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Student Careers

Overcompetitive students

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 01 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d191
  1. Anna Mead-Robson, final year medical student
  1. 1St George’s, University of London

Gunners can make life a misery for everyone else

Most medical students are well accustomed to competition. During bedside teaching, it’s almost inevitable that one keen student will blurt out the answers to questions directed at others. But what happens when friendly competition turns nasty?


With far fewer residency places than eligible graduates,1 medical students in the US are accustomed to competition. There, pathologically competitive medical students are referred to as “gunners.”

“As a medical student, you will almost certainly encounter a gunner classmate at some point,” says Sara Cohen, a rehabilitation physician in Massachusetts. “Some people use the term to refer to students who study much more than average and are especially concerned with grades. The term can also be used to refer to medical students who exhibit behaviour that is either borderline unethical or even blatant cheating.”

Typical gunner behaviours, she says, include hoarding study materials, ripping key pages out of library books, dominating tutorials, and making comments in front of tutors that are meant to make the gunner look smarter than their peers.

“Unfortunately, gunner behaviour often escalates during the clinical years because grades are largely based on evaluations from the doctors observing you. A gunner may try to be the first person at work every day and the last to leave. He or she may try to leap in and do every available procedure or surgery, even on a patient who belongs to another student.”

Sound familiar? A recent unpublished survey of students at a London teaching hospital found British medical students to be just as competitive as their US counterparts. Students reported stealing other people’s memory sticks just before presentations, not informing peers about teaching sessions, and advising staff falsely that other students had behaved inappropriately on wards, or had not contributed to coursework. …

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