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13 Qualities Of A Good Doctor (& How To Demonstrate Them)

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Being a good doctor takes the perfect mix of personal qualities, characteristics and attitudes, that all go into providing excellent care to patients.

Every doctor is an individual, so will approach medicine from a slightly different angle, but there are some qualities and attributes that crop up time and time again when investigating what makes great doctors good.

The top 13 qualities of a good doctor are:

  • Problem-solving


  • Effective communicator
  • Personal organisation
  • The ability to reflect
  • Ability to take responsibility
  • Academic ability
  • Dealing with uncertainty

Having worked as a doctor for a few years now, I’ve come across my fair share of excellent doctors, as well as a very small handful who lacked a couple of the key qualities above.

In this article, I’m going to explore each of the above qualities of a good doctor, look at how they relate to everyday clinical practice, and explore how you could demonstrate them if you were applying to medical school.



Every new patient you see in clinical practice is essentially a new problem to be solved.

You’re given bits of information from lots of different sources: what the patient is telling you, what you can feel when examining the patient, the results of any blood tests or scans you’ve performed…

It’s then your job as a doctor to put all these snippets together to solve the problem of the patient’s diagnosis.

Now, don’t get me wrong, sometime it’s a very easy problem to solve.

If a patient is presenting with a sore throat, cough and runny nose, they probably have a cold.

But, there are other times when you just pick up one sign that’s slightly off, such as a blood test that comes back just slightly above the normal range, that then leads you down a rabbit hole of diagnosing an otherwise symptomless disease.

Good doctors are almost always excellent problem solvers- whether or not they actually realise it themselves!

How You Could Demonstrate This Quality

  • Describe how you overcame a challenge you faced at your work e.g. how you dealt with a difficult customer

In reality, most of modern medicine isn’t wild left-field diagnoses in the style of Dr House.

The majority of your day-to-day work as a doctor hinges on following protocols with attention to detail.

This lets you pick up on anything the patient says that stands out as abnormal or any test results that return outside of the expected ranges.

A very simple test that doctors can perform is a urine dip test.

This test can detect microscopic amounts of blood in a person’s urine.

There are many different reasons for blood being found in a patient’s urine, such as if she’s on her period, but there’s always an outside chance that it can signal something far more serious (such as kidney cancer).

A doctor who’s not conscientious could easily put a positive result down to one of these many harmless reasons and not bother repeating the test.

But, a conscientious doctor would always take a second look at something that’s not expected and so may find something nasty far, far sooner.

  • Take on a committee role with one of your extra-curricular activities e.g. the role of treasurer for your hockey club

Effective Communicator

You can be the most technically brilliant doctor in the world, but if you can’t communicate your plan to the patient, they’re not going to follow your treatment regime and they’re not going to get any better.

It was only once I began work as a doctor that I truly started to gain an appreciation for just how important communication skills are.

Now, it had been drilled into us at medical school, the importance of good communication and how to converse clearly with patients, but it’s only once you start regularly interacting with the general public that you get a sense of what level you need to pitch your explanations at.

(Learn how to tackle the MMI communication station here. )

As a doctor, you’ve spent five years at medical school learning almost a whole other language of medical jargon and terms.

And with that background of knowledge, it’s just far too easy to forget what you didn’t know before going through the whole process.

I remember before medical school, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where the liver sat in the body.

Despite this, without thinking as a doctor, I could very easily launch into an explanation to a patient about their liver and what was wrong with it, completely forgetting that they may not even know what a liver really is!

Communication skills are vital for a doctor to be able to make themselves understood and keep the patient onside when it comes to their treatment regime.

  • Undertake some work experience that could help improve your communication skills e.g. volunteering to teach children to read at school

Personal Organisation

I can’t say I’ve ever been an amazingly organised person.

However, I can say that working as a junior doctor has genuinely greatly improved my personal organisation skills.

As a busy doctor on the wards or in a GP practice, you’ve got to keep track of a hundred different tasks and duties, all of varying importance and urgency.

The stakes are high because losing track of an important job you need to do could directly negatively impact the quality of care for a patient.

If a patient needs an urgent x-ray, and you forget to book it because you got distracted, it’s not going to look good for you.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

Personal organisation is what will let you keep track of everything you need to do, prioritising the most urgent tasks to the top of your to-do list.

This will mean you get the important stuff done even if you’re being bombarded on all sides by nurses, patients or other doctors asking for things.

  • Present yourself in a well-kempt manner at your medical school interview and be sure to turn up in plenty of time!

Out of this entire list, I’ve got to say I think honesty is one of the most important qualities for a doctor to have.

You just can’t have a dishonest doctor.

Doctors have easy access to controlled drugs, private patient information and can make life-changing decisions for the person sat in front of them.

A good doctor would never prescribe a medication just because they’d get a kickback from the pharmaceutical company who sold it, they’d never steal controlled drugs to sell them, and they’d never look at a patient’s private medical record unless they needed to.

Honesty is such an important quality for a doctor to have that even minor breaches are often cause for a fitness to practice meeting with the GMC.

For example, if a doctor were to do something as relatively minor as lie to get out of a parking ticket, and this fact came to light, they’d very likely face professional repercussions due to the fact that this act called their professional integrity into question.

  • Prepare for ethical dilemma questions at your medicine interview as well as researching and understanding why honesty is such an important quality for a doctor to possess

Once you start work in healthcare, you very quickly learn that it is very much a team sport.

As much as TV shows or movies make out, the doctor is not the be-all and end-all of patient care.

A huge team works both clinically and behind the scenes to care for patients- both in and out of hospitals.

You’ve got doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, healthcare assistants, ward clerks, cleaners, phlebotomists and dieticians to name just a few of the professions that might be involved in delivering care to a patient.

To be a good doctor, you need to be able to act as a specialised cog in this larger healthcare machine, working closely and effectively with your colleagues.

Even between doctors, teamwork is essential to delivering high-quality care.

Doctors work with other doctors to ask for specialist opinions, doctors perform operations together and doctors help each other out on busy days on the ward.

If you can’t work collaboratively, then you’re just not going to be a productive member of the team- and so hinder the delivery of care to your patients.

  • Take part in team sports or team activities (e.g. group fundraising for a charity) that showcase you as an excellent team player

The Ability To Reflect

You very likely reflect on things without even knowing it.

Reflection is essentially just thinking about something that happened, thinking about why it happened and how you responded, and thinking about what you could do better next time.

In medicine, this process is central to becoming a better doctor.

Reflection is one of the best ways to learn from your experiences and implement positive change in your future practice.

Qualities Of A Good Doctor Pixel Infographic

As a doctor, this activity of reflecting is actually formalised into a written exercise.

In order to revalidate as a doctor every year, I have to produce a set number of written reflections detailing events I’ve experienced and what I learnt from them.

Although it may sound easy enough, there’s undoubtedly a bit of knack to getting good at reflecting.

I’d go so far as to say it’s actually a skill you’ll develop over a lifetime, but having the innate quality of being able to look back over your past actions and draw learning points out will definitely contribute to being a good doctor.

  • Make sure your personal statement includes reflections on your work experience and achievements and not just descriptions of what you’ve physically done

What makes practising medicine different from killing cancer cells in a laboratory, is that you’ve got a person, not a petri dish, at the receiving end of your actions.

In the often confusing and scary environments of A&E departments, operating theatres or intensive care units, a doctor can act as a point of contact to describe and explain exactly what’s happening (and what’s going to happen) to a patient.

It’s easy to forget how overwhelming healthcare settings can be, especially when you work there every day, but a strong sense of empathy will allow a doctor to appreciate how their patients may be feeling and so let them work to reassure them.

Empathy is integral to the patient experience.

Something as simple as fetching a cup of tea and a sandwich for a patient who’s been sat in A&E for 4 hours can turn their terrible evening into a slightly less terrible one.

From breaking bad news to commiserating family members, the quality of empathy is unquestionably vital to being a good doctor.

  • Gain an appreciation, through direct shadowing and volunteering, of the importance of empathy in clinical practice which you can draw on in your personal statement or at interview

Resilience isn’t necessarily something you’d immediately associate with being a good doctor.

However, I can assure you it’s just as important a quality as any other on this list.

The reality is, the road to both becoming a doctor, and working as one, can be a bit of a long old slog.

You’ve first got the years at medical school, with make-or-break exams around every corner, then comes the somewhat relentless feeling years as a junior doctor, working long hours for relatively little pay.

Finally, after approximately 10 years in the game, you can exit the training pipeline and take up a post as a consultant.

Sometimes, you’ve got to be resilient to keep on pushing.

That could be continuing to sort out jobs long after your shift officially finished, that could be maintaining concentration in an operation that’s taking much longer than expected, or that could be meeting your next patient with a friendly smile after the last one was openly rude about you and your team.

Without resilience, a doctor is far more likely to burn out and so stop being able to deliver good care to patients.

  • Include in your application any extra-curricular achievements that you’re proud of and took considerable effort to accomplish

Respect isn’t just about being polite to your patients and colleagues.

Respect is also about taking anything a patient or colleague tells you seriously and acting upon it if required.

This could be a patient telling you that they received a substandard quality of care.

Instead of just brushing them off as a troublemaker, a doctor who truly respects their patients would explore this report to find out if anything could be improved for next time.

That being said, the core quality of respect does include a requirement to treat people professionally.

Shouting at a nurse because she forgot to give a patient a medication you prescribed isn’t respecting her as an individual.

Ignoring requests for advice from other doctors isn’t showing them respect as clinical equals.

The quality of respect is embedded in everything a good doctor does, from dealing with angry patients to teaching medical students.

  • Respect should be a mindset that shines through in anything you do as a medicine applicant, whether that be through volunteering or answering a question at your interview

Ability To Take Responsibility

A good doctor is always willing to take responsibility for their actions.

No matter how serious the consequences may be.

The NHS has actually formalised this requirement to take responsibility into the ‘duty of candour.’

What this essentially means is that anytime harm does, or could have, come to a patient the healthcare professional involved has to tell them about it.

I had my first experience of fulfilling my duty of candour about a week into my first job as a junior doctor.

One of my colleagues had asked me to help them out with a few small jobs, one of which was to take some blood from a patient.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

Only taking down the patient’s bed space, I went to that bed on the ward and duly took blood from the patient lying there.

What I didn’t know, was that the patient my colleague had wanted me to bleed had just moved spots on the ward.

I’d taken blood from the wrong patient so immediately went to the patient I’d bled to explain the situation and apologise.

Thankfully, they really didn’t mind that I’d made the mistake but the same requirement for candour holds true even if I’d performed an operation on the wrong patient.

  • At your medicine interview, they might ask you to talk about a time you made a mistake. Have an example prepared of how you responded quickly and honestly

Academic Ability

Academic ability is a quality required by doctors throughout their training.

There’s just no getting around the fact that to be a good doctor you have to learn and memorise a vast quantity of medical information.

Different types of drugs, their side effects, different diseases and their symptoms… Although as a doctor you can always look information up, you’re able to work much quicker and more efficiently if you have key facts memorised.

A second reason that to be a good doctor you have to be good academically is because of the sheer number of exams you have to take!

Unfortunately, exams don’t finish even once you’ve graduated from medical school.

Every medical specialty, whether that be anaesthetics, rheumatology or general practice, has its own specialist exams that doctors training in that field have to take.

Most people have excellent academic ability just by virtue of having been able to get into medical school, but it is certainly a quality that continues to be relevant throughout a doctor’s career.

  • Achieve top grades at school in order to support your medicine application

Dealing With Uncertainty

Finally, I think this last quality of a good doctor may be the most underrated on the list.

As a doctor, nine times out of ten you won’t be dealing with a complete information set.

Diseases very rarely present exactly as they’re described in the textbooks, so there’s always a bit of uncertainty regarding which symptoms a patient is describing could be down to a particular condition.

Every test we do in medicine has both false positive rates and false negative rates, so we can never be truly sure that a test has come back to us 100% accurate.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

Often times the investigation that would give us a definite answer just can’t be done for every patient we see. For example, it would be far too expensive for the NHS to MRI every elderly person with knee pain when the vast majority could be diagnosed with arthritis without the need for a scan.

Doctors have to be masters of treating the ‘most likely’ scenario, whilst always bearing in mind the ‘most serious’ diagnosis that could be underlying a patient’s presentation.

GPs are arguably the experts at dealing with this uncertainty due to the fact they have far fewer tests at their fingertips compared to their hospital colleagues. However, every good doctor will manage it to some extent.

  • Talk about a time that you personally had to deal with an uncertain situation, how you dealt with it at the time and what you learnt from that experience

Final Thoughts

If you are in the process of applying to medicine, you may have recognised some of these qualities of a good doctor.

That’s because I selected the 13 most relevant qualities from the Medical Schools Council’s ‘Statement On The Core Values And Attributes Needed To Study Medicine.’

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the attributes needed to study medicine also feed into a doctor being good at their job.

Everyone will have their own slightly different definitions of what the qualities of a good doctor are, but I thought these 13 were as good as any and could easily see how each applied to my working life.

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What Makes a Good Doctor? 7 Surprisingly Useful Skills for Physicians

What Makes a Good Doctor? 7 Surprisingly Useful Skills for Physicians

It requires some serious intelligence and motivation to get accepted into medical school . As students work their way toward becoming practicing physicians, they develop even more qualities that equip them to be successful in the field.

So what makes a good doctor?

To find out, we spoke with a few physicians to learn more about what makes a quality doctor—and it’s not your  medical school GPA . Their insight can help you better understand what it is that distinguishes a great physician and if you would want to be a doctor.

7 Essential qualities of a good doctor

Being a great physician requires more than high exam scores and knowledge of medical terms. Learn about the lesser-known characteristics the best doctors share.

1. Good doctors are good communicators

“Being a good listener is critical to being a good doctor,” says Dr. John Madden , an Emergency Physician and Director of the Office of Career Guidance and Student Development at St. George’s University (SGU) School of Medicine. “Patients will tell you what’s wrong if you just let them speak.”

“Being a good listener is critical to being a good doctor.”

After all, good communication isn’t just for being friendly with patients. It’s also one of the most vital doctor skills because it helps physicians to understand their patients’ concerns and explain a diagnosis.

“They should answer questions using language that is clear without using too much medical terminology,” says Dr. Lisa Doggett , a family physician. “They should be honest but also offer hope, even when a situation is difficult. And they should help their patients feel empowered to improve their own health.”

2. Good doctors are organized and conscientious

Children are taught from a young age to practice organization in order to be successful in school. And for good reason — one can’t succeed in medicine without presence of mind and being vigilant about details.

“A doctor needs to make sure that her patients get recommended screening tests, that their questions are answered, and that patients have a clear plan of action upon leaving her office,” says Dr. Doggett. “She must be vigilant about following up on any tests that are done and communicating those results.”

3. Good doctors are empathetic and make patients feel cared for

Patients don’t care about their physician’s medical school grades or other accolades—they want to feel that they are in good hands. A good doctor knows how to make a patient feel as though they are being cared for, that their concerns are valid, and that they are being heard.

“The patient isn’t just a list of medical problems and medications.”

“Patients care more that their doctor actually cares for them than how many papers they’ve published,” says Dr. Edna Ma, an anesthesiologist at 90210 Surgery Medical Center . “Caring can be in the form of active listening and asking open-ended questions.” This doesn’t need to be limited to the reason for the visit, either. “The patient isn’t just a list of medical problems and medications,” Dr. Ma adds.

4. Good doctors are curious

When presented with befuddling symptoms, a good doctor should allow their inherent curiosity to lead them to an accurate diagnosis, even if it means tapping into additional resources.

“That may require extra research, reaching out to colleagues, or taking more time to gather a detailed history from the patient,” Dr. Doggett says. Taking these extra measures is important, she elaborates, to avoid making incorrect diagnoses.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

5. Good doctors are collaborative

Being a good communicator is critical not only for working with patients but also for relaying information across the health care system. Consider that when a patient goes to the hospital, their primary care physician often doesn’t learn of their visit unless they are informed by the patient or a family member.

“A good hospital-based doctor will call or send a note to the primary care physician to let them know the patient has been admitted,” Dr. Doggett explains. “The primary care doctor should then make an effort to gather hospital records and offer timely follow-up after discharge.” Similarly, a good medical specialist will involve a patient’s primary care doctor in any diagnoses or treatments.

6. Good doctors are persistent in advocating for their patients

Good doctors do whatever it takes to help meet their patients’ needs. Whether that means helping them navigate the health care system by finding specialists or acquiring the prescriptions they need, they should be willing to provide that support.

“A good doctor will be a strong advocate for their patients,” Dr. Doggett notes. She says this can entail helping patients in getting prescription medicine, securing an urgent appointment, enrolling in a patient assistance program, or accessing necessary services like physical therapy. The best doctors are willing to go the extra mile for their patients’ well-being.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

7. Good doctors have great bedside manner

Good bedside manner is more of an approach and combination of skills than anything, but Dr. Madden says it’s what separates a great physician from a good one. “Physicians should be personable, great listeners, and empathetic to the concerns of their patients,” he elaborates. “They should not be condescending or arrogant. They should treat others as they want to be treated.”

“Physicians should be personable, great listeners, and empathetic to the concerns of their patients.”

Start developing these key doctor skills

There is no single ingredient that makes a good doctor, but working to hone each of these physician skills can help put you on the path to a successful career in medicine . Additionally, many of these competencies are important for getting into medical school in the first place.

If you’re eager to discover more about how you can work toward gaining acceptance to a program, read our article,“ A Sneak Peek at the Medical School Application Process .”

Ready to go above and beyond?

Are you considering St. George’s University Medical School? If you need any more convincing, just reach out to some graduates or current students . They’re happy to tell you what their experiences were like.

If you feel like SGU could be the right medical school for you, take the next step. Continue your research by visiting our request information page.

*This article was originally published in April 2018. It was updated in 2021 to include additional information.

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What Are The Qualities Of A Good Doctor?

Home » Application Guide » What Are The Qualities Of A Good Doctor?

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Medicine is a vocational course that demands resilient professionalism under a core set of values that is imperative in our care of the most fragile in our society. If you can’t demonstrate that you understand what it means to be a good doctor, your academic achievements won’t be enough to get you into Medical School and excel in your future careers. 

So what are the skills and qualities of a good doctor? 

The Skills and Qualities of a Doctor

One of the best ways to define the skills and qualities that makes a good doctor is from hearing what the experts in the field say. These are the people that have seen the good and bad qualities of doctors, and the impact these qualities have on patients and healthcare as a whole.

Sir Peter Rubin (Chair of the General Medical Council from 2009-2014) stated that “Doctors have the enormous privilege of touching and changing lives. Through all the changes driven by research and public expectations, some of the art and science of medicine has endured down the ages and defines medicine as a profession, whatever a doctor’s area of practice.”

He goes on to list some core skills and qualities of doctors, starting with being able to synthesise conflicting and incomplete information to reach a diagnosis. The next is dealing with uncertainty:

Deal With Uncertainty

“Protocols are great, but doctors often must work off-protocol in the best interests of the patient, for example, when the best treatment for one condition may make a co-existing condition worse.”

Manage Risk

“Many patients are alive today because doctors took risks and as doctors, we bring all our professional experience to bear on knowing when acceptable, informed and carefully considered risk ends and recklessness begins – and we share that information openly and honestly with our patients, always respecting that the final decision is theirs.”

Recognise That Change Both In Medicine And Society Is Constant

“Ensuring that those standards, which are immutable, are preserved while those that are simply a product of their time are consigned to history carry and accept ultimate responsibility for our actions.”

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Sir Peter Rubin finishes by saying “Those of us who practise and teach medicine now are merely the custodians of those core values which were passed on to us by earlier generations and which we, in turn, will pass on to those who come after us. It is these values and these qualities which define a good doctor: they are timeless and long may they remain so.” 

Focussing on the qualities and skills more specifically, here are further attributes that are described as the fundamentals of being a good doctor.

Good Communication Skills

As Dr. John Madden of St. George’s University mentions, “Being a good listener is critical to being a good doctor.” Effective communication with patients is key to understanding patients’ issues and concerns but also to explain a diagnosis to them. When explaining a diagnosis, good communication skills are highlighted by taking into account a patient’s medical knowledge so they understand exactly what the situation is, however difficult it may be for them, such as when a diagnosis is terminal.

Regarding communication skills, the GMC say that Doctors must be able to:

  • Treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity.
  • Work in partnership with patients.
  • Work with colleagues in the ways that best serve patients' interests.

Having good communication skills opens many doors. You will be an excellent person to include in any team and a hit once you start talking to patients. Communication skills are not solely for medical school interviews and the medical school itself; they are vital throughout a doctor’s entire career. They will really define you as a doctor. 

We break down communication skills in much more detail in our guide here and explain how you can improve and demonstrate these skills during interviews.


Doctors must maintain professionalism at all times. As a doctor, you have a duty to treat all patients with respect and display appropriate emotional maturity across interactions. Doing this will also help patients feel more comfortable and trust you with their health. It’s important to note that it doesn’t just end with patients, it is also your responsibility to ensure that your colleagues provide nothing but the best patient support they can.

There are, of course, many more qualities that we have not explored in detail such as emotional intelligence, leadership skills, attention to detail, teamwork skills, strong work ethic and curiosity. If you are still craving further details, check out the GMC website.

How Can I Be A Good Doctor?

Throughout your time in medical school and during the first few years after you graduate, you will pick up an unfathomable amount of skills that will help you to become a good doctor. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until you start further education to begin developing these skills. In fact, you likely already have some of them, which makes it crucial to discuss these in your personal statement and interviews. 

Do I already have some of the skills and qualities?

The Medical Schools Council (MSC) has a list of qualities that you should be able to demonstrate to medical schools.

  • Motivation to study Medicine and genuine interest in the medical profession
  • Insight into your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Personal organisation
  • Academic ability
  • Problem solving
  • Risk management and an ability to deal effectively with problems
  • Ability to take responsibility for your own actions
  • Effective communication, including reading, writing, listening and speaking
  • Resilience and the ability to deal with difficult situations
  • Empathy and the ability to care for others.

How many of these qualities can you tick off, and more importantly, do you have evidence of times you demonstrated them?

This is what Oxford University say are the personal characteristics they look for in applicants applying to their Medicine Degree.

Similar to the MSC list, do you have the skills listed by Oxford? If by some bizarre coincidence, everyone reading this is applying to Oxford, then you can just use what Oxford say above. However, if you’re not applying to Oxford, most med schools tend to explain the key qualities they look for/expect of their students. Make sure you check the websites of the med schools you are applying to. 

We have plenty of free guides available at 6med to help you understand these qualities better, including resilience , empathy and ethics . If you are looking to demonstrate these qualities effectively, our Complete Medicine Bundle helps you to explain the qualities in your Personal Statement and during your Interviews. 

How can you demonstrate skills and qualities?

Your aim at interview is to try to get the Admissions Tutors to tick off the qualities we mentioned earlier. This means you should focus on personal experiences that demonstrate the qualities of a good doctor.

We cover this more in our guide on how to demonstrate the key qualities of a doctor , but here are a few ideas:

1. Effective Communication

  • I took part in regular debating workshops and competitions at school – I had to articulate complicated points and present arguments to an audience.
  • Also, I had to be respectful towards other people and their opinions.

2. Good Teamwork

  • I led a team for the school’s enterprise challenge: we had to design a business plan and pitch for a phone application. Good teamwork was the reason we won.
  • During my work experience in hospitals, I shadowed a doctor who was in an MDT that was treating a patient with muscle dystrophy. I worked closely with various people, such as physiotherapists, nurses, other doctors, etc.

3. The Realities Of Being A Doctor

  • I shadowed a junior doctor for a day – I contributed by helping with routine paperwork, filing, phoning up GP surgeries, inserting data into a computer, etc.
  • He stressed how fulfilling it is to see a patient get better and that medicine surprises you all the time.

4. Leadership and Handling Pressure

  • I led the charity week committee at school which raised £16,000.
  • I had to delegate tasks to team members, as well as motivate the group when times were bad and I realised how important it was to listen to individuals.
  • I witnessed a surgeon make the decision to call off surgery because the risk of intervention was just too high. He made the final decision alone but he considered people’s opinions.

If you feel weaker in some areas, for example, you don’t think you’re decisive enough – that’s completely fine, but make sure you know how you’re going to work on these weak areas and show the medical school you’re trying to improve.

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What Makes A Good Doctor Interview Question

You may be asked the exact question “what makes a good doctor?”, but it is more common that you’ll be asked a question related to this and your motivation for becoming a doctor. Here are some examples of the questions with some answers:

Why did you choose Medicine?

The classic medicine interview question – you definitely want to specifically prepare this one and use it as a framework for other ones.

There are many ways to answer this. In this example, we state a reason, explain it then support it with evidence. You can alternatively, for instance, base your whole answer around an experience, or multiple experiences.

Start with a direct answer to the question listing main points.

I like medicine because it connects science and art.

Explain your two points.

Medicine is a science – as a doctor, you use medicine to manipulate the body to respond effectively to disease. This requires knowledge and understanding of the way our body has evolved to work. Application of this knowledge (based on understanding) is necessary to make informed clinical decisions.

Art – there aren’t always clear rules dictating how best to treat a patient. A doctor needs to weigh pros/cons of treatments, treat patients with empathy, approach ethical dilemmas.

Medicine allows me to directly help people and make a positive difference while being challenged/mentally stimulated.

Medicine is a unique career that cannot be pursued based on anecdotal evidence or through reading the description of the job alone. Hence why I arranged work experience to find out more about the career .

Giving supporting evidence of being proactive. Evidence and experience are what makes your question more personal.

Be sure to use the STARR technique when citing experience.

The job doesn’t only involve treating patients. It involves constant learning, teaching colleagues, supporting colleagues. [expand…]

This shows a good understanding of the career and the qualities of a good doctor.

What aspects of being a doctor DON'T appeal to you?

The key is to maintain a balanced view. You should be aware of the flaws while not making the profession seem all doom and gloom – justifying why it’s a fit for you. Maintain positivity without belittling these problems. Here are some drawbacks to being a doctor along with counter-arguments, they further show your understanding of the qualities of a good doctor:

The job can be very stressful as being a doctor is such a great responsibility – stress can affect personal life, the time-commitment can also affect personal life

Counter: It’s important to find a good work-life balance. A good coping mechanism could be not compromising hobbies / extra-curricular.

You could mention how you are dealing with this currently – what extracurricular activities do you do?

Being too attached to patients – the burden of their life can be difficult to bear. Dealing with death can be hard.

Counter: It’s important to talk to people and not bottle up feelings. Thankfully, there is plenty of support available for doctors.

Refer to the specific support available to doctors. You could mention an example of an occasion where you spoke out or helped someone else with problems they had.

You could potentially get a question on your weaknesses – we recommend you try to avoid giving an answer that’s considered a key quality in a doctor.

It is clear, from these questions, that having a solid understanding of the qualities of a good doctor is crucial for formulating the answers that tick the Admissions Tutors’ boxes. Aside from meeting the preferred characteristics that medical schools are looking for, developing the key qualities early will set you up for the careers ahead of you. Take your time now, before the application deadline and interview season, to work through the key qualities, see how you meet them and prepare examples of times you demonstrated them.  

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Essay on Qualities of a Good Doctor

Students are often asked to write an essay on Qualities of a Good Doctor in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Qualities of a Good Doctor

A good doctor should have empathy, understanding patients’ feelings and concerns. This helps in building trust and improving patient-doctor relationships.

Communication Skills

Good doctors communicate effectively, explaining complex medical terms in simple language. This ensures patients understand their health conditions and treatment plans.

Professional Knowledge

Doctors should have a strong grasp of medical knowledge. They should be updated with the latest medical research to provide the best care.

Patience is key, as some patients may require more time to express their issues. Good doctors listen attentively without rushing.

Doctors should have high ethical standards, respecting patients’ privacy and making decisions in the best interest of patients.

250 Words Essay on Qualities of a Good Doctor


A good doctor is a paragon of professional competence, empathy, and ethics, serving as a beacon of hope for patients navigating the treacherous waters of illness. The qualities that make a good doctor are multifaceted, ranging from technical expertise to interpersonal skills.

Professional Competence

A good doctor must possess a solid foundation of medical knowledge, keeping abreast with the latest developments in their field. This requires a commitment to lifelong learning, as medicine is an ever-evolving discipline. Their decision-making should be evidence-based, drawing on the best available research to guide their practice.

Effective communication is paramount in a doctor’s role. They must be able to explain complex medical conditions in a way that patients can understand, fostering trust and cooperation. Good doctors also listen attentively, recognizing that each patient is a unique individual with their own concerns and experiences.

Empathy and Compassion

Empathy and compassion are the cornerstones of good patient care. A good doctor must be able to understand and share the feelings of their patients. This emotional connection can significantly enhance the therapeutic relationship, fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

Ethical Practice

Lastly, a good doctor must adhere to high ethical standards. This includes respecting patient autonomy, maintaining confidentiality, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Ethical practice is fundamental to building trust and safeguarding the integrity of the medical profession.

In conclusion, a good doctor embodies a blend of technical expertise, effective communication, empathy, and ethical practice. These qualities not only enhance patient care but also uphold the nobility and prestige of the medical profession.

500 Words Essay on Qualities of a Good Doctor

The medical profession is one of the most revered and respected professions globally. It demands a unique blend of knowledge, skills, and personal traits. A good doctor is not only defined by their medical prowess but also by their ability to interact with patients compassionally and empathetically. This essay explores the essential qualities that make a good doctor.

Medical Expertise

A good doctor must possess a robust knowledge base, demonstrating a thorough understanding of various diseases, their symptoms, and the appropriate treatment protocols. They must be committed to lifelong learning, given the rapid advancements in medical science. Staying updated with the latest research findings and incorporating them into their practice is a hallmark of a good doctor.

Effective communication is crucial in the medical field. A good doctor should be able to explain complex medical conditions and treatments in a way that patients can understand. They should also be good listeners, allowing patients to express their concerns and fears. This two-way communication builds trust and is vital for a successful doctor-patient relationship.

Empathy and compassion are at the heart of the medical profession. A good doctor should be able to empathize with their patients, understanding their emotional state and showing genuine concern for their well-being. They should treat their patients with kindness and respect, regardless of their background or circumstances.


Professionalism encompasses a range of behaviors and attitudes that are expected of a good doctor. This includes respect for patient confidentiality, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and adhering to ethical guidelines. A good doctor should also display a high level of commitment, responsibility, and integrity in their work.

Problem-solving Skills

Every patient presents a unique set of symptoms and challenges. A good doctor should have excellent problem-solving skills, enabling them to make accurate diagnoses and develop effective treatment plans. They should be able to think critically, analyze complex information, and make informed decisions under pressure.

In conclusion, a good doctor is a blend of medical expertise, effective communication, empathy, professionalism, and problem-solving skills. These qualities not only make them competent healthcare providers but also trusted allies in the patient’s journey towards health and well-being. The medical profession is more than just a job; it is a calling that demands the highest level of dedication, compassion, and skill.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

  • Essay on Importance of Doctors
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Apart from these, you can look at all the essays by clicking here .

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essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

What Makes a Good Doctor? Unveiling the Qualities of Top Physicians

The medical profession is a noble and challenging one, with countless aspiring doctors dreaming of one day donning the white coat and stethoscope. But what separates a good doctor from a great one? What are the qualities that make a physician truly excel in their field? This article will unveil the secret ingredients that make a top-tier doctor and provide insights on how to cultivate these traits in your own journey towards becoming a medical professional.

1. Exceptional Communication Skills

The foundation of any good doctor-patient relationship is effective communication. A great doctor is able to listen attentively to their patient's concerns, ask the right questions, and explain complex medical information in an understandable way. This not only helps patients feel more at ease, but it also aids in accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

Tips for Improving Communication Skills:

  • Practice active listening: Make a conscious effort to focus on the speaker, avoid interrupting, and ask clarifying questions
  • Use simple language: Avoid jargon and explain medical terms in a way that's easy for patients to grasp
  • Be empathetic: Show genuine care for your patients' feelings and concerns
  • Maintain eye contact: This helps build trust and rapport with patients

2. Strong Clinical Knowledge and Expertise

A good doctor must possess a solid foundation of medical knowledge and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in their field. This ensures that they can provide the best possible care to their patients, utilizing the most current diagnostic tools, treatments, and protocols.

Tips for Building Clinical Expertise:

  • Stay curious: Be proactive in seeking out new sources of medical knowledge, including journals, conferences, and online courses
  • Network: Connect with other medical professionals to exchange ideas and discuss challenging cases
  • Be open to feedback: Embrace opportunities for growth and improvement by seeking input from mentors and colleagues

3. Excellent Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills

The ability to think critically and solve problems is crucial for a doctor. They must be able to sift through a myriad of symptoms and medical history to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment.

Tips for Developing Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Engage in active learning: Approach medical cases as puzzles to be solved, and challenge yourself to think critically about the information presented
  • Practice case-based learning: Work through real or simulated patient cases to hone your diagnostic and treatment planning skills
  • Reflect on your thought process: Regularly evaluate your decision-making and identify areas for improvement

4. Compassion and Empathy

One of the most important qualities of a good doctor is their ability to empathize with patients and show genuine compassion for their well-being. This helps to build trust, put patients at ease, and ensure that they feel supported throughout their healthcare journey.

Tips for Cultivating Compassion and Empathy:

  • Put yourself in the patient's shoes: Consider their feelings, fears, and concerns when making medical decisions
  • Practice mindfulness: Cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence through meditation, journaling, or other mindfulness practices
  • Volunteer: Gain perspective and develop empathy by helping others in need, whether in a medical setting or through community outreach

5. Adaptability and Resilience

The field of medicine is constantly evolving, with new discoveries, technologies, and challenges arising every day. A good doctor must be adaptable and resilient, able to navigate the ever-changing landscape of healthcare while maintaining their commitment to providing excellent patient care.

Tips for Building Adaptability and Resilience:

  • Embrace change: Stay open to new ideas and be willing to adjust your way of thinking or working as needed
  • Develop a growth mindset: View challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than setbacks
  • Prioritize self-care: Maintain a healthy work-life balance and practice stress-reducing techniques to safeguard your mental and emotional well-being

6. Professionalism and Ethical Integrity

A great doctor consistently upholds high standards of professionalism and ethical integrity in all aspects of their work. This includes maintaining patient confidentiality, advocating for patients' best interests, and adhering to the principles of evidence-based medicine.

Tips for Demonstrating Professionalism and Ethical Integrity:

  • Familiarize yourself with medical ethics: Stay informed about the ethical guidelines and standards that govern your profession
  • Lead by example: Model professionalism in your own behavior and encourage it in others
  • Reflect on your values: Regularly evaluate your ethical beliefs and consider how they align with your professional responsibilities

7. Teamwork and Collaboration

Effective collaboration with other healthcare professionals is essential for a good doctor. They must be able to work seamlessly with nurses, specialists, and other team members to ensure that patients receive well-coordinated, comprehensive care.

Tips for Enhancing Teamwork and Collaboration:

  • Communicate openly: Share information and updates with team members in a timely and transparent manner
  • Be respectful: Treat colleagues with kindness and respect, valuing their expertise and contributions
  • Seek input: Encourage collaboration by actively seeking the opinions and suggestions of your team members

The journey to becoming a good doctor is one of continuous learning, growth, and self-improvement. By cultivating these essential qualities, you can not only excel in your chosen field but also make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of your patients. Remember that the pursuit of excellence in medicine is not just about acquiring clinical skills and knowledge; it also involves nurturing empathy, resilience, and ethical integrity. So, keep striving to be the best doctor you can be, and watch as your career and patient relationships flourish.

Frank J. Ninivaggi M.D., DLF-A.P.A.

  • Personality

What Makes a Good Doctor "Good"?

Attention, connection, validation, and empathy lead to compassionate caring..

Posted October 6, 2020 | Reviewed by Matt Huston

Questions like this are open-ended but reasonably answered. Besides ample knowledge and good training, a doctor’s personality contributes to the practice of good medicine—recovery-oriented and shared decision-making .

Among the valuable characteristics of good doctors are listening and observational skills. Active connectedness encourages empathy, high reliability, and safety, the foundations for effectiveness.

Original photo by author, Frank J. Ninivaggi MD

Personality Factors and Their Sub-facets

Personality is the stable pattern of functionally related processes that include cognition , emotion , interpersonal relatedness, behavior, coping, and defenses.

H.J. Eysenck (1916-1977), a controversial British psychologist, first proposed a personality model that had two dimensions: extroversion - introversion (i.e., “E”) and stable-unstable (i.e., “N,” representing neuroticism). More robust and nuanced studies have produced the now-used “ Big Five ” personality model (Costa and McCrae 1992).

The Big Five factors are

1. Openness to Experience

2. Conscientiousness

3. Extroversion

4. Agreeableness

5. Neuroticism or Negative Emotionality

People have all five factors and can be higher or lower than other people on each one. Each characteristic or trait, with its many subordinate traits (i.e., “facets”), is a descriptive dimension yielding endless personality styles. The facets interacting in differing contexts impart one’s unique character. The emphasis is on personality styles rather than psychiatric disorders, as found in the DSM-5 .

Openness to Experience includes being open-minded, creative, adaptable to new perspectives, and intellectually curious, to name a few aspects. Flexible mindsets rather than mental rigidity characterize its dimensions.

Conscientiousness includes the sub-traits of being organized, aware of details and planning, following tasks to completion, being reliable, self-directed, persistent, industrious, maintaining “effortful control,” and being efficient. For doctors, the mental set of always “still learning” leads to creative problem-solving.

Extroversion signifies people who are energetic, assertive , gregarious, and outgoing. These “surgency” qualities can be challenging and stimulating. All interpersonal and social connectedness rests on the balance between extroversion and introversion, notably with the patient.

Agreeableness includes kindness, empathy, compassion, helpfulness, cooperativeness, sharing, and being friendly. These are “social lubricants.” Receptivity without judgment, ability to pause, and lingering with experiences are qualities of many agreeable people. Thus, safe spaces for continued dialog open. People who are high in this factor do not argue or oppose with criticism and premature judgment. Reactively argumentative people oppose what others say. This obstruction shuts down productive conversations by stirring fear and anger , all of which block understanding. Being productively agreeable does not require blind agreement but only considering another’s ideas, i.e., validating that they are their truth. This “relational mentalizing” is understanding even if short of acceptance. Agreeableness emphasizes emotional caring that rounds out cognitively conscientious care.

Neuroticism or negative emotionality reflects negative, unstable moods seen in stress , anxiety , worry, depression , anger, hostility, loneliness , and despair. Being able to readily adapt in the face of uncertainty counters negativity and opens onward exploration.

What Personality Facets Make a Doctor “Good”?

Most studies about good doctors show that high scores on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness correlate with good or stable mental health. The willingness to help is a large part of the factor of Agreeableness. Studies have suggested that well-modulated Conscientiousness and the wish to help are protective against the burnout syndrome. Implied is a heightened psychological resilience .

Almost two decades ago, the British Medical Journal (BMJ, 2002) devoted an entire issue to elaborating good doctors’ qualities. These included:

· Compassion/Warmth

· Understanding

· Competence

· Commitment

The Takeaway

The people we consider "good" often share the following characteristics:

· observant

· receptive

· attentive listener

· can tolerate ambiguity

· can manage temporary gaps in understanding without undue frustration and negativity

· seeks to improve problematic dilemmas (for doctors: e.g., symptoms) toward more favorable outcomes.

Goodness implies respect for the value of persons. Attentive listening sets the stage for trying to understand both their perspective and yours. A working hypothesis about diagnoses and a treatment plan emerges for good doctors. As opposed to simply demanding compliance or adherence, a mutual dialog elicits a participatory therapeutic alliance and yields better outcomes.

essay about the qualities needed for a good doctor

Doctors considered “good” often say the rewards of their profession are the gratitude felt for meaningful relationships with patients, helping them to improve, and using skillful resources for finding workable solutions. These rewards override the difficulties of complex regulations, complicated patient presentations, and long hours. Remaining mindful remains a therapeutic asset.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 2014) proposed more updated perspectives but concluded by saying that the entire endeavor to define a “good” doctor remains “a work in progress.”

BMJ ( British Medical Journal ). (2002). “What's a good doctor?” 28 September 2002(vol 325, issue 7366) doi:

Lee, T. H. (2014). “Certifying the Good Physician: A Work in Progress”

JAMA ( Journal of the American Medical Association ), 312(22):2340-2342. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.13566

Ninivaggi, F.J. (2019). Learned Mindfulness: Physician Engagement and MD Wellness . Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Cattell, R (1950). Personality: A systematic theoretical, and factual study . New York: McGraw-Hill.

Costa, P.T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory Manual (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) professional manual . Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Trzeciak, S. Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That caring makes a difference. Studer Group, Pensacola, Florida.

Frank J. Ninivaggi M.D., DLF-A.P.A.

Frank John Ninivaggi, M.D., F.A.P.A., is an associate attending physician at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, an assistant clinical professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.

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  • 8 Essential Qualities of a Physician
  • Blog & News

As a trusted and skilled medical professional , a physician must embody certain essential qualities that enable them to provide the best possible care to their patients. These qualities go beyond medical knowledge and technical skills and include traits such as empathy, communication, and professionalism.

In this article, we will explore the seven essential qualities of a physician and how they contribute to effective patient care.

What is a Physician and Their Role in Healthcare?

Physicians occupy a critical and irreplaceable role in healthcare, serving as the linchpin in the well-being of individuals. Tasked with the responsibility of diagnosing, treating, and preventing illnesses, physicians stand at the forefront of patient care. Beyond their clinical expertise, physicians embody the human side of medicine, offering empathy, compassion, and reassurance to those in their care.

Their decision-making prowess, rooted in years of education, experience, and ongoing learning, shapes the trajectory of countless lives. Physicians address immediate health concerns and contribute to public health initiatives, research advancements, and the overall resilience of healthcare systems.

What Qualities Should a Physician Have?

A physician is a highly respected and noble profession that requires a unique set of qualities to be successful. Here are 8 essential qualities of a physician:

Physicians aren’t robots. They’re not just there to insensitively deliver prognoses or mechanically perform complex surgeries. They need to be compassionate. Patients respond better to a good listener who is empathetic to their needs, so focus on exercising good communication and compassion with your patients. Asking open ended questions about a patient’s overall well-being shows that you are willing and able to understand patients, their medical concerns, and their needs. With a compassionate approach, you can alleviate the concerns of your patients and give them the confidence to make the best decisions for their own health. 

At AUA, we instill compassion in our students with early hands-on training, which gives them the opportunity to spend time with patients and learn more about the best way to interact with them. By developing these skills early, our students are better prepared to meet the demands of practicing medicine and master the essentials of patient care.


As a physician, it’s essential to have excellent communication skills to be able to interact with patients, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals and their physician assistants . Effective communication helps to build trust and rapport with patients, making them feel comfortable and at ease. It also allows the physician to explain complex medical information in a way that patients can understand, which is crucial for successful diagnosis and treatment. Good communication skills also help physicians to collaborate effectively with other healthcare professionals, ensuring that patients receive the best possible care.

Analytical skills

Physicians need to be able to analyze a patient’s symptoms, medical history, and test results to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. They also need to be able to evaluate treatment options and make decisions based on the patient’s individual needs. Strong analytical skills also help physicians take decisions and stay up-to-date with the latest medical research and advancements in their field.

Strong work ethic

Having a strong work ethic means you dedicate 100% of yourself to your work every day, regardless of how tired you are or what is going on in your personal life. While this high standard will help you succeed in any field, it is essential for a good doctor. Every day brings a new challenge. Even if you don’t know what those challenges will be, you’ll have to be ready to face them. Preparation is time consuming, but you must put in the effort if you want to succeed.


Simply putting on a white coat won’t command respect from your patients; it must be earned. As with all encounters, first impressions are paramount. If a patient feels that you are inattentive, impatient, or unkempt they will feel unsatisfied and neglected and will most likely seek the care of another physician. Unlike other Caribbean medical schools , AUA has an Education Enhancement Department (ED) that fosters your professional skills and decorum.

Medical knowledge

Physicians need to have encyclopedic medical knowledge that can be recalled at a moment’s notice. They also have to stay on top of the latest medical news and trends, which could contradict something that was learned way back in medical school. In other words, as advancements are made in the field, you’ll have to learn new information that enhances or counters what you’ve already committed to memory. Though we can offer you some great tips right now on how to retain more and read faster, the EED is available for AUA students to help them develop methods to retain that knowledge and apply relevant information quickly.

Because a successful physician is highly knowledgeable, he or she must reinforce that with confidence. Patients want to trust their physicians as caregivers, but the lack of self-assurance communicates uncertainty. A physician with strong, healthy confidence will be listened to and respected by patients and colleagues alike. Even if you feel unsure about something, don’t let your patient see it. Instead, consult other resources, specialists, case studies, etc. in order to provide your patient with the most informed treatment.

Humility and confidence work as a complementary pair. With your patients and colleagues, you must be a team player – approachable, compassionate and available. This means that despite time limitations and over-scheduling, your patient never feels rushed. Hear everything he or she has to say without preemptively voicing your diagnosis. You must also have the communication skills to admit when you’re unsure about something and especially willing to ask questions.  A physician is a lifelong learner and these situations should strengthen your resolve to continue striving towards becoming the perfect doctor. 

The Bottom Line

These seven essential qualities of a physician are vital for providing quality patient care and building strong relationships with patients. By fostering these qualities, physicians can improve their effectiveness in diagnosing, treating, and preventing illnesses, allowing them to make a meaningful impact on their patients’ lives. In the end, it is the combination of these traits that enables physicians to provide the best possible care to their patients.

What qualities should a physician have?

A physician should possess qualities such as empathy, strong work ethic, good communication skills, and extensive knowledge in their field of practice, among other skills.

What are the best and worst qualities of a doctor?

The best qualities of a doctor include being caring, compassionate, knowledgeable, skilled, dedicated, and able to communicate effectively with patients. On the other hand, the worst qualities of a doctor could be arrogance, lack of empathy, poor communication skills, and negligence towards their patients.

Which physician is most in demand?

The demand for physicians varies depending on their specialty. However, fields such as primary care, emergency medicine, and psychiatry are in high demand due to their importance in healthcare.

Who are the highest-paid physicians?

The highest-paid physicians include orthopedic surgeons, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, and anesthesiologists. However, the salary varies based on their experience, expertise, and geographical location.

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“I was confident going into AUA because of their leadership. It was clear to me from the beginning that the staff and administration from top to bottom were pioneers and leaders in medical education. They showed a great deal of commitment by investing in constructing a brand new state of the art campus while I was there. Although the new campus opened shortly after I left the island, it was encouraging to watch its construction. It let us know that AUA was committed to investing back into its students, and are here to stay for years to come.”

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Essential qualities of a good physician

Essential qualities of a good physician

Read our guide to discover what traits a good physician should have.

There are some essential qualities that one must possess to become a great doctor. Read our guide to discover the traits that mark out a good physician from the other graduates.

What skills do medical schools look for?

Medical schools are looking for more than just excellent academic credentials , although of course these are expected. They are looking for the types of people who demonstrate the attributes needed to work as an effective MD. Of course, there are plenty of lists to be found indicating what these might be — many on medical school websites — but it’s important to remember that being a doctor is fundamentally about people.

Are you socially intelligent? Empathic? A good listener? As a doctor, you’ll need to read people for clues all the time so you discern a bit about who they are. This is important for diagnosis, but also because good doctoring is about building relationships. You’ll be with people for some of their most life-defining moments. Do you have the right amount of compassion and human understanding?

Are you dedicated? Professional? Authoritative? As a doctor you will, at times, need to work harder than you thought possible. There will be late nights, no weekends, long shifts and demanding rotations. Do you think you can retain your professionalism through tiredness, hunger, distraction and personal tragedy? Can you command a room on no sleep?

These are the attributes that medical schools will want to see glimpses of. They don’t expect the finished article on the first day of the first semester, but they will want a hint that you have this capacity inside you.

What is the work ethic of a doctor?

Having a good work ethic as a doctor is essential. Especially in the first few years at med school, as a resident and as a newly-qualified doctor — the demands on your time are going to be huge. That’s not to say that having a work life balance is going to be impossible. But you will need to be organised about how you spend your time and systematic in how you divide it between work, wellbeing and play.

You will already know that many doctors tend to work shift patterns, so you will need to be prepared to spend your nights and weekends at work. The time is made up on your ‘off’ days, but you won’t be able to guarantee having the same time off as your 9–5 friends.

You will definitely have to work holidays and weekends, even if you avoid night shifts for the majority of your career.

Some people can become confused by the difference between ‘work ethic’ and a doctor’s ‘code of ethics’. A work ethic simply means that you are hardworking, something all doctors need to be of course. However a ‘code of ethics’ is a separate thing altogether. This is a set of principles that you sign up to when you become a doctor. It is a formal code of practice and if you breach it, your medical license could be in jeopardy.

Working with a team as a doctor

As a doctor, you need to be highly aware that you are working as part of a team. That team might contain more experienced doctors or experts with greater seniority, but equally, it is likely to feature other types of medical staff. For example nurses, assistants or technicians. You need to be able to create professional working relationships with people at all levels of the healthcare system so that patients receive the best care it is possible to provide. That’s the overall goal and you have to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Good relationship with the patient

People forget that the patient is part of the team as well. They are more invested in working towards good health than anyone — and a well-motivated patient is often the secret behind some of the most effective treatments. As a doctor, you need to make the patient feel included in their care plan (where possible of course) and empowered to take positive action for their own health

Good social and communication skills

Following on from the previous point, doctors need to be able to communicate with many different types of staff from across a hospital’s service. Doctors with good social skills have the power to make people feel like they are part of the same team. Communicating clearly and effectively ensures everybody knows what they need to do, when and why it’s important.

You will have trained for a long time to become an MD — and it is alright to feel proud and confident in your abilities. However, this shouldn’t come across as arrogance. Doctors who exhibit arrogance are unapproachable and difficult to work with 

The ability to manage ‘up’ as well as ‘down’

Sometimes, more senior figures might depend on you to take care of arrangements and logistics. Busy senior MDs have a lot of draws on their attention and you might find you need to work assertively to make sure you get what you need for a patient

Clarity of purpose

It’s important not to lose sight of what the main goal is for each patient — will it be to relieve someone’s pain, to improve their mobility, or to find a better drug protocol? As part of a team, it is essential that you retain clarity of purpose, as the patient might not be able to assert themselves.

What skills are needed to be a good doctor?

Skills are slightly different from attributes or characteristics because they are things you can learn to be good at.

Good analytical skills

Doctoring is often about processing lots of information and extracting the salient facts so you can diagnose someone, or figure out the best course of treatment. Doctors need to have vast amounts of subject knowledge, but they also need to be able to process it fast. 

Good communication skills

This is especially important because you will constantly be working alongside others in a team. You’ll also have your own relationship with the patient to maintain. You will need to be a very versatile communicator, because you may need to communicate what you need to a group of nurses in one moment, and break bad news to a family in the next.

Organizational skills

Balancing a heavy patient load in the context of a busy health institution has its own organizational demands. But it’s really important that you understand that good organisation is a respectful act towards your colleagues. It’s difficult to work with someone who doesn’t take responsibility, so make sure you do.

Would you make a good doctor?

This is something that you can’t figure out by yourself, alone in a room. You have to actually go out into the world and try it on for size. You can’t apply to medical school without some volunteering, so think to yourself, would you thrive in that environment? Do you enjoy it? Do other people enjoy working with you? Becoming an MD is an aspiration that some people have for the wrong reasons. While doctors should enjoy status and a good salary for all their dedication and hard work, those things shouldn’t be the main motivator for your application.

Equally, some people who would be technically good MDs simply don’t enjoy the work. So, take your time to reflect, and most importantly think: would I be happy doing this?

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Why I want to be a Doctor

“The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well being becomes.”  The Medicine of Altruism: Dalai Lama


The fundamental mission of any medical school is to select those individuals who possess the qualities and personality traits best suited to becoming a good doctor. The first part of this article takes a critical look at how United Kingdom (UK) medical schools select doctors, which can vary considerably, and asks whether it can be improved. The qualities needed to be a good doctor are discussed and asks whether work experience illustrates at least some of these personal qualities and should therefore be an essential prerequisite for applying to medical school. Such experience helps the student to make an informed career choice and exploring it at interview can reflect student motivation to study medicine. My experience in Ghana gave me the opportunity to find out at first hand if I had what it takes to become a doctor. The trip was totally inspirational. It made me realise that medicine is much more than being master of all sciences. In Ghana I saw many of the qualities one needs to be a doctor, how this contrasts with the current selection criteria in the UK, and made me wonder whether the UK system offers our society the best practice available.

Critique of UK medical school selection           

Applying to medical school has become increasingly competitive. Selection into medical schools is not an exact science but one assumes that best available evidence is being used. The present system almost certainly turns away students who would make good doctors and accepts some who are mediocre or poor or even drop out of medicine altogether. The selection criteria for entry into medicine have to be accurate. However, no system is fool proof and the number of drop-outs in UK training stands at 6.8 – 12%. 1,2,3 I believe that better selection criteria would reduce the drop-out rate and save personal distress among those who made an unwise choice. This makes economic sense. There is widespread agreement that we should select medical students on wider criteria than scores of academic success, 4, 5 though in practice many medical schools have valued academic scores at the expense of other considerations. 6, 7 A Levels alone should not be sufficient to gain a place at medical school. True communication calls for some shared life experiences and empathy with others. I believe that students who are totally absorbed in their studies to the exclusion of almost everything else are less likely to make good doctors. In one study, a ten-year follow-up after entry into medical school showed no correlation between academic score at entry and drop-out rate, but significant correlation between low interview scores and later drop-out. 8 Reasons for drop-out were a variety of personal reasons including lack of motivation for study or for medicine. In a medical school that carefully evaluates applicants, empathy and motivation to be doctors were found to be particularly important in predicting both clinical and academic success. 9

Another major study, looking at the dropping out from medical schools in the UK over a ten year period (1990-2000), 10 showed that drop-out rates increased during this period and concluded that the probability of dropping out of medical school is 20% lower for students with a parent who is a doctor. The authors comment that this may be the result of greater commitment or better preparation and insight before starting the course. Ethnic background of students was recorded only between 1998-2000. The study found that Indian females were around 1.9% less likely to drop out compared with white females, whereas Indian males were no different from white males. Other ethnic groups were less likely to drop-out by around 0.8%.  A concerning fact in this paper was the degree to which drop-out rates varied between different medical schools. No study to date has been done to find the reasons for these differences. Surely potential applicants need to be aware of these results. The differences could be accounted for by variable selection processes among the medical schools. 11 Some medical schools shortlist for interview only on predicted academic performance or the number of A* GCSEs or decide by the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) / BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) scores. Some use information presented in the candidate’s personal statement and referee’s report while others ignore this because of concern over bias. In some cases candidates fill in a supplementary questionnaire. Interviews vary in terms of length, panel composition, structure, content, and scoring methods. Some schools do not interview.

The commonest reasons cited in many papers for dropping out of medical school were because it is not for them, they found it boring, they did not like patients, the work environment was not what they want to spend their time on, or they did not like responsibility. 12 Essentially they had realised too late that Medicine was not for them. They had failed to find out what they were letting themselves in for before applying and the medical school had failed to pick this up. There is a strong argument for pooling resources so that applicants get one good assessment instead of four poor ones.                  

A levels, used for medical selection, do not indicate any personality attributes of the candidate and are affected by socio-economic bias. The UKCAT was introduced to level the playing fields. This test doesn’t examine acquired knowledge and candidates can’t be coached to pass, so in theory it should provide a fairer assessment of aptitude than A level grades. It was also thought that the various components of the UKCAT, namely verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, and decision making, could help to pick the students who have the personality attributes to make good doctors. Unfortunately, a recent paper suggests that the UKCAT does not provide any more assessment of aptitude than A levels. 13 However, an inherent favourable bias towards students from well-off backgrounds or from grammar and independent schools was also found. Moreover the test does not compensate for talented candidates whose education has been affected by attending a poor school. Another paper looked at the predictive validity of the UKCAT. 14 This showed that UKCAT scores did not predict Year 1 performance at two medical schools. Although early prediction is not the primary aim of the UKCAT, there is some cause for concern that the test failed to show even the small-to-moderate predictive power demonstrated by similar admission tools.   

There is no doubt that potential doctors must have enough intellectual capacity to do the job but they must also possess other important traits (Table 1):

What patients rate highly among the qualities of a good doctor are high levels of empathy and interpersonal skills. 15 Personality traits such as conscientiousness have been positively associated with pre-clinical performance. 16 

The criteria being used more and more by admission tutors include the candidate’s insight into medicine including as evidenced from work experience. 17 Surprisingly, very little has been written on work experience and the value placed on it varies considerably between medical schools. Many would regard this experience as a prerequisite for entry into medical school. It enables a student to experience at first hand what he/she is letting him/herself in for. Some find the experience fascinating and challenging while others may find it is not for them. Work experience should not be seen as a hurdle to climb, but part of the decision-making process in determining whether medicine really is for you. I fear that another contributing factor to the increase in drop-out rates from medical schools is the increasing difficulty in obtaining work experience. Gone are the days when students could join theatre staff and watch an exciting operation or shadow doctors in Accident and Emergency (A&E). Useful work experience is so important and it is becoming harder and harder to get, but is still possible. Therefore considerable desire, commitment and motivation by the student are required to obtain it. The work does not need to be medically related, but work experience in any care setting is essential. These placements can be used to illustrate at least some of the personal qualities that are sought after in a good doctor including: appreciation of the communication skills required of a doctor; a thorough awareness of the realities of medicine and the National Health Service (NHS); an understanding of teamwork; an ability to balance commitments; and observation of the caring and compassionate nature of the doctors. Furthermore, as demonstrated in general practice, 18 personal experiences can have a highly positive influence on an individual’s attitude to a particular speciality. Encouraging school students to experience general practice would therefore not only increase their awareness of the life to which they are about to commit, but could aid recruitment to general practice as a speciality.

My Ghana Experience

I decided that, as part of my work experience, I would go to Ghana with a charity organisation (Motec UK Life). The reason was not to impress medical admissions tutors, but to discover if I had what it takes to become a doctor. I realised how comfortably we live in our small bubble, with little appreciation of what goes on in the rest of the world. Ghana is a third world country, which not only has great poverty and malnutrition but also has many deadly diseases such as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)/Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), malaria, hepatitis, typhoid and sickle cell disease. My trip was demanding as I was stripped of my luxuries and removed from my comfort zone, but it helped me to understand the real values in life through helping the most needy and vulnerable people. I felt the suffering and the pain they went through, day in and day out, but knew that making even the slightest difference to their lives motivated me and enabled me to persevere through my time there.

One of the hospitals we stayedwas Nkawkaw, which was in the middle of a shantytown with houses made of metal sheets. Yet, despite the presence of great poverty and disease, I did not find a single person who was not extremely kind and welcoming and always smiling. It made me think of the contrasting situation back home in the UK where people were relatively well off, and yet so unhappy. I spoke to as many people as possible, not realising that I was developing my people- and communication-skills. I played football with the children and made them smile. I was able to visit the AIDS/HIV clinic and gained a first-hand account of how this devastating disease was controlled and dealt with in a third-world country. The pain, grief and suffering were immense and difficult to comprehend unless one was actually there witnessing it. AIDS here hurts everyone, but children are always the most vulnerable. The children were born with HIV from their mothers, or infected through breast milk, or in the past infected by unsafe medical treatments. They were often orphaned and destitute, having to build their own homes, grow their own food, and care for younger brothers and sisters. That is the cruel reality.

Equally heartbreaking was seeing so many people in the HIV clinic who could

not afford the anti-retroviral drug that would improve the quality and duration of life. This feeling of helplessness motivated me even further to pursue a career in medicine in order to help people at their most vulnerable. On this trip I was greatly impressed by the dedication, commitment and professionalism shown by the doctors in difficult situations. I saw doctors working with little supervision and little equipment, and yet they seemed confident, well organised, and adapted themselves well to the conditions. Their enthusiasm and compassion never waned despite working long hours.

I saw many types of operation being performed including joint replacements, hernia repairs and caesarean sections. On one particular day, I observed the team performing many knee and hip joint replacements. The deformities of the joints were much more severe than seen in the UK. I enjoyed and appreciated the skills of the orthopaedic surgeons in carrying out these operations, which were being done under spinal anaesthesia, and so I was able to talk to the patients and comfort them. Throughout the day, after seeing many operations, I did not flinch or feel queasy at the sight, and this further encouraged me to believe that I could handle a career in medicine. On watching the caesarean sections, the excitement of bringing new life into the world was overwhelming. Seeing another baby being born with severe hydrocephalus marred this. No treatment facilities for this condition were available for hundreds of miles and the baby was too ill to be transferred such a large distance. I witnessed the doctors conveying the heartbreaking news to the family with compassion. It became clear to me that there are negative aspects to this career. There is a great deal of emotion and stress to cope with in such circumstances but I believe that, given training, I would be mentally stronger to take control of these situations.

I was always allowed to follow the doctors on their ward rounds, and was encouraged to ask questions and make comments, so that I often felt that I was being treated as a medical student, which was strange in some ways but also very gratifying. On this trip I was involved in teaching and in helping to set up a workshop, which lasted for a whole day for doctors from all over Ghana. This involved lectures as well as demonstrating the latest surgical and theatre equipment. I was impressed by the teamwork and organisation shown by the group. The communication skills of the group had to be of the highest quality in order to get the message across. I found that teaching about the devastating effects of HIV, in a local school in Ghana, was particularly challenging as some of the students before me were sufferers and so I found it difficult to look them in the eye, knowing that although they were being taught the safety precautions, many did not have much of a future. This reinforced my feeling of helplessness but, although this situation was heartbreaking, I remained enthusiastic for the children, to keep their morale high in order to prepare them for their inevitable future.


My trip was totally inspirational. It made me realise that medicine is much more than being a master of all sciences. In Ghana I observed in doctors the real passion and drive needed for medicine as well as many other essential qualities I believed doctors needed. This contrasts with the current selection criteria in the UK; sadly we are missing out on too many good doctors because of our obsession with grades rather than looking for real qualities that are going to make a difference to our patients.I discovered that seeing the immense suffering, and the close bond of doctors and patients in an entirely different social and economic context, helped me to evaluate and shape my own emotions and personal values. My motivation in wanting to become a doctor has increased tremendously since this trip. My trip to Ghana also inspired me to create a medical journal in my school as a fund-raising initiative. I brought together a group of fellow students to write articles about common teenage problems (teenage drinking, anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), stress, smoking, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)) as well as articles on euthanasia and assisted suicide, stem cell research and the NHS. I wrote about my personal experiences in Ghana in addition to editing and publishing the school journal. All the funds raised from the school medical journal will be going to the HIV victims in Ghana.

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What's a good doctor, and how can you make one?

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By marrying the applied scientist to the medical humanist

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I remember the time Shipman gave to my Dad. He would come around at the drop of a hat. He was a marvellous GP apart from the fact that he killed my father. 1

Are you a good doctor? This question is increasingly being asked by patients, governments, third party healthcare payers, and newspaper, radio, and TV investigators. It also topped the list of suggestions for BMJ theme issues in a recent ballot of users and BMA members. But why?


Claims and complaints against doctors are growing worldwide. In the United Kingdom, a series of inquiries has ushered in probably the most sustained investigation and collective appraisal of medical and healthcare institutions since the NHS began. The performance of individual clinicians, laboratory and clinical units, the frequency of medical mistakes, the unacceptability of organ retention practices, and the adequacy of death certification procedures are only a few of many medical activities now subject to intense scrutiny. 2 – 8 A debate has thereby been prompted about the sort of doctors society wants and expects, and the need for answers is heightened by expansion in spending on medical education and health services.

One approach to defining a good doctor equates the answer with the skills of an applied scientist: good doctors combine individual clinical expertise and best available external evidence; they are thoughtful, evidence based practitioners who use “intangible personal resources” in the care of their patients. 9 10 Another approach lies buried in the Socratic dictum “Know thyself,” an exhortation discernible in the importance the General Medical Council attaches to vocationalism in medicine and to the personal qualities required of its practitioners, including truthfulness and a reflective turn of mind open to audit and to learning from mistakes. Readers from 24 countries responding to a BMJ debate about what makes a good doctor allude to desirable personal qualities more prominently than proficiency in knowledge and technical skills (p 715 ).

The psychiatrist Jeremy Holmes, writing in this issue (p 722 ), renders Socrates' dictum in a more modern, psychological form by acknowledging that the inner life of most doctors necessitates grappling with contradictoriness and incoherence of thoughts and feelings. If this state of affairs is the norm, reflecting on good and disapproved of aspects of the self will help doctors to become “good enough” practitioners.

But the proliferation of formal medical assessment agencies signifies that conscience and reflectivity—could they be reliably discerned—no longer offer credible guarantees of goodness in doctors. Five years ago, Richard Smith spelled out a population based rationale for setting up monitoring systems premised on the view that all doctors could potentially become problem doctors: “Think how surprised we would be by a community of 130 000 (the number of doctors in Britain) where nobody committed serious crimes, went mad, misused drugs, slacked on the job, became corrupt, lost competence, or exploited their position.” 11

Society and government now look towards a mix of healthcare process and outcome variables for evidence of clinical competence (p 704 )and, where possible, to markers of compliance with standards, guidelines, and clinical service frameworks. Are such variables set to become surrogate measures of the goodness of practitioners?

Does the notion of goodness have anything to add to what we want from doctors once their competence and performance have been specified and verified? After all, when “good” (as an adjective) qualifies “doctor,” a great deal of its meaning is determined by what is meant by “doctor.” 12 This, in turn, is set out in education and training curricula (p 718 ) and in the knowledge, competences, and values to be demonstrated in the process of gaining a primary medical qualification. 13 When it comes to doctoring, the term “good” increasingly functions as a descriptive label that denotes having met certain tests of competency.

A poor doctor is generally credited with good intentions but inadequate knowledge or skills required for the job, and there seems little doubt that some poorly performing doctors will be picked out by performance monitoring procedures. But what about bad doctors? A bad doctor, however skilled, is one with bad intentions, undesirable values, suspect—occasionally evil—motives. Judging someone a bad doctor implies serious defects of moral agency, even though these may coexist with commendable aspects of medical practice, as the above statement from the son of one of Harold Shipman's victims makes plain. Although the death rate of Shipman's patient list turned out to be high when examined retrospectively, performance outcome measures cannot detect bad doctors in all possible circumstances.

The varieties of good, poor, and bad doctors are diverse and may sometimes coexist in the same individual. This does not make becoming a good doctor an unattainable ideal. Medical education today should be aiming to marry the skills and sensitivities of the applied scientist to the reflective capabilities of the medical humanist.

Conflict of interest None declared.

  • 1. ↵ Christopher Rudol, quoted in Barkham P. The Shipman Report . Times 2002 July 20 : 15 .
  • 2. ↵ Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Handling clinical negligence claims in England. London : Stationery Office , 2001 . (HC 403 Session 2000-2001 3 May 2001.)
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Eva Mihalis ’09, HMS ’14

Caring mentor helps a medical student learn to nurture

At the beginning of my first year at Harvard Medical School (HMS), my mother, who is a cancer survivor, called me, crying. She had a low white blood cell count and an X-ray with diffuse white marks. One of the medical assistants at her primary care physician’s office mentioned that this might mean that her cancer had returned and was metastatic. A sinking feeling of dread slid down my throat and into my stomach. What if my mother was deathly ill again?

At School, we had learned about hematocrit and red blood cells, but I knew nothing yet of white blood cells and cancer. I did not know where to look up the lab results or even how to understand them had I known where to look.  I emailed my adviser, Dr. Beverly Woo. She immediately emailed me back with her phone number and stayed with me on the phone, consoling me, late into the night.  She even connected my mother with an excellent physician, who helped to sort out the results. Fortunately, there was no cancer.

Dr. Woo is a leader in medical education. She introduces all first-year medical students to clinical interviewing in the revolutionary “Patient-Doctor I” course. She advises students on their course work.

However, her greatest leadership is through her mentorship. A mentor leads through example, collaborating with mentees instead of imposing on them. I learned more facts than I can readily remember during my first year of medical school, but the lessons I learned from Dr. Woo stick with me. Through her example, I felt the difference that a caring doctor can make in a patient’s life. I began to learn what it means to be a good doctor.

In April of my first year, I learned that I had a 5-centimeter hemorrhaging cyst in my right ovary. I was in constant pain. I could not sleep, concentrate on schoolwork, or, at times, even walk. I was worried once again, but this time I knew where to look. I researched the differential diagnosis, requested copies of all my results, and interpreted them with the help of the online medical library resources. I learned that infertility was a potential side effect and became more worried than ever.

I still did not have the tools to know how worried I should be. How did I fit into the risk profile? I knew just enough to get myself into more trouble. In the end, curled up in a hospital bed in the emergency room, I called Dr. Woo. She came to the hospital, spoke to my physicians, and helped me to get the information I needed.

No matter how many facts I learn, I’ll always depend upon the physicians who have gone before me to mentor me, advocate for me, and care for me when I am ill. I am lucky that there is an overabundance of mentors at Harvard, for through their leadership, I can learn to be a good doctor.

If you’re an undergraduate or graduate student and have an essay to share about life at Harvard, please email your ideas to Jim Concannon, the Gazette’s news editor, at [email protected].

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  • Open access
  • Published: 08 July 2022

You are exactly my type! The traits of a good doctor: a factor analysis study on public's perspectives

  • Julia S. Grundnig 1 ,
  • Verena Steiner-Hofbauer 1 ,
  • Viktoria Drexler 1 &
  • Anita Holzinger 1  

BMC Health Services Research volume  22 , Article number:  886 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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A multiplicity of qualities and behaviours are considered essential in a good doctor and are identified in various medical profession frameworks. However, there is no consensus as to their meaning or even agreement on fundamental qualities. The authors wanted to examine the importance placed by the Austrian public on the professional and personal traits of ideal physicians. Competencies were used to create different types of ‘good doctor’ and then examined to discover how these can be integrated into existing medical professionalism frameworks.

A 69-item Likert scale-based questionnaire was developed and administered via telephone interview to 1,000 subjects. Computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI) were carried out by the Austrian GALLUP-Institute. An explorative factor analysis with promax rotation was undertaken to summarise the interrelationships among variables.

Factor analysis identified six interpretable factors which we define as six different types of doctors: the dutiful doctor, the online health-celebrity, the medical expert, the service physician, the medical altruist, and the ethical agent. The items perceived as most important were ‘takes time’, ‘listens’, and ‘makes correct diagnoses’. Outcome measures of internal consistency and reliability estimates (Cronbach´s alpha, 0.69–0.86) for each element.


The six types of physicians may be a step toward recognizing the professional behaviour of all physicians, their actions as healers, and their commitment to moral concepts, values, and needs of their patients, and society. According to our results, the public has expectations of good doctors that go beyond the scope within the medical professionalism frameworks. Therefore, these guidelines should be adapted in light of the changing expectations and needs of the general population.

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The ultimate goals of medicine can only be achieved when good doctors practise good medicine and when all those participating in medical care are satisfied. Good doctors must be grounded in their profession and should express attributes that match social expectations [ 1 ]. Medical professionalism (MP) thus forms the basis of the relationship between society and its doctors by defining the set of values and behaviours expected. The qualities of MP were conceived by doctors, for doctors [ 2 ]. However, does the public value these qualities in the same way? What qualities make a doctor a good doctor to the people she/he treats or to the public she/he serves?

As the medical profession considers its role in society, defining what is meant by medical professionalism has become increasingly important. However, the concept of ‘medical professionalism’ is constantly evolving [ 3 ]. The concept has been changing since the mid-1960s, primarily due to the inherent conflict between the altruism expected of MP, the self-interests of doctors and increasingly, the economic orientation and bureaucratisation of the healthcare system [ 4 ]. While doctors’ perspectives may have remained fairly consistent, the healthcare expectations of an increasingly well-informed consumer society have changed significantly [ 5 ]. Medicine has become a marketplace for patients, doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies and the health departments of governments, and the scope is constantly expanding [ 6 ]. Consequently, people increasingly have their concepts of what constitutes a good doctor-patient relationship [ 7 ]. Clarification regarding expectations of medical health care is a fundamental first step.

Various definitions of MP have been provided by major medical organizations [ 8 ]. The General Medical Council (GMC), in its publication ‘Good Medical Practice’, describes the four responsibilities of a physician as: ‘knowledge, skills, and performance’, ‘safety and quality’, ‘communication, partnership, and teamwork’ and ‘maintaining trust’ [ 9 ]. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the European Federation of Internal Medicine (EFIM) have together developed a ‘Physician Charter’, which contains three fundamental principles and ten professional responsibilities. The charter ‘supports physicians’ efforts to ensure that healthcare systems and the physicians working within them remain committed to both to patient welfare and to the basic tenets of social justice’ [ 10 ]. The ABIM defines MP in terms of altruism, accountability, excellence, duty, integrity, and respect [ 10 ]. Another framework for medical competencies has been put forward by CanMEDS and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada describes seven distinct roles for a good doctor: medical expert, communicator, collaborator, leader, health advocate, scholar, and professional [ 11 , 12 ].

Medical professionalism should be deeply embedded in the self-concept of every doctor [ 13 ]. Physicians possess a wide range of skills and attributes and are expected to act as professional role models. The internationally recognized guidelines for MP [ 10 , 14 , 15 ] can be used as objective criteria for what is expected of a good doctor. Whether these are formal statutes or voluntary commitments, all attempt to arrive at an objective and unbiased standard of medical professionalism. Governments, universities, health insurance and politicians, as well as those involved in the medical care system, are interested in the attributes that together constitute a good doctor [ 16 ]. The definition of a good doctor will depend on who is being asked [ 17 ]. There has been increasing emphasis on the attributes that patients [ 2 , 18 ], physicians [ 19 , 20 ], and medical students [ 8 , 21 , 22 ] value in a good doctor. These may differ from what the broader public considers important. In our opinion, the final arbiter should be the members of the public as they are on the receiving end of medical care.

To date, several studies have reported perceptions of MP as seen by different stakeholders, but only a few studies have explored the public’s perspective on the constructs ‘medical professionalism’ and the ‘good doctor’ [ 3 , 20 , 23 , 24 , 25 ]. A paper by Cruess and Cruess provides a helpful overview of the expectations and obligations of the various parties [ 17 ]. Members of the public are shown to value interpersonal relations and technical skills in their physician; they appreciate humanity, expertise, being listened to, being provided with information about their disease and treatment prospects, being given adequate consultation time and being involved in decisions relating to their care [ 26 , 27 ]. However, if one looks further than the medical frameworks or guidelines, it is difficult to shake off the impression that the traditional relationship between doctors and society is undergoing a profound change.

This study aimed to determine the qualities that a cross-section of the Austrian general public considers important in their doctors. Therefore, we will provide a new perspective on the concept of a good doctor by examining the various professional and personal factors that together constitute good medical practice in the 21 st century. We also intend to outline how these different factors can be integrated into the three existing MP frameworks: CanMEDS, Physician-Charter, and GMC. The study will produce a ranked and rated list of human qualities and professional behaviours that the public considers the most important. These competencies are then combined to suggest different types of a good doctor. We used this approach to stay as close to the existing frameworks as possible but to extend them to identify types of doctors that match the wishes and needs of the public. The types of a doctor presented describe typical physician roles as understood by the public.

Data collection and sample

The research presented here is part of a mixed-methods survey conducted by the Medical University of Vienna. A representative anonymous telephone study of 1,000 participants was carried out in Austria in February and March 2020. The criteria for representativeness were: sufficiently high number of cases; comparatively small ranges of variation of +/- 1.4 to +/- 3.2 for a representative sample of n = 1,000 interviews; simple random sampling; and each person in the population has the same chance of becoming part of the sampling. The achieved sample represents the Austrian population on as many socio-demographic dimensions as possible. To ensure representativeness, the sample was quota-ranked according to the variables of gender, age, federal state, educational background, and city size. The study has been conducted according to Guidelines of the Helsinki Declaration of Good Clinical Research Practice

Randomised phone interviews were conducted through an experienced private marketing and research institute (Austrian GALLUP-Institute), using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Respondents were selected through the randomised last digit method, which generates random numbers. The interviews were conducted in German and lasted approximately 14 minutes.

The sample is considered representative of the demographics, gender, age, education, and federal state. The age of the respondents ranged from 18 to 75 years (M = 46.37; SD = 15.8). Of the 1,000 respondents, 51.5% were women and 48.5% were men (Table 1 ).


The questionnaire was developed to measure the Austrian public’s expectations of good doctors. An initial pool of 71 items was collected from a literature review [ 28 ], personal theory, and educational practice. Participants were asked to rate the importance of each item on a five-point Likert scale (1 = very important to 5 = not important at all). To test the comprehensibility and adequacy of the items with regard to different population groups, a pre-test was conducted with 20 persons. The pre-test showed that some items were formulated imprecisely and thus could not be understood. Therefore, a revision of the questionnaire was necessary and the number of items was reduced to 69.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive analyses were used to compute median scores, standard deviations, and item variances. An exploratory factor analysis with promax rotation and Kaiser normalization was conducted to examine the structure underlying the 69 items. Assumptions regarding the normality of the distribution were met, as assessed by the Shapiro-Wilk-Test. The Kaiser criterion was used to drop the least important factors with eigenvalues > 1.0. Internal consistency and reliability were determined by employing Cronbach’s alpha. Bartlett’s test of sphericity, which tests the overall significance of all the correlations within the correlation matrix, was significant (χ2 (2346) = 16019.31, p<0.001), indicating that it was appropriate to use the factor analytic model on this set of data. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure verified the sampling adequacy for the analysis, KMO = .89, where all KMO values for individual items were >.72, which is well above the acceptable limit of .5 [ 21 ]. For missing data, list-wise exclusion was chosen because no variable showed more than 7% missing values, and 72% of all cases ( n = 719) showed no missing values. Fifteen factors had eigenvalues over the Kaiser criterion of 1 and explained 56% of the variance. The scree plot was ambiguous and showed inflexions justifying four or six factors. Discussion among all authors and their consensus determined the final number of factors. All six scales had alpha reliability ranging from 0.69 to 0.86. Data was analysed using SPSS 28.0 for Windows (IBM, SPSS, Armonk, New York).

Table 2 summarises the descriptive data of the items comprising the concept of a good doctor. The list starts with items rated as the most meaningful and catalogues them in order of perceived importance by ascending order of median. Of the items, 80% (55/69) were rated important and had an average score of two or lower. The three items perceived as most important were ‘takes time’, ‘listens’, and ‘makes correct diagnoses’. The three least meaningful items were ‘considers she/he can only examine in private practice’, ‘is good-looking’, and ‘is well-known from TV or the media’. These ratings were consistent across gender and age. There were no significant gender differences. Table 2 shows the median and standard deviations; all elements are negatively skewed.

A principal component analysis of item intercorrelations was carried out for the 719 complete sets of data to generate factors. The analysis confirmed six principal components, which accounted for 56% of the variance. Only four items were missing from the set. Items were assigned based on loadings of 0.30 or greater (see Table 3 ). Despite high levels of overall commonality, six factors emerged, each with its own distinct facet of the good doctor. The names given to the factors reflect a holistic and substantive interpretation process. Factor 1 consists of 17 items (α = .81) and represents ‘the dutiful doctor’; Factor 2 consists of 13 items (α = .86) and represents ‘the online health-celebrity’; Factor 3 consists of 8 items (α = .80) and represents ‘the medical expert’; Factor 4 consists of 8 items (α = .69) and represents ‘the service physician’; Factor 5 consists of 13 items (α = .78) and represents ‘the medical altruist’; and Factor 6 consists of 6 items (α = .73) and represents ‘the ethical agent’.

Factor 1: The dutiful doctor

Being a dutiful doctor requires taking time, listening, giving detailed information about both diagnosis and therapy, and providing information about preventive measures. This type of doctor examines the patient thoroughly before carrying out instrument-based examinations, makes correct diagnoses, and has broad medical knowledge. He collects a comprehensive medical history, maintains detailed patient documentation, and can admit if he has made a mistake. The dutiful physician empathizes with patients, involves them in decision-making, takes their explanations of their disease’s origins seriously, and considers them in prescribing therapy. Furthermore, this type of doctor is not influenced by pharmaceutical companies, adheres strictly to medical confidentiality, tells the truth, even if the diagnosis is unpleasant, and considers surgery to be a last resort after all other treatment options have been exhausted.

Factor 2: The online health celebrity

The celebrity doctor offers online therapy, issues prescriptions online, and communicates via e-mail. This physician is well known on TV or media, has a homepage, has good online reviews, is good-looking, and sets a good example. He considers working in private practice, but prefers to work in a group practice or in a healthcare centre where patients are accepted only by referral. This type of doctor gives sick notes on request and prescribes painkillers and sedatives quickly and easily.

Factor 3: The medical expert

The medical expert treats all patients equally, regardless of their social or cultural background, participates regularly in advanced medical training, has specialized in a medical discipline, and has made a career of medicine. The treatment these doctors provide is always based on the latest scientific findings; they favour digital medical files and mandatory vaccination, and do not waste many words but make decisions quickly.

Factor 4: The service physician

Service physicians provide house calls, an in-house pharmacy, and opening hours on weekends and in the evening. They have many years of professional experience and lead a publicly accessible, non-private practice. They hand out free medication samples and offer alternative medicine. These doctors advocate lower health insurance contributions if someone verifiably lives healthily.

Factor 5: The medical altruist

Being an altruistic physician means being patient, resilient, altruistic, assertive, and resolute. This type of doctor has a heart for people, sacrifices herself/ himself for the profession, conveys the feeling of being in safe hands, has a good sense of humour, and radiates optimism. These practitioners strictly follow conventional medicine, know what they can and cannot do, take patients’ family and personal concerns into account, and do not make patients wait for their appointments.

Factor 6: The ethical agent

Ethical physicians are characterised by the belief that everyone is automatically an organ donor without being asked. They advocate euthanasia and are against the artificial prolongation of life. They have completed their medical education recently and are therefore up-to-date. In addition, they are unwilling to prescribe drugs that go against their medical beliefs, even if the patient asks them to do so, and they will not conduct examinations as requested by a patient if there is no medical justification for doing so.

This study aimed to outline the different types of a good doctor and to shed light on how the adult population of Austria responds to the question ‘What makes a good doctor?’. Factor analysis showed six related factors. Hence, this study offers valuable insights into the Austrian public’s perceptions of the different physicians’ qualities. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to consider the topic from this perspective. The general population values communication and patient-centred care, as well as integrity and clinical ethics. When all types of doctors are considered together, a picture of the good doctor emerges: according to this, the general population expects their physician to be dutiful, altruistic, and motivated by ethical principles. At the same time, good doctors should be accessible online, have medical expertise, and offer a range of medical services.

The study revealed two new findings: First, our six doctor types may be a step towards recognizing the professional behaviours of all physicians, their actions as healers, and their commitment to moral concepts, to their patients’ values and needs, and to society [ 17 , 23 ]. Second, the public does not equate the medical profession with social standing, wealth accumulation or physical characteristics. All ratings were consistent across gender, age and social class.

In the context of medical professionalism, which is increasingly seen as a social contract [ 8 ], the public assesses doctors as ‘good’ due to their moral behaviour, high values, and positive attitudes. The general population expects doctors to be confident, reliable, dependable, composed, accountable, and dedicated in all situations. Personal appearance, physical characteristics, social status, and practice habits play little or no role in determining whether a doctor is classified as ‘good’.

In line with previous studies, the public values good interpersonal relationships, professional skills, humanity, and competence in a doctor. They want to be listened to, to be provided with full information about their illness and treatment options, to be given sufficient time during consultations, and to be involved in decisions relating to their treatment [ 26 , 27 ]. Literature focusing on the public’s perspectives [ 3 , 20 , 23 , 24 , 25 ] reveals the high importance of interpersonal qualities, such as communication skills, empathy, compassion, and a caring attitude. In addition, it emphasises doctors’ knowledge and performative skills. Recent research points to qualities that include both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as integrity, empathy, and social skills [ 29 ].

The doctor types provide descriptions of particular characteristics or qualities. These factors can be understood as six essential competencies of all physicians. Items within the factors are not exhaustive, and there may be other important characteristics that are not included. The types are not mutually exclusive, but are a manifestation of the range of expectations people have of a good doctor. Becoming a good doctor is consistent with each factor in this analysis. Although we have presented these six as pure types, the edges are often diffuse: ideally, physicians should combine all types or move among them. Being a medical professional requires conscious and continuous maintenance of all these facets of medical practise.

Both overlap and differences are evident when comparing our six types with CanMEDS, GMC and the Physician Charter. Most of the contents of those frameworks [ 9 , 10 , 11 ] could be categorized under the types identified in this study. Our factors provide a helpful pattern for conceptualising the various facets of medical professionalism. Almost all the items in each type are consistent with the components of other frameworks. However, statements about having a sense of humour, offering alternative medicine, having a homepage and online reviews, and being attractive or well-known are not present in all MP guidelines. The types ‘dutiful doctor’, ‘medical expert’, ‘ethical agent’, and ‘medical altruist’ correspond most closely with other concepts of MP. However, none of those approaches mention taking time and empathizing with patients. These two aspects are important to the general public and their inclusion should therefore be considered. The types ‘service physician’ and ‘online health-celebrity’ are less well-matched against the three other frameworks.

The contents of all frameworks overlap, but it is easiest to identify our types in the roles described in CanMEDS [ 12 ]. These competencies are likely to be associated with a particular aspect of medical practice. Significant links between our results and the CanMEDS roles are communicator, medical expert, health advocate, and professional. Our questionnaire had few items relating to collaboration with colleagues, nursing staff or other health care professionals, to management or leadership skills, to scholarly abilities, to evaluating evidence or to teaching others. Therefore, the CanMEDS roles of collaborator, leader, and scholar were not represented in our data.

There are links between our typology and the concepts of Good Medical Practice [ 9 ]. Our physician types cover the four domains: knowledge, skills, and performance; safety and quality; communication, partnership and teamwork; and maintaining trust. We emphasise that ‘listening’ occurs only in the GMC guidelines.

The ‘Physician Charter’ [ 10 ], which describes a set of principles to which all medical professionals should adhere, had the lowest similarity to our results. While our doctor types cover all fundamental principles and professional responsibilities, several important aspects are missing from the Charter: themes such as listening, taking time, assertiveness, resilience, and online availability are absent from this set of medical principles.

Our results show general agreement regarding the essential characteristics of a good physician with both the public’s and the physicians’ competency frameworks. However, the public selected items that related to communication, personality, and social competence for high importance ratings, whereas these themes are almost absent from the existing frameworks. This disparity is significant, as it may reflect a shift in healthcare needs. Traditionally, physicians have played a paternalistic role, and the patients they care for have been passive recipients [ 24 ]. Today, the public expects more information and education than in the past. As members of the public become increasingly interested in playing an active and autonomous role in their healthcare decisions, physicians need to pay attention to their own ability to communicate effectively and empathetically. The importance ascribed by the public to their doctor having these skills suggests that more training in communication skills should be included in medical education.

Many concepts of professionalism include empathy when describing a good physician. Based on our results, the general population also desires friendliness, high social competence, and personality traits such as patience and optimism. Furthermore, good physicians should have ‘time for caring and listening’. Ensuring patient satisfaction has been shown to promote compliance and health-promoting behaviours, and it improves overall health outcomes [ 30 ]. As healthcare priorities shift towards communicative care, the human element of medicine may become more important than the technical aspects. At the same time, the strong public requirement for physicians to stay up to date underscores the importance of ongoing professional development [ 17 ].

The public also emphasised the importance of the availability and accessibility of doctors (e.g. offering house calls, opening hours on weekends, and in the evening). These items are implicit in the three frameworks, but are not formulated as explicitly as in our questionnaire. Statements relating to ‘digital doctoring’ (e.g. communication via e-mail; favouring digital medical files) were of medium importance to the respondents. As more and more people turn to the Internet for their healthcare advice, there was little surprise in finding they would like greater digital access to their physicians. But, as others have pointed out, ‘connectivity need not come at the expense of professionalism’ [ 31 ]. The perspective of the general population was that online communication and technology present increased opportunities for professionalism. They offer innovative ways of interacting and can have a positive impact on the relationship between physicians and the public. We recognize that the landscape of communication and collaboration will continue to change with technological and societal trends, and the ways in which both patients and physicians use websites will continue to evolve [ 32 ]. The existing guidelines served as a valuable starting point, but they need to be modified and adapted as technology advances and best practice continues to develop. Physicians need to become familiar with the relevant technologies to help both themselves and their patients navigate the online terrain.

This study has some powerful aspects. It included numerous respondents from different social backgrounds. Nevertheless, some limitations must be acknowledged. A possible limitation could be the use of a quota rather than a random sample. However, validity was achieved via representative sampling. We cannot eliminate the possibility that the sampling selection may have led to some bias, although we consider this contingency unlikely.

The sample was selected randomly and corresponded to the distribution of the Austrian population as a whole in terms of the sociodemographic characteristics age, gender, level of education, place of residence, and province. However, there might be a risk that unintentional selection has occurred. Thus, there is a possibility of underestimation or overestimation of correlations.

In addition, we hope that our research will stimulate future validation studies or other investigations of the described factors. Such a study should use confirmatory factor analysis and possibly can involve a Monte Carlo simulation to determine the probability distribution of the numbers of factors.

In Austria, as in other European countries, there are increasing efforts to tailor medical care to the expectations of patients. In addition to the roles played by the medical profession and the health insurance companies, the general population can make a meaningful contribution to shaping the health system so as to provide the medical services they expect. However, information is necessary for this co-determination to work and there must be clarity about the multiple facets of attitudes to medicine. Since there is little such data for Austria, an attempt was made to obtain a multi-layered picture of the professional profile of a good doctor from the perspective of the general population.

The practice of medicine today faces unprecedented challenges. These centre increasingly on disparities between the people being cared for and the resources available to meet their needs. The rising demands of healthcare systems put pressure on physicians to abandon their traditional primary commitments to the patient’s interests [ 10 ]. Physicians need to reaffirm their commitment to the principles of professionalism, which should include a commitment to the well-being of individual patients together with an effort to collectively improve health benefits for society. Our identification of the different types strives to encourage commitment while promoting an agenda for the medical profession that is universal in scope and purpose.

All physicians should reflect constantly on their role in society: what both patients and society require, how care and attention should be interpreted through application, and how professionalism and interpersonal relationships can be reconciled. Physicians, medical practices, hospitals, and medical associations should try to create a system in which professionalism is lived out and experienced by all people coming into contact with the health services.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Part of this research were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Medical Education (GMA 2021); September 16-17, 2021; Zurich, Switzerland

This research was funded by the Medical-scientific fund of the Mayor of the federal capital Vienna.

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Julia S. Grundnig, Verena Steiner-Hofbauer, Viktoria Drexler & Anita Holzinger

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JSG was responsible for study concept and the main contributor to acquisition of data. JSG, VSH, and AH were involved in analysing and interpretation of data. JSG, VSH, and AH, have been involved in drafting the manuscript and revising it critically for important intellectual content. All authors have given final approval of the version to be published; have agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

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Correspondence to Julia S. Grundnig .

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The Data Protection Commission of the Medical University of Vienna approved this telephone survey of the public. The institutional ethics board of the Vienna Medical University waived the official audit because approval from the ethics committee from the study populations is not required for telephone survey data. This study used anonymized data, therefore written informed consent was not obtained. Informed consent has been obtained verbally from each subject. All the requirements of the Helsinki Declaration were fulfilled.

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Grundnig, J.S., Steiner-Hofbauer, V., Drexler, V. et al. You are exactly my type! The traits of a good doctor: a factor analysis study on public's perspectives. BMC Health Serv Res 22 , 886 (2022).

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Received : 01 December 2021

Accepted : 28 June 2022

Published : 08 July 2022


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  • Medical professionalism
  • Doctor–patient relationship
  • Public views
  • Physician behaviour

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