There are days where I miss the anonymity of being an undergrad science student. Where professors didn’t know you, attendance was not taken and there were no real responsibilities other than looking out for yourself. In medical school with smaller class sizes, PBL learning groups and clinical sessions, feedback, self-evaluation and criticism is unavoidable. You know everyone and everyone knows you. And if you make a mistake or do something wrong, someone will not hesitate in telling you.
I have learned that taking criticism and constructive feedback appropriately is an important skill to have, not just for school but in life. You’ll have to be able to differentiate when critical comments are justified and when they are unwarranted. Furthermore, it’s important to be able to understand and learn from them and see when there are real issues to be addressed.
Accept self-criticism properly– The first type of criticism you will receive will be from yourself. As an undergrad you’re used to being a smart student, a top student. And even though I was fully aware that statistically half the class would always be below average, I found it very hard to accept after my first exam that I belonged to this bottom group. It has taken my entire first year, a new way of studying and a doubling of my efforts to finally become “average.” It’s a long learning process and learning to handle criticism and setbacks is just one of the many lessons.
As I got to know my classmates more, my past achievements and experiences in comparison seemed to be insignificant. There was always someone who would be smarter, more talented, more sociable, harder working, athletic, or better than me at certain activities. This can do terrible things to your self-esteem. You can become quite harsh on yourself, finding all your character faults or counting the times you have failed.
Instead of just focusing on the negatives, you must take time to appreciate all your own accomplishments, even if they seem insignificant to others. Compare yourself to yourself. If everyday, you can wake up and be a better person than you were yesterday, you have already made progress.
Look for the Truth in Evaluations – Getting feedback and advice from preceptors and supervisors can be a scary experience. No one likes to know that their best efforts were full of mistakes and errors. Though it might sting, often times there are valuable lessons to be found.
More so, if several evaluators repeat the same weaknesses, this should be an area you need to focus and improve on. Don’t always handle criticism with a hostility. A enthusiastic and humble attitude makes the difference between a frustrating comment and an opportunity to grow.
Separating the Critic from the Criticism – No one loves a messenger of bad news, so please don’t shoot the messenger! For the most part, your preceptors and professors are on your side. Every teacher wants to see their students mature, develop and succeed and sometimes in order to do that, they have to pass you through the fire for refinement. It may be uncomfortable but if you see it for what it’s worth, you can emerge as a changed person.
Ignore the ignorant – There will be critics that will give completely untrue comments. First see if there is any grain of truth to what they are saying. If their tone or choice of words is a hostile one, put on a tough skin and ignore the critics. Handling criticism is as much about listening attentively to criticism and picking out useful information as it is selectively listening.
Take the Internet with a Grain of Salt – Finally, a wise advice for anyone, anything that anyone says on the internet should be taken with a grain of salt. You should take what you read carefully and always evaluate it on your own. Not everything you read is true or correct. Even my posts should be evaluated critically.
My personal experiences with forum members and running this blog have taught me a lot about responding to what others say. The majority of readers have interesting points to share, some even thank me. But there are also people that are outright malicious. I try to moderate appropriately when this does occur but ultimately, you learn to ignore naysayers. Not everyone will agree with you. You will not always be correct. There will always be arguments and pointing of fingers. It’s fine to agree to disagree and if you do so appropriately, both parties can walk away on good terms.
Thanks for reading. If you have a tip, experience or story to share about handling criticism, feel free to leave a comment!