What makes a young doctor great? It has little to do with ...

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What makes a young doctor great? It has little to do with medicine

Going the extra mile is just as vital as their skills, say intern supervisors around SA

Cape Town bureau chief


When you visit a doctor, you might care less about their bedside manner than their medical prowess.
But if you’re managing newly qualified doctors, it’s the other way round.
Supervisors in charge of medical interns at hospitals around the country say competence is key, but “going the extra mile” is just as important.
Twenty-seven supervisors questioned by Stellenbosch University medical school researchers said “conscientiousness” topped a range of personal characteristics they rated as vital in interns.
One said: “For me, a good intern, it’s not a student that has got straight As from medicine. A good intern is an average guy in medical school ... that is conscientious in patient care.
“And of course the good intern is one that shows up for work on time, and leaves whenever it’s appropriate to do so.”
If you ask the Internet “what makes a good employee”, the lists that pop up include “strong work ethic”, “dependable”, “positive attitude”, “self-motivated”, “team-oriented”, “effective communicator” and “flexible”.
Desirable intern traits lead researcher Marietjie de Villiers reports in the October edition of the SA Medical Journal aren’t wildly different. They include adaptability, motivation, resourcefulness, dedication and thoroughness.
De Villiers said these attributes amounted to “conscientiousness”, which could be built during training through exposure to discipline, diligence and positive role models.
“Moreover, so-called character virtues such as duty, commitment, maturity and resilience are important elements of professionalism,” she said.
The researchers recommended that “the specific conscientiousness characteristics be explicitly listed” in the Health Professions Council of SA “core competencies” document for medical students, alongside roles it already includes such as “communicator”, collaborator”, “leader and manager”, “health advocate” and “scholar”.
“A second area of importance ... which appears to be lacking [from the HPCSA document] is that of organisational abilities, such as being able to triage, prioritise, take initiative and make sound decisions,” said De Villiers.
She said there were 3,796 intern posts in public health facilities, making medical internship “a fairly extensive enterprise”. Because interns routinely faced long hours, a heavy workload, limited supervision and high stress, their organisational acumen, social intelligence and personal characteristics were vital.

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