What personality traits make for med school success?
Different traits at different stages, according to psychology professor Deniz Ones.
Ones and two other industrial-organizational psychologists followed an entire country's cohort of medical students--600 Belgian students--through their seven years of medical study, assessing the "Big Five" personality dimensions of conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, openness to experience, and emotional stability.
They found that at the beginning of medical school--when students focus on basic science--the most-needed traits relate to cognitive ability. Introversion serves well at this stage, too, helping students exercise better study habits, focus, memorize, and prepare for class.
But as they advance into clinical practice, students increasingly need interpersonal as well as cognitive skills. Extroversion--which can be a liability in early years--becomes a definite asset. Qualities like assertiveness, warmth, and especially empathy help future doctors succeed with patients in complex, real-life settings.
The researchers also found that conscientiousness is an essential trait throughout every stage of medical training, playing a role both in mastery of information and in human relationships.
They concluded that med schools can greatly improve their admission processes by incorporating standardized personality tests--as opposed to unstructured interviews or references--in their admissions processes.
The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. Ones's co-investigators were Stephan Dilchert, Ph.D.'08, of Baruch College (City University of New York) and Filip Lievens of Ghent University in Belgium.