What does it take to become a doctor? Endurance and perseverance help. It is a long haul from college to practice. But the skill that is most beneficial is the ability to consume prodigious amounts of information, remember it, and recall it as needed. Although I often relied on ‘B’ to get me through some of the exams.
Thinking, specifically critical thinking, is not high on the list of abilities that are needed to become or be a doctor. Day to day, doctors need to think clinically, not critically. Clinical thinking consists of synthesizing the history, the physical and the diagnostic studies and deciding upon a diagnosis and a treatment plan. It is not as simple as you might think. When medical students start their clinical rotations and you read their notes, you realize they have what amounts to an advanced degree at Google U. They know a huge amount of information, but have no idea how the information interrelates and how to apply the that information to a specific clinical scenario. With time and experience, and it takes at least a decade, students become clinicians and master how think clinically, but rarely the need to think critically.
The volume of data combined with time constraints ensures that we need to rely on the medical hierarchy to help manage the information overload required to apply science and evidence based therapy. There is just to much data for one tiny brain to consume. Other doctors rely on me for the diagnosis and treatment of odd infections. In turn, I rely on the published knowledge and experience of my colleagues who have devoted a career to one aspect of infectious diseases. There is little time for most doctors to read all the medical literature carefully, and usually little need. We have people and institutions we use as surrogates.
Not only is critical thinking usually not required to be a good physician, but medical practice can conspire to give physicians a false sense of their own abilities. Really. Some doctors have an inflated sense of self worth. Who would have thought it? Spend time with some doctors and listen to them pontificate on politics or economics with the same (false) assurance that have in their true field of expertise, and you will run screaming from the room. (more…)