A couple of weeks ago, the decentral selection process ended in all medical faculties in the Netherlands. This is a process that I have passed through six years ago myself when I applied for medical school at Radboud University. Thousands of middle school teens apply and join in the selection process, but only 20-25 percent of them actually succeed in entering medical school. The selection is often described as difficult and stressful. So difficult that there is a booming business of crash courses decentral selection of medicine (for which the organizers charge a hefty fee, of course). Most universities have a selection process that involves a letter of motivation, a personality test, and, often most importantly, some sort of biomedical knowledge test.
Especially this last part is where most students struggle, and it is also the test on which most students focus all their energy and attention. For me, this is somewhat strange. Is excellent biomedical knowledge the most important aspect of a good physician? In the digital age, much of what were once the secrets of the medical profession are now accessible to everyone with a computer and internet connection. Websites such as WebMD or thuisarts.nl give people access to knowledge that was once only attainable and understandable after years of hard study. Furthermore, much of the medical profession has been taken over by machines, computers, and other helpful tools. Take measuring blood pressure, for example, once a true craft to perform quickly, comfortably, and accurately. Now, in many modern hospitals, it is merely a matter of wrapping the cuff around a patient’s arm and pressing the button. Not that I am saying that these are bad advancements; the use of the internet to provide patients with information adds to the patient being informed and empowered, and technological advancements in medicine have opened up countless new possibilities. That leaves the question, however, what are the core values that make up a doctor or even any health care provider.
For me, it is more important someone who applies for medical school or any other study or job in (health)care has a set of core values. In my opinion, the core values of any good doctor are not necessarily a perfect grasp of medical knowledge, to be able to wake up in the middle of the night and recite the Krebs cycle or the brand names of all fluoroquinolones. Biomedical background knowledge is vital and unmistakably part of every able physician, but in my opinion, it is not a core value that makes or breaks a doctor. It is something that can always be taught. Values that can not be taught, such as empathy and caring for others, are, in my opinion, core values that constitute a good healthcare worker. Sure there are universities that emphasize professionalism; at Radboud University, an entire course is dedicated to this end. But this course also focuses on behaving professionally in the workplace; it does not teach “being a good person”. Sadly, these values are hard to measure in a test and can easily be feigned.
My point is, if you recognize yourself in the image of the ideal healthcare worker I have sketched above, do not let the results of some test hold you back. Anyone can learn the biomedical skills and knowledge required to be a doctor or nurse. You possess something that no test can measure, and no university can teach. You should be in healthcare.