Tips to Develop Your Capacity for Improvement for Medical School

Are you hoping to become a doctor? Meeting the standards set by the Association of American Medical Colleges in its list of 15 core competencies is just as important for admission to medical school as it is succeeding in prerequisite courses and scoring well on the MCAT. This list of competencies spans four categories: encompassing science, thinking and reasoning ability, interpersonal skills and intrapersonal competencies.

The AAMC lists capacity for improvement under intrapersonal competencies. Since medicine is relentless in asking students and physicians to learn more, to incorporate constructive criticism and to adapt their practices, cultivating this capacity is crucial for prospective medical school students.

[Read: Why It’s Hard to Get Into Medical School Despite Doctor Shortages.]

Fortunately, the AAMC’s description of capacity for improvement indicates ways to improve in this area. A med school applicant needs to indicate to admissions committees that he or she can set goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engage in reflective practice for improvement; and solicit and respond appropriately to feedback.

Set Goals for Continuous Improvement and for Learning New Concepts and Skills

Best practices in medicine are ever-changing. New data, technologies and more efficient methods of care emerge constantly, requiring that physicians stay on top of the latest literature and guidelines to best serve their patients.

Medical students and physicians cannot treat what they know now as what they will need to know to practice well in the future. Instead, they must commit themselves as lifelong learners.

If you are interested in attending med school, begin treating yourself as a lifelong learner now. Set goals for yourself in your undergraduate classes that stretch beyond the simple desire to get good grades.

[READ: 5 Ways to Develop Cultural Competence in Preparation for a Career in Medicine.]

For example, you might realize that your lab skills are weak in your organic chemistry course. Even though these skills are not directly graded, you could set a goal to become more adept at one skill per week, challenging yourself to confront an area of improvement in a productive way. Ask yourself where your knowledge and skills sit presently and make small goals to expand upon them as you move through the semester.

Engage in Reflective Practice for Improvement

Though physicians want the best outcomes for their patients, the reality of medical practice is that subpar or even negative outcomes are commonplace. Some of these undesirable outcomes cannot be avoided, while others result either directly or in part from choices made by the care team.

Good physicians are able to reflect on difficult clinical experiences, examining their decision-making processes and care rendered in order to improve their practices over time. Honest self-reflection is a cornerstone of improvement and creates the opportunity for higher quality of care moving forward.

Doing poorly on an exam, receiving a lower-than-targeted grade at the end of a semester, botching a lab experiment or being dismissed from a work or research position are some of the hurdles premed students may encounter on their path toward med school.

[READ: Why Resilience Is Key to Medical School Success.]

While it might be easy to get down on yourself for these perceived failures, using them as opportunities to practice self-reflection can help you develop the AAMC core competency of capacity for improvement and make you a better doctor later on. Ask yourself what went wrong, what you could have done differently and how the lessons learned from the negative experience will shape your upcoming courses, work and other activities. Use your mistakes as catalysts for improvement.

Solicit and Respond Appropriately to Feedback

No one is excited to receive critical feedback, but medical students and doctors know how to accept the discomfort it brings for the benefit of the rich opportunities for improvement it offers. It is common to hear medical students and residents ask their attending physicians about their clinical performances and areas of weakness that need to be addressed.

By actively seeking objective feedback from peers and superiors, physicians and physicians-to-be incorporate multiple viewpoints into plans to improve their practices.

Though it might be uncomfortable to put yourself in the vulnerable position of asking a professor, research supervisor or work supervisor how you are doing and in which areas you could improve, becoming more comfortable with soliciting critical feedback and incorporating it into your daily practice will pay off once you matriculate as a medical student. Showing initiative and eagerness to grow in your position will help you find greater success on the wards as a student and will tee you up to embrace the job of an ever-evolving physician.

More from U.S. News

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Tips to Develop Your Capacity for Improvement for Medical School originally appeared on

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This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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