Whether you are a student thinking about a career in healthcare (medicine, dentistry, etc.) and getting experiences to help you prep, or a student gearing up to apply this upcoming application cycle, you need personal attributes. What are personal attributes? In the big picture, they are qualities you have to offer. Shiny stars that make you gleam and stand out. Things like leadership skills, the ability to collaborate effectively in a team, empathy, patient care skills, the ability to problem solve in clinical settings, maturity, responsibility, time management skills, people skills, and this list goes on and on.
If you are in the developmental stage of your journey (often associated with fresh-humans, sophomores, and juniors), then your task is to gain, develop, and master a number of personal attributes to help you become a competitive applicant, which more to the point means, a person who is ready to become a healthcare professional responsible for the health of others – your future patients. If you are applying to your professional healthcare schools (medical school, dental school, etc.), then it’s your task to demonstrate these qualities (aka, readiness) in your (AMCAS, AADSAS, etc.) application process with particular demonstration emphasis being placed on your personal statement, experience descriptions, secondary applications, and your interviews.
So … in this post I want to talk about leadership versus teamwork. The reason is because I’ve learned from all of my years advising that students often make the incorrect assessment that leadership is more important than teamwork as gained personal attributes, and as such, they seek out leadership opportunities without thinking to develop teamwork skills. It’s often assumed that being a healthcare professional comes with the distinct privilege of always being a leader.
Now I know, I’ve kind of already given away the answer to the question “What’s more important, being a leader, or being a follower?” but let’s understand what is really important, because when you understand, and you subsequently prepare yourself more appropriately, you will become a more shinier you – a more competitive applicant – and more READY to continue your pursuits of becoming a qualified healthcare professional.
So. Let’s take it from the top: What’s more important? Being a leader? Or being a follower?
You would think the answer is simple: Leader. End of story. But it’s not.
Not that leader isn’t the right answer … at least some of the time. It’s just that the explanation, like the answer, is a little more complex.
I ask this question a lot in my advising, because I’ve learned applicants are going to tell me what they think I want to hear, or what they think the right answer is. I’ve asked it in large assemblies: by a show of hands, how many of you are leaders? How many of you are followers? Hands always go up for leaders, but never for followers. (It’s like no one wants to be demeaned by only being a follower.)
And my response is: Well, that’s going to make for a disaster in the emergency room. If everyone is leading, and no one is following, how is anything going to get done?
The bottom line here is that there is a time and a place. And you have to be self-aware and confident enough to engage your role in the team effectively to help provide the best healthcare possible for each patient. Whether that is to lead or to be an effective team worker and collaborator in a team setting.
So. You need to be both. You need to know how to lead and when to lead, just the same as you need to know how and when to follow. It’s situationally dependent. And you need to possess self-awareness as well as the ability to critically think, troubleshoot, and assess each situation independently. You need to know if you have the appropriate skills, training, experience, and preparedness to lead. If not, then don’t try leading. You need to be confident and competent enough to lead when called upon, and you need to be confident enough to step aside and let someone else lead when you’re not the person for the job–all the while, still giving it everything you’ve got to make sure each patient gets the care s/he needs.
So the correct answer is definitely both. You need to be a leader and a follower. It all all depends on the situation.
With that, if you are thinking about your own level of preparation, then the next questions generally become: What does it take to be an effective leader? How can I get leadership experience? What kind of follower am I? What kind of team player am I? What skills must I possess for each of these roles? And how can I get the experience I need to become prepared?
I urge you now to review the experiences and education you’ve undertaken thus far in your pursuit to explore your interest in becoming a healthcare professional and examine and reflect upon what leadership- and follower-type experience you’ve gained and what you’ve learned. Use that knowledge to direct you in your future choices. The more you know about yourself, the more skills and knowledge you gain, and the better applicant and healthcare professional you will be!
As personal attributes go, both leadership and effective team worker are worth developing and will help you become competitive, along with the wisdom of knowing when to lead and when to follow!
For more information about personal attributes and becoming a competitive applicant, try the following informational videos in the academy:
My Incredible Experiences Journal: The Reflective Journal That Guides Success (Also available as a printed journal. Click here.)
How to Write the Best Medical School Personal Statement, Ever! (Also available in print. From Amazon, click here. From the Academy, click here.) And for more info on writing your personal statement, click here.)
As always, I wish you the very best success and happiness in your journey, pursuits, and endeavors!
Have a wonderful, meaningful, accomplished day!
Mary Kate :0)