I’m less competitive than you
Competition on the wards takes our focus away from patients
I have vivid memories from school of people walking around the classroom waving test papers in the air, shouting about how great their grades were. It was a competitive school. We egged each other on, and the competitiveness paid off because about two dozen people in my year were accepted into medicine.
On starting medical school, I anticipated and dreaded a competitive atmosphere, although I was pleasantly surprised that at the University of Sheffield most medical students seemed relaxed. Of course, there were a few students who used social media to advertise their achievements, but on the whole, everyone focused on their own work and lives.
However, as I moved closer towards my clinical years, this competitive environment quickly re-emerged, but in a different style. Instead of test papers, the goals were audits, proformas, logbooks, and clinical evaluation exercises.
The competition was not only academic. It was clinical too. While talking to a patient, I’ve been interrupted by other medical students telling me they’ve already “bagsied” that patient. I’ve been on placements with students who will arrive at hospital two hours early just so they can reserve patients to go into theatre with. And fellow medical students have waved in my face their completed logbook with two weeks to spare before the placement ends.
This needs to stop. Patients are not sun loungers that you can reserve. I don’t care if you are already signed off—we all still have to be in placement, so it does not matter if you have finished before the rest of us. I can feel your judgment when I don’t know something that the consultant asks. I am happy to learn but not to be judged, and your “humble bragging” about how long you spend in the library or how little work you do (but suspiciously know an awful lot) bothers me. I admire people who work hard and do well in assessments but dislike the associated competitiveness.
Competitiveness, for all its unpleasantness, helped us get into medical school and makes a return when we apply for our foundation jobs. But patients do not need doctors competing against each other; they need doctors working together. Competition takes our focus away from patients and puts us on the slippery slope where patients become a means to an end rather than humans deserving of our unbroken attention.
After graduation, and on the wards at least, there isn’t a competitive atmosphere among the nurses and doctors. Unnecessary medical student competition may simply be a remnant of what was needed at school, but we shouldn’t allow it to continue throughout our time at medical school, particularly when interacting with patients on the wards.
We should all try to reduce the level of competition displayed between medical students when on clinical placements. We should focus on what’s important and what attracted us to medicine in the first place. Winning isn’t about completing your log book first; winning is all of us working together to provide the best possible patient care.Joanna M Sutton-Klein, third year medical student
1University of Sheffield
Correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h3927