What Qualities make a Good Doctor?

This was a question I was asked during my interview at Nottingham. At the time, I reeled off the key qualities I felt were important, but I didn’t fully grasp how these qualities made a good doctor. Today was the day it clicked.

chhayaThis was a question I was asked during my med school interview at Nottingham. At the time, I reeled off the key qualities I felt were important, such as leadership, team working, communication and time-keeping skills as well as empathy. At the time though, I didn’t fully grasp how these qualities made a good doctor. Today was the day it clicked.

I’m Chhaya and I’m one of the 4th-year medical students at Nottingham University. I’ve started the second clinical phase of medical school and today, I began my Special Study Module in Acute Medicine. This module lasts for four weeks in an area where you want to gain more experience. I wanted something more hands-on, where I would get the chance to practise my clinical skills and history-taking which I feel will come in useful to me as a junior doctor. Acute Medicine was the place to be!

The morning started with a 9am ward round where I met my supervisor, a consultant in Acute Medicine. I was in the doctor’s room huddled with the junior doctors, core trainees and consultants when the consultant walked in, beaming and ready to go. This instantly lifted the whole team’s spirits. She then swiftly delegated tasks to the entire team, outlining what she wanted everyone to do and setting the target to be finished by 1pm. Ensuring everyone was happy with the plans, everyone set off onto the ward. Already, the consultant had ticked off the qualities of leadership, communication, team work and time management.

I was helping my supervisor with writing the notes on the ward round. During the four hours, I noticed not only how she interacted with the patients, but with the rest of the multidisciplinary team. Everyone from the fellow doctors, pharmacist, nurses, OT’s and physiotherapists were greeted warmly and thanked for their help by this doctor. The communication and teamwork across all levels all translated into the best possible care for the patients.

One of the patients seen on the ward round was an elderly lady who had been admitted that morning due to a severe headache. The plan from the emergency department suggested doing a CT scan of the patient’s head to check for an intracranial bleed. As the doctor had been doing with all of the patients, she knelt down by the patients’ bedside, and simply talked to them to begin with. After delving further into the patient’s history, it was discovered that the patient’s husband had passed away less than a week ago, and the headache came on all of a sudden in the car journey to the funeral. Instantly, this allowed everyone to think in a different light and empathise with the patient. Taking the patient’s circumstances into consideration, the doctor queried a tension headache as a physical manifestation of grieving. A CT head was still ordered to rule out something more sinister however after shedding light on the patient’s background, the doctor was able to holistically care for her. A GP referral was placed in the likely event of the absence of an intracranial bleed, whereby the patient would be able to sit and talk about the grieving process. Help would be available through bereavement support groups and medications, if necessary, to help the patient to relax. All of this was explained to the patient by the doctor to ensure they understood their care plan. The patient looked ever so grateful for being offered help through this difficult period of her life. Giving the doctor a squeeze of her hand and a simple ‘thank you’ said it all.

Knowing what qualities make a good doctor was fine, but seeing it in action is what really helped it sink in. Watching doctors do their job everyday is a fantastic learning curve for us as medical students to take note of what (and what not!) to do once it is our turn to practice. And if you’re thinking of applying to medical school, I would say work experience is one of the most important things you can do to gain an insight into what a career in medicine entails as well as the characteristics that embody a good, if not great doctor.