The 3 Things They Don’t Teach You in Medical School

The 3 Things They Don’t Teach You in Medical School

Becoming a doctor requires rigorous academic and clinical training over many years. While medical schools excel at teaching the scientific foundations of medicine and preparing students for clinical rotations, there are some vital lessons that often get overlooked.

Compassion and Emotional Intelligence

With packed curriculums focused on physiology, anatomy, and disease pathology, there’s little room left for developing emotional intelligence and compassion. Yet these are essential skills for providing whole-person care and avoiding burnout. Medical schools should foster self-reflection and teach students how to manage their emotional responses, practice empathy, communicate compassionately, and attend to patients’ psychosocial needs along with their physical symptoms.

Work-Life Balance and Self-Care

Long hours, challenging cases, and pressure to perform make medicine an inherently stressful profession. However, physicians who neglect their own health and wellbeing end up at higher risk for mental and physical illness. Medical students would benefit from guidance on establishing healthy work-life integration, finding meaning and joy in work, utilizing stress reduction practices, getting adequate rest, making time for relationships, and knowing when to seek support. These self-care skills are vital, yet rarely addressed sufficiently in training.

Fallibility and Dealing with Uncertainty

New doctors often start their careers imagining themselves as confident experts armed with state-of-the-art knowledge to cure every patient. The reality is far different. Medicine is filled with complexity and uncertainty. Even the most seasoned physicians make mistakes or have patients with unclear diagnoses or poor treatment responses. Yet doctors are expected to project certainty. Admitting gaps in knowledge or being transparent about diagnostic doubt continues to be taboo and undermine public trust in the profession. If medical curriculums were more upfront about medicine’s limitations – teaching students how to be comfortable with ambiguity, acknowledge fallibility, share decision making, and communicate openly with patients – it could go a long way toward avoiding paternalistic models of care and improving patient satisfaction and outcomes.


What are some areas that medical schools fail to teach adequately?

Many medical schools do not focus enough on teaching compassion, emotional intelligence, self-care, work-life balance, dealing with uncertainty, acknowledging fallibility, and sharing decision making with patients.

Why are compassion and emotional skills important for doctors to learn?

Compassion and emotional intelligence allow doctors to provide whole-person, patient-centered care rather than just focusing on physical symptoms and disease treatment. These skills also help prevent burnout.

How can better self-care training improve medical education?

Equipping students with healthy stress coping methods, work-life balance skills, and self-care practices will lead to more resilient, higher functioning physicians with longer, more sustainable careers.

How can acknowledging uncertainty and fallibility make doctors better?

Admitting that medicine has limitations will lead to more open doctor-patient communication, transparency about risks/benefits of treatment options, shared decision making, realistic expectations, and better patient trust and outcomes.

What specific self-care tips could medical schools teach?

Examples that could be taught include: taking breaks, establishing boundaries, compartmentalizing stressors, cultivating personal interests, making social connections, eating healthy foods, exercising, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, seeking mentors, and monitoring personal signs of burnout.