smart people, like an imposter who slipped through the cracks of the medical school admissions committee. Compared to the doctors and professors who frequently “pimp” the class with obscure questions, my confidence in my abilities is often shaken up.  However, being smart and talented IS NOT everything.

Growing up, I was always curious as to how successful people got to where they were. How do athletes win championships and musicians write best hits? This curiosity made the biographies, especially autobiographies, a favorite genre. I read up on the lives of great thinkers, inspirational leaders and famous doctors trying to find a common thread to their success. To my surprise, being smart was not a crucial element. They all acknowledged that their talents and brains gave them a slight advantage but much like my father, they also acknowledged that there are many many smart people.

A video I’d like to share is from Richard St. John who gave a talk at TED on success. It sums up nicely what I think is needed – on top of being smart – in order to become a good doctor. Of the eight qualities that he mentioned, intelligence was not one of them.

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6 Responses to Too Many Smart People

  1. leafless says:

    Engineering students fit what you are saying a lot better. Only about 25-30% of students actually complete undergraduate engineering. And you know what, the best engineers tend to be the average students and not the brightest students. Being smart is an advantage but not a clear advantage.

    • Matthew says:

      Engineering and medicine are not mutually exclusive. Many physicians were trained as engineers. Few people finish premedical training and make it to medical school. Probably fewer than 25% in my experience. I think it is difficult to become an engineer, but the stress and the difficulty are very different. I think engineering can be very intellectually challenging, but engineering grades only matter to a small degree while premedical grades are all important.

  2. Ben S. says:

    Perhaps your dad transposed a word; he should have said, “Being smart is not enough; there’s too many just smart people in the world.”, i.e., too many people whose intelligence is their only virtue. This seems to be the substance of your sentiment, that doctors also need to be good with people, etc. Surely you do not actually mean that the world would be better off if there were fewer smart people. Lack of intelligence in a population leads to economic and social stagnation, and a poorer standard of living. The world already has enough of that.

    • medaholic says:

      Thanks for picking that up. I think you got what I meant to say, too many people who are JUST smart.
      I agree, overall, it would be better if we had more smart people, but smart people who are more than just smart.

  3. S.A.B. says:

    One great piece of advice I learned from one of the most successful people in history, deceased now. He stated that for a state or a person the key to success lies in this two part mentality, that one must realize and truly be convinced that:
    “No task too great or too difficult to be accomplished, and no task is too small to be overlooked.”

    Basically dedication, persistence, and a positive attitude can lead to that frame of mind.
    Thanks for the great blog medaholic!

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