Good pre-medical students get into medical school. Great pre-medical students get into multiple medical schools. But outstanding pre-medical students do more than get into medical school. These individuals are the handful of pre-meds who embody characteristics and qualities that can’t be taught in class and picked up from a medical school admissions guide, but do catch the attention of those handing out letters of acceptance. Here are 9 things that every successful pre-med knows for sure.

Interpersonal skills are incredibly important.

Beyond having the ability to get an impressive score on the MCAT or clocking hours at a hospital shadowing a physician, interpersonal skills are the glue that will ultimately help you connect with your patients. To work with patients, you will have to constantly rely on superior interpersonal skills – your job, first and foremost will be to connect with patients. Medicine is an art whose magic and creative ability have long been recognized as residing in the interpersonal aspects of patient-physician relationship (Hall et al., 1981). In medicine, a doctor’s interpersonal skills play a critical role when it comes to practicing medicine. And from the moment you enter the room to begin your medical school interview, members from the admissions committees are taking note and trying to get a clear picture of how effective your interpersonal skills are.  Research tells us that effective interpersonal skills will allow you to not only engage with patients and their families, but also with academic and clinical team members, and other colleagues. Because the doctor-patient relationship is considered a fundamental aspect of the health care system, medical schools want to be impressed by the skills you have – regardless of whether they are innate or you have learned to develop them.

A study from the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine has found that the more uninhibited and sociable you are, the better you’ll perform during one type of medical school interview in particular – the Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI) process. While past studies have shown that conscientious individuals possess many of the attributes widely regarded as core attributes of effective physicians, the end result, as the study authors noted, is that being extroverted helps applicants perform better during interviews. And along with interview performance, those with higher levels of agreeableness are more likely to be offered admission to medical school.   Of the five personality factors, only “high-level” extroversion was associated with significantly better performance during the MMI process. According to the study, personality traits like uninhibited, enthusiastic, sociable, and adventurous as well as displaying a level of confidence may be an important part of gaining admission to medical school.

Being one-of-a-kind will go a very, very long way.

With more than 45,000 individuals applying to medical school, the successful applicant appreciates and embraces their uniqueness. The advantage of a unique factor is that you avoid being lost among the sea of other applicants. Yes, successful medical school applicants get good grades and perform well on the MCAT but they are also unique. But there’s one thing. They don’t call themselves unique, but who they are, and what they do speaks for itself. They know and are confident that they have something unique to contribute to whatever school they apply to.

More and more, medical schools across the country are seeking a more diverse student body of students who have unique backgrounds, interests, and skills – and can do the job! While these successful students aren’t necessarily absolutely unique, they know what makes them unique and convince those who need to know that they’re the one. So, it’s what’s impressive. It’s what’s special. It’s what’s different about them that helps them tell their story and complete the picture of their ideal candidacy.

How to answer the heck out of the “why medicine” question.

When others are working hard to construct the best-sounding answer to the infamous question – why do you want to become a doctor – successful pre-meds know for sure why and are prepared to tell whomever, whenever, any time, any place.  Almost every medical school admission committee will be looking for prospective applicants to answer this question. For successfully pre-meds, the “why” question doesn’t make them nervous; they don’t have to rehearse their answer.

When asked why they want to be a doctor, they know the answer and their heart races – not because they are nervous about what they’re about to say, but they are passionate and connected to the answer they are about to deliver. The answer that they give is not something that they read in a book or researched on the internet; the answer they give to why they want to be a doctor is real and comes from a place within themselves that only they can access. They know that the answer to this question can mean the difference between getting into medical school and being rejected. And so with every ounce of who they are, pre-meds who get through their answer without breaking a sweat are those who know there is no wrong answer and the answer they give is theirs.  Successful pre-meds are successful because they’ve seen what medicine has to offer, they’ve had a glimpse of what being a doctor is about, they know what their future will hold, and they want it – they want it bad. You will spend at minimum the next 10 years to become a doctor, and maybe another 10 to pay off your medical school loans; so for the interviewer sitting across from you, your answer to this question is quite important, and yes, highly successful medical school applicants know this.

They are their biggest competition.

If you’ve been reading the news, the number of individuals applying to medical school is definitely not going down. So, yeah, the medical school admissions game is fierce, and that’s to say the least. The process is trying, the courses are tough, and emotions are high, but for pre-meds who see their way through, one thing they know for sure is that everyone else is everyone else, nothing more. They realize early on that they are their biggest competition and get out of their own way.   In their minds, they will run their own race and know that comparing their situation to someone else’s will just be a distraction. Many of them move through life just trying to be better than they were the day prior. Being their own competition forces them to push themselves to new places. They are more concerned about beating their own previous performance on an exam than keeping up with somebody else’s. There’s already so much that pre-meds have to do, study for exams, volunteer at hospitals, prepare for the MCAT, and the last thing they are thinking about is what the “next” pre-med is up to and how they can perform better than them. But don’t be mistaken, they know what’s going on with their peers and classmates – these individuals are sometimes in the same headspace and make good study buddies.  In the world of pre-meds and medical school admissions, everyone seems to be competing. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take a page out of their book – be your own competition, set your own goals, discover your strengths, embrace your weaknesses, and you will stop worrying about your competition.

How to make interviewers fall in love with them.

Did you know that over one-third of medical school admissions officers said they consider an “unimpressive interview” the biggest application killer for a prospective student? Successful pre-meds are those who make great first impressions with committee members and almost instantly or shortly after introducing themselves, make a real connection with the interviewer.

Beyond having the good grades and impressive MCAT scores, these individuals make their interviewer think that they will be a great addition to their school and will be a pleasure to have around. So after greeting them with a confident handshake, taking a seat, and being given the cue to do so, they tell their story and tell it well. Successful pre-meds make interviewers fall in love with them by the story they tell about their greatest accomplishments, hardest times, deepest passions, and of course their love and desire for wanting to practice medicine – all without sounding rehearsed. Their ability to tell a good story gives them the opportunity to answer questions in a way that no one else would because their story is unique to them and erases all chances of giving a generic-sounding answer to any question asked. They make themselves memorable. Interviewers remember them long after they leave the room as motivated, committed, well-rounded – and for just all of the right reasons.

Self-discipline separates the good from the great.

A lot of pre-meds set out to do what is necessary to get admitted to medical school; they just fail to reach their goal. For whatever reason, they don’t make it to the end and what they lack is discipline. “Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built,” said the late entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn. “Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.” For successful pre-meds, the plan is quite simple. They have a no-excuses attitude, a commitment to working hard, and do whatever it takes to be better than they were yesterday. They know what it takes to get into medical school, they’ve heard how hard the process can be, and their ready to play ball. That’s their attitude, and what every successful pre-med must have. No one else is going to spend an extra hour in the library to finish a problem set if they don’t no one else will participate in extracurricular activities, volunteer at the hospital, prep day after day for the MCAT if they don’t.

Pre-meds who are successful at gaining admission to medical school have the self-discipline needed to preserve amidst the hustle and bustle of pre-med life. They understand and truly believe that there will be an ends to their means and move along their journey by beginning with the end in mind. In the long run, those who are successful at gaining admission into medical school know that while at first and in the beginning the work they need to put in is hard and trying but they’d rather have it this way that be left wondering what could have happened if they tried and pushed a little harder and a little longer.

How to do more of what they’re good at.

A well-honed interest or passion helps successful pre-meds get the attention of medical schools and, with an overall good application, gets them an acceptance letter. Beyond course work, work and activities, letters of evaluation, essays, and MCAT scores, every successful pre-med has a very valuable asset: their story. And believe that their story will touch on, or tie into what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing. They find out what their strengths are and build from there. And make no mistake; it doesn’t happen overnight. With time and effort, these individuals choose interests that make them want to continue doing whatever it is that they choose, day after day, week after week, month after month, and even year after year.

Their passions are their hobbies and their hobbies are their passions. These individuals explore, try different things, and are curious and when they find something they enjoy and are interested in, there’s no turning back. While finding what they’re good at and what they like to do may not come quick, but they pay attention to what drives them. What they end up finding comes from a combination of personality traits and natural strengths which they can ultimately use to find their “happy place.” When these individuals are able to claim, discover, and embrace something that they’re good at the effect and influence that it has on their lives is awesome.

If becoming a doctor it their will, there is a way.

Much like the way pioneering researcher and psychologist Roy F. Baumeister explains it, successful pre-meds not only have willpower to resist constant temptation, overtime many of them learn how to “conserve it for crucial moments by setting the right goals.” When these individuals decide on pursuing medicine, at first they may or may not realize the practical implications of their willpower, but somewhere along the way they get it. And as you may know, as a pre-med there are several medical school prerequisites which may or may not be of interest to these pre-meds, but through the strength of their willpower, they push forward to get through uninteresting or difficult tasks. According to Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, “willpower gives you the energy and endurance to deal with challenges, the ability to persevere in the face of setbacks, and the strength to tolerate conflict or stress that might otherwise make us run away from goals or projects we care about.”

For these pre-meds, their will to become a doctor helps them find their way. Their way through challenging times; their way through moments of anxiety; their way through stressful moments; and their way through whatever comes along. And don’t think they’re not human too. There may be times when they get distracted or feel unmotivated (just for a second, of course), but that’s where their willpower comes into play again, and they snap out of it and get themselves back on track. And remember that because it works like a muscle, the willpower of these successful pre-meds grows with practice, ultimately giving them the ability to easily resist compromising impulses and goal breakers. They know their strengths and with the great willpower they have, know their weaknesses even more.  For this group of pre-meds, their willpower gives them “super-premed strength” and in their minds will allow them to make ANYTHING happen.

How to push through and perform under pressure.

Throughout the journey to becoming a doctor there are more high-pressure moments than a few. It might be an orgo exam, that final lab report, or the test of all test – the MCAT – that will or will not get them one step closer to getting into medical school. It all comes down to these moments and they know that they’ll either be the one who makes it through or the one who doesn’t. Can they handle it? Heck yes! And in fact, they actually live for these moments. Or maybe not so much live for them but don’t buckle under the pressure but embrace the adrenaline rush that usually comes with the territory. They use the pressure and stress to their advantage and make it work for them. And regardless of what goes wrong with their plan, successful pre-meds always think ahead a few steps. And if something comes up, they take a step back, try to regroup, and find a solution to whatever problem their facing. They know that freaking out and going into worry mode is not going to help their situation – so, they deal with it. That’s life. Things aren’t going to always go their way and when they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. And this pushing through pressure thing comes in handy later on down the line. It’s no secret that medical school is a high pressure environment.  When asked during medical school interviews how they work under pressure, they know how they’ll answer.

In all, successful pre-meds are those who write their own stories and tell it in such as way that makes medical school admission committees believe their passion, commitment, and desire to practice medicine is undeniable.

This article was published in the May/June 2014 issue of PreMedLife Magazine.