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Why Curious Premeds Make Better Doctors

Curiosity is a super important trait for a pre-med student. 

If you ask Dr. Faith T. Fitzgerald, former dean of students as the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, what the most important characteristic a medical student should have, the answer would simply be – curiosity.  However, curiosity is suppressed in medical students and physicians. 

Some experts say that the most important characteristic a medical student should have is curiosity, however, the urge to investigator and discover new things is suppressed in medical students and physicians. Dr. Faith T. Fitzgerald, former dean of students at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, discovered that students who seem totally without curiosity or culture, were in their private worlds, avid poets, artists, musicians, and craftspersons of exquisite skills, vitally interested in a wide range of topics. In an article about his lived experiences, Dr. Fitzgerald wrote: “Medical education itself suppresses the expression of curiosity, emphasizing examinable facts rather than more ineffable thought processes in order to provide reproducible experiences for students.”

– Curiosity helps drives motivation. If you want to become a doctor, then it is important they you remain motivated, but as a pre-med, it’s easy to lose motivation. You must remember to keep your eyes on the prize and coming up with ways to keep moving forward. In a study published in Perspectives on Medical Education, researchers investigated what motivated first-year medical students to pursue research and found that curiosity played a huge role. “In medical education, students are stimulated to ask questions in order to enhance learning (i. e. interest curiosity),” the authors wrote. “Additionally, students have to solve problems when they encounter difficulties and unknown areas (i. e. deprivation curiosity).” A student’s desire to gain new knowledge can have great benefit on their success not only during medical school, but as they begin practicing medicine. “It could be that curiosity reflects some kind of eagerness or ambition that underlies motivation, regardless of whether the nature of motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic,” the authors noted. 

-Curiosity helps avoid burnout. Being motivated to study hard and become a doctor is one thing, but successfully completing the rigorous academics of the medical school curriculum is another thing. For clinicians, curiosity makes the difference between tiresome ‘automatic pilot’ practice and keenly expecting to meet a new challenge, a new learning opportunity and a new person on each encounter,” wrote Ami Schattner of the University of Oxford. “To feel and be able to impart this element of renewal and enthusiasm is perhaps the greatest achievement of medical educators, and curiosity is the sine qua non of this and of any meaningful research.” -Curiosity helps build problem-solving skills. In a commentary addressing something called the Curiosity Quotient’ Harold White, the University of Deleware, wrote the following: “The idea of a curiosity quotient captures a dimension of student performance that, if not teachable and rarely tested, needs to be cultivated and exercised. There is far more content to learn than can be taught or assimilated in the classroom. For a student to learn all the disciplinary content that they will need to know requires that they learn much of it on their own and continue to learn after their formal education is complete. To do that, they have to have learned how to learn. But, who teaches that? I like to think that learning how to learn is a significant outcome of problem‐based learning (PBL) done well. If students can develop effective personal strategies for learning, they will gratify and reinforce natural curiosity.”

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