What is a physician’s role in medicine?

medical school admissions secondary applications

The role of a physician in the medical community has changed substantially in the modern era of medicine. This secondary question is designed to gauge your experience in medicine, how you envision your future role in this field, and what you are passionate about. In this post, I will highlight how to think about the changing landscape of medicine to frame your answer and how you can demonstrate your own strengths in your response. 

The practice of medicine has changed drastically. over time In particular, medicine has shifted to team-oriented patient care. As a result, medical schools are looking for future physicians who are humble, collaborate well with others, and are willing to spearhead meetings or manage situations in ways that balances leadership and teamwork.      

Let's look at the historical context: in the past, physicians worked independently or with a small number of nurses. However, as modern medicine has grown increasingly complicated, physicians now have a large team of people to work with: physicians interface with physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), Physical Therapy (PT), Social Work, Unit Coordinators, Nutritionists/Dietitians, Occupational Therapists (OTs), Nurses, Nurse Assistants, and more. As a result, a physician’s role is no longer just learning the clinical aspects of medicine, but also learning how to work and lead diverse teams of specialists from all different backgrounds. As a Harvard Medical Student, I have undergone stimulation trainings on how to best collaborate with all these healthcare providers before, during, and after talking with a patient. I have quickly realized that medicine has many moving pieces that are contingent on different teams coming together to think holistically on how to optimize a patient’s wellbeing. For example, I worked closely with Social Work to support a patient who needed help with housing services after being discharged from the hospital. This willingness to work in a team as you advocate for your patient is not only expected in the field of medicine today, but is something an admissions committee will look to see in your response to this question.

Consequently, it is important to consider how you can present yourself as a future physician who can both lead and collaborate. Of course, if you have worked in a clinical setting, you probably have a variety of experiences to draw from. If you have not been in clinical settings, however, it is perfectly reasonable to draw from your experiences of leading extracurriculars, spearheading projects, and collaborating with various groups. Translate the skills you cultivated in non-medical settings to how you'd approach challenges in the medical field. As you discuss your experiences mitigating conflict between individuals in the student group you led, you can demonstrate how you'd act as a mediator in a medical space (for example, coordinating with Social Work and Unit Coordinators who are at odds when a patient is discharged). Translatable skills, ranging from leadership to collaboration, are ones that are important to consider when engaging with this question.  

Lastly, this question hopes to understand what makes you a unique applicant: the concept at hand is the idea that leaders in the field of medicine are “physicians AND," emphasizing that modern physicians often serve multiple roles. They not only focus on clinical care, but are also passionate and engaged in other activities that include medical education, research, and community service. Physicians’ clinical expertise is becoming increasingly translated into different fields, and you should highlight this during your interview and essays. For example, in college I was involved in community service in the greater Boston area and was able to witness firsthand healthcare disparities and the many social determinants of health. These experiences inspired me to become a physician AND a community leader; currently, I serve as the Director of Harvard Medical School’s student-run free clinic. So, consider your own experiences of AND, ranging from your passions outside of medicine to your research within the field; the things that make you unique can help you emphasize how you will be a physician AND a scientist, a physician AND an educator, and more!

In summary, this question requires that you identify a physician's role in medicine from both a historical and a personal context. For the historical context, it is important to highlight experiences you've had of leadership, collaboration, and/or mediation. For the personal context, it is important to emphasize your AND, or rather the passions and goals you have that make you unique and will translate into your unique journey as a physician. 

Ellen is a MD candidate at Harvard Medical School, where she is Editor-In-Chief of the Harvard Medical Student Review and Executive Director of the student-run free clinic. She studied life sciences and creative writing at Harvard College. Currently, she serves as a Harvard non-resident tutor and Harvard Alumni interviewer.


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