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Dealing with competitiveness in medicine

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

By Ammena Zahabi

Interim Foundation Doctor

Medicine is full of different personalities. We are all used to being constant high-achievers known for working too hard and being too smart in college. We get into medicine surrounded by other high-achievers who are just as, if not more so, smart as you. This can be quite intimidating and nerve wrecking. We worry that our peers constantly compare themselves to you, want to see when you are revising, how much work you have done, what grades you received, which is a lot of pressure. A degree of competitiveness is healthy. It keeps you motivated and gives you a goal to work towards. We all however ultimately strive to achieve the same goal: get into medicine, pass our exams and get that degree. However, there is a time when you notice that it can become toxic in certain environments.

When does competitiveness become a problem?

- Arrogance: when people think they are so much better than you for doing more/achieving more and making you aware of it

- Constant asking of grades: the intention of asking “what did you get” is to see if you did better than them, opposed to celebrating your achievements

- Constantly trying to “up” one another: the other person centres the topic around them, instead of just acknowledging what you said

- White lies; “Oh I haven’t revised”: the feeling of being judged for revising pushes students to use white lies

- Transferring panic: the “have you started your work? How much have you done?” It’s easy for someone else to pester you with questions to get you to panic and make them feel better about themselves

- The medicine addict: with these individuals, every conversation is about medicine. They allow medicine to dominate the conversation even when you don’t want it to.

How to deal with competitiveness:

- Choose your circle wisely: you’re in medical school for a long time. Avoid those individuals who make you feel inferior or trigger anxiety within yourself

- Do not compare: this takes the joy away from all the work you put in to achieve what you did. No two flowers bloom in the same way; remember their achievements and do not say anything about yours

- Celebrate each other: instead of talking down yourself when you share results, celebrate the hard work you’ve put in to get where you are

- Acknowledge their achievements: often, giving them the praise they might be seeking may allow the other person to see you as a friend as opposed to a competitor

- Avoid talking grades: there’s more to life than revision, grades and exams so change the direction of the conversation (it’s a good tactic to hint that you don’t want to talk about it), or open the conversation to other parties

- Calm down: getting angry won’t solve anything. There are plenty of solutions listed here

- Reflect on your achievements: make a list of the things you have achieved and your strengths. This will help you realise just how much you have managed to accomplish which will ultimately boost your confidence

It’s important to realise that you are in this course for many years and it’s important to filter out the negativity allowing you to continue thriving in an environment that allows you to excel. You want to surround yourself with people who will embrace and celebrate your achievements. Don’t forget to remind yourself that you’ve made it this far, and therefore you’re on the right track and doing well.

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