Intended for healthcare professionals

It's Good To Talk

Thoughts for new medical students at a new medical school

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 18 December 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1430
  1. Richard Smith (, editor1
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Giving advice to medical students makes doctors think about what is important in what they do

    Earlier this year I had the privilege of speaking to new medical students at a new medical school—the Hull York Medical School. What should I say? I felt almost overawed. It seemed a major responsibility, although I knew that most of what I said would—thankfully—be forgotten or ignored as the ramblings of yet another “old fart.” Needing help and a method, I started by asking members of our editorial board, doctors from all over the world, what I should say. They responded with enthusiasm, giving me the thought that it might be a good idea to broaden the debate. That's the main reason for this article: it's a preliminary statement in what I hope might be a rich debate. In thinking what we want to say to new entrants to the profession we have to think of what is important about what we do.

    What follows is a mixture of my own ideas and those I selected from the responses of the members of the editorial board. Box 1 summarises responses from the BMJ's editorial board, and box 2 gives the full advice of Dave Sackett, the “father of evidence based medicine” (and a member of the board). I also spent some time exploring advice from literature to young people, not specifically medical students (see boxes 3, 4, 5, 7).

    “To thine own self be true”

    Perhaps the most famous advice to young people in the English language is the speech of Polonius—a tiresome old windbag—to his departing son Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet (box 3). The speech contains much excellent advice, but perhaps the quintessence is, “To thine own self be true.” Everybody—but perhaps especially medical students—experiences pressure to be somebody else. In the competitive world of medicine there …

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