To get into medical school we learn that we need to ‘compete’ with others, that ‘competition is fierce’ in order to get into medical school, and ‘being ‘competitive’ is seen as being a very good thing.
But is this really a trait that is desirable in a physician?!
Being a physician is about being with people. It is about dealing with people, it is about caring for people – it is not about competing with people!
So why is medical school set up in such a way to foster and encourage competitiveness from a young age?
Do we really need to inspire this sense of ‘competition’ in people so that they will learn and do well?
Do we need to inspire people to try and ‘do better’ and ‘be better’ and beat others irrespective of the topics at hand?
Do we assume that people will be too lazy to learn or pay attention unless they need to beat others?!
And moreover what does this mean when these particular traits and characteristics are carried over into medical school and then into physician life once one has graduated and entered the treadmill of life?
People who are competitive are driven, and they push themselves hard, to do better than others. They are hard task masters, particularly of themselves…
Does competition breed a sense of togetherness and collaborative working?
Or does competition breed a sense of hardness and toughness and a separateness from others?
By necessity if you are competing with someone, you are not able to have a close and intimate relationship with them.
If our doctors are hard wired to ‘compete’ then how can they truly connect with their patients, let alone their colleagues?
People in competition are driving themselves, they over ride the signals they get from their bodies and are always pushing themselves harder.
But, is this not the root of burnout? Pushing yourself beyond your limits?
When we push the body beyond its limits, it burns out, no different to pushing any car or machine beyond its limits. Cars do ‘burn outs’ when they are pushed beyond their limits.
And what happens to our human bodies when we push ourselves in order to compete to get the best marks, the best positions, the best jobs and to be the best doctors? Just imagine what toll that is taking on our bodies!
Competition is the bedrock of medicine, the foundation of medicine and medical education and training, when it ought to be care and compassion.
People are afraid that if we remove competition, then people will not be motivated to learn.
But care and compassion are great motivators for learning. If one cares for someone, one wants to learn to understand and see how one is able to best assist that person.
Removing competition out of the equation, removes a level of stress and fear and tension out of the equation, which leaves people better equipped to handle and to deal with the situation at hand. In short, it improves learning!
It fosters groups learning together, rather than keeping their understanding and knowledge separate as some sort of secret weapon to be released under exam conditions only where they will ace the exam with their special knowledge, leaving other students in their factual wake!
People learn from each other. Each person sees something in a particular light and together in groups we each bring a level of understanding that can assist another.
Removing competition from the equation would bring a great fullness to medical learning, making it truly more collaborative, removing levels of stress, fostering a mutual interdependence and supportive environment where people were able to develop trust with each other and work together to learn for the benefit of all.
Competition in medicine is not in fact serving us in our medical education nor in our training.
Competition is keeping us backwards, it is retarding our education and it is putting our doctors’ health at risk!
We need to found the training of and the practice of medicine on the same equal human principles that we would claim to have for patient services: care and compassion and understanding.
Only when we found our medical training, education and skilling and work with the same human principles of care and compassion will we have doctors that are truly healthy and truly able to provide compassionate and nurturing health care.