Medical students sitting and talking at the university

Things To Know Before Your Medical Work Experience

12 mins read

Medical work experience is such an amazing opportunity to get a real behind-the-scenes look at what being a doctor is all about. But you’re absolutely right, if you don’t want to just go through the motions. This is a chance to figure out if the medical field is truly the right fit for you.

Don’t Do it Because You Have To

Here are a few key things I’d recommend keeping an eye out for during your work experience:

  • Bedside manner. The best doctors aren’t just brilliant scientists, they’re also caring, empathetic people. Pay attention to how the physicians you shadow interact with and communicate to their patients. The human touch is so important.
  • Dealing with pressure. Let’s be real, being a doctor means dealing with intense, high-stakes situations on the reg. See how the medical staff handles that pressure and makes tough calls with people’s lives in their hands. Having a cool head is crucial.
  • Intellectual curiosity. Medicine is an endlessly complex field that requires a voracious appetite for learning and problem-solving. The best doctors never stop studying and pushing boundaries. Check if that wonderful life of the mind appeals to you.
  • Work/life balance. Unfortunately, being a physician often means crazy hours and a lot of personal sacrifices. Try to get a sense of what the lifestyle is really like from those in the trenches. It’s not for everyone.

The Key Qualities of a Doctor

Being a doctor takes a special breed of human to juggle all the responsibilities and pressures that come with the job. We’re not just talking about memorizing a mountain of medical knowledge (although that’s certainly part of it). Nope, being a top-notch doctor requires a whole spectrum of qualities that go beyond the textbooks.


First of all, you must have empathy pouring out of your pores. These folks are dealing with scared, vulnerable patients day in and day out. A doc who can’t connect with their patients on a human level, and show some good old-fashioned compassion? Forget about it! I’ve seen doctors with brilliant minds but hearts of stone, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.


Then there’s the art of communication. Doctors have to be masters at breaking down complex medical mumbo-jumbo into terms that us regular folks can actually understand. I’ve had the pleasure of encountering physicians who can explain the most intricate conditions with such clarity and patience, you’d think they were poets or something.

Critical thinking and problem-solving

Speaking of poets, let’s talk about the creative thinkers and problem-solvers of the medical world. These are the doctors who can look at a complicated case from every angle, connect the dots that others might miss, and come up with innovative solutions. I’m talking about the diagnostic detectives who don’t just treat the symptoms but dig deep to find the root cause.


But medicine isn’t a solo gig, am I right? Teamwork and collaboration are key, and the best doctors know how to play nicely with others. I’ve witnessed surgeons who treat nurses and techs with respect, listen to their input, and create a harmonious operating room vibe. That’s the kind of leadership and professionalism you want in a doctor.

Emotional intelligence

And let’s not forget about ethics and integrity. These are the doctors who put their patients’ well-being above all else, even if it means making tough calls or turning down potential paydays. I’ve seen clinicians who will fight tooth and nail to protect their patients’ rights and uphold the highest moral standards, no matter what.

Lifelong learning

Lastly, let me give a shoutout to the doctors who never stop learning and growing. Medicine is an ever-evolving field, and the best ones embrace that with open arms. I’ve crossed paths with physicians who are constantly seeking out new knowledge, attending conferences, and staying on the cutting edge of research and best practices.

When it comes to the essential qualities of a great doctor, I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all checklist. Sure, you need the book smarts and technical know-how, but that’s really just the baseline. 

The doctors who really stand out, at least in my experience, are the ones who combine that medical expertise with a hefty dose of emotional intelligence, empathy, and good old-fashioned people skills.

Personal Life Experience

I’ll never forget this one incredible oncologist I had the pleasure of working alongside. Dr. Martinez was sharp as a tack when it came to her medical knowledge, but it was her bedside manner that truly set her apart.

She had this remarkable ability to connect with her patients on a human level, putting them at ease even when delivering the most painful news. Her gentle reassurance and true willingness to really listen made the treatment process so much easier for those folks.

At the same time, Dr. Martinez was a total team player, valuing the input of nurses and other staff. No ego, no turf wars—just a shared mission to provide the best possible care. Her colleagues respected her leadership for her unwavering commitment to her patients and people around.

On the flip side, I’ve definitely encountered doctors who let their technical skills and prestigious credentials go to their heads. You know the type—brusque and more interested in showing off. No matter how brilliant they might be, those sorts of attitudes just breed mistrust.

So while the fundamentals of medical knowledge will always be paramount, I truly believe that the most impactful doctors are those who can seamlessly blend their scientific mastery with raw human qualities like compassion and strong communication abilities.

Four Ethical Principles 

These four rules are very important for doctors because they help them deal with ethical problems they face every day.

  1. Autonomy

This one’s all about respecting a patient’s right to make their own decisions. Doctors can’t just go around playing God and deciding what’s best for someone without their consent. Nuh-uh, that’s a big no-no. They gotta give the patient the lowdown on their condition, treatment options, and let them choose for themselves like the responsible adults they are. It’s like, “Hey, I’m the expert, but you’re the boss of your own body.”

  1. Beneficence

Doctors have this burning desire to do good and help people, kinda like superhero vibes but with stethoscopes instead of capes. They’re always on the lookout for ways to promote the well-being of their patients, whether it’s prescribing the right meds, recommending lifestyle changes, or just being a shoulder to lean on. It’s all about putting the patient’s best interests first and doing everything in their power to make their lives better.

  1. Non-maleficence

This one’s a mouthful, but it basically means “don’t be a jerk and harm people.” Doctors have to be super careful not to cause any unnecessary harm or suffering to their patients. They gotta weigh the risks and benefits of every treatment, and if the risks outweigh the benefits, they have to find a better solution. It’s like a constant balancing act, trying to help people while also making sure they don’t end up worse off than before.

  1. Justice

Fair and equal treatment for all, that’s the name of the game here. Doctors can’t play favorites or discriminate against anyone based on their race, gender, social status, or anything like that. Everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, and it’s the doctor’s job to make sure that happens. It’s about distributing resources fairly, respecting people’s rights, and treating everyone with the same level of care and compassion.

Understanding The Context

When it comes to seeing patients in a medical setting, context is huge. The way you approach and handle each case can vary a ton depending on the specifics. It’s not just about treating the medical issue itself, but considering the whole person and situation.

Like, say you’re dealing with an elderly patient who maybe has some cognitive issues or difficulty communicating. You gotta have way more patience and take extra care to explain things clearly and make sure they’re understanding everything. Opposite end of the spectrum, if it’s a young kid, you gotta find a way to connect with them and not be too clinical or scary.

Having a language barrier can obviously make things super tricky too. You might need an interpreter, or have to get really creative with how you’re communicating important info. Similarly, if the patient has a learning disability, you can’t just rattle off medical jargon—you have to find an accessible way to break it all down.

Then you got cases where the patient is the one making it difficult. Maybe they’re belligerent, threatening, not complying with treatment. That’s a whole other challenge of trying to de-escalate, build some trust and rapport, and get them to take some responsibility for their own care. Definitely a skill to be able to handle those sorts of tense situations with compassion.

The main thing is realizing that good medical care isn’t just about knowing the science, but being able to adapt your approach for each unique person and context. It’s just as much an art as a science sometimes. Keeping an open mind and not judging goes a long way too.

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