Why Do Doctors and Scientists Need to Keep Proving Themselves?

Why Do Doctors and Scientists Need to Keep Proving Themselves?

When you're a student, you're used to being tested all the time. As you gain seniority, you'll reach your comfort zone. Is it good or bad? Friday’s Digest #89

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Table of contents

  1. Preface
  2. Main Article
  3. Readers’ Favorite


I scored 115 on my TOEFL.

For those unfamiliar with TOEFL, it is an English proficiency test required for enrollment in certain academic programs in the US.

It assesses your English communication skills - reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The total score ranges from 0 to 120.

I took it 2 years ago and scored 111, but since the score expires after 2 years, I had to retake it.

I had to prove myself again.

We'll discuss the "proving yourself" part in today's newsletter.

But before we do that, let's talk about the test experience.

You can take this test at home or at a test center.

When I took it two years ago, I took it home.

Why should I wake up early, drive to another city, and worry about being late when I can take it at home?

Moreover, the test includes a speaking section. If you take it at a test center, people around you will shout their answers into a microphone. It is far from an ideal environment to stay focused.

So, there I was, taking the test at home.

That was a mistake.

The test began while I was sitting at home, with someone watching me through my computer's camera.

Next, I moved the camera around so he could examine my room. It had to have a door, I couldn't sit next to a window, and I won't bore you with many other requirements.

It took me two hours to prepare the room for this test.

I wasn't allowed to use wireless headphones or a mouse, and if I lost my internet connection, all was lost. They would make you retake the test.

And there’s the TOEFL software you install on your computer to take the test.

Oh, the TOEFL software.

It seems like it was programmed two decades ago by a kid, and it crashes all the time.

When I took it at home two years ago, I almost had to retake it because the test software crashed in the middle of the exam.

I promised myself that I would never take a test at home again.

So, this time, I took it at a test center. Luckily, I live close to the test center in Boston, only 15 minutes from my house.

It’s a Saturday morning, and I am absolutely exhausted from a 20-hour surgery I had on Thursday.

And here I am, standing in line to prove myself. Again.

Around me are 20-something-year-old students-to-be, all of them not from English-speaking countries.

There were 45 of us, with the staff ordering us around and treating us like little kids.

We paid $255 to take the test and are a captive audience. We can't talk back. I've been through many things in my life, so I couldn't care less about this. But some can get offended by how the staff treats you.

Anyway, we were standing in line, and then they ran a metal detector over me, asking me to lift my sleeves, roll up my pants, and turn my pockets inside out. They were making sure I wasn't carrying anything that could help me cheat.

You can't bring water or food into the test or take a bathroom break.

I mean, you could, but the bathroom is a few minutes away, and you would have to go through the entire metal detector process again. Not a smart move when the test clock is running.

So, finally, I'm seated in front of the computer.

And then comes the speaking section.

My God, the room got so loud! 😱

Everyone is shouting their answers into their microphones.

Apparently, we all had the same questions.

And I'm exhausted. I can barely keep focus. All I want is to get some sleep.

So, I try to plug my ears with my fingers, but it's difficult. I need to keep the headphones on to listen to the instructions.

Then, I have 15 seconds to think of an answer, and 45 seconds to speak with a perfectly structured and articulated answer. With transitions, examples, and a summary.

Then, another question, and another.

Everyone is shouting their answers. And when I hear their answers, I find out that I missed the main point of the question. In some cases, the time runs out before I complete my response.

They shout out well-structured responses. And mine sounds like someone who had a few beers 🍺 before the exam.

So, it's 10:45 am, and the test is finally over. I rush to the restroom (you can't take breaks, so it's also a test of your bladder).

And then I go round on my patients at the hospital.

What an exhausting morning.

Why do we have to prove ourselves over and over again?

Well, let’s dive in!

Number 89!

Main Article

When you're a student, you're used to being tested all the time.

They ask you questions, grade you, and give you feedback.

Then, you progress and become a research student or a resident.

And they still test you all the time. You're never in a comfort zone.

But at some point, you won't have tests anymore.

As you gain seniority, you won't have to prove yourself constantly.

You'll reach your comfort zone.

Some people like to stay in their comfort zone for a while. Some would even prefer to stay in it forever.

I completely get that. I wouldn't mind staying in a comfort zone for a few weeks. Let my mind rest a little bit.

But as doctors and scientists, we shouldn't stay in our comfort zone too long. Having to prove ourselves is much better.

Here’s why:

🔵 It Will Keep You Sharp

When you're taking a test, you're being graded.

When you have to prove yourself, you're being watched.

And when you're graded and being watched, you pay attention to all the tiny details.

Paying attention to all the fine details leads to excellence.

And being excellent makes your life more enjoyable.

Sure, you will miss your comfort zone.

But every minute you spend outside your comfort zone will make your life much better and more enjoyable in the long run.

🔵 It Will Make You a Better Teacher

Only by sitting down and taking a test can you truly realize how your students feel.

Only by experiencing the stress before a test, can you truly understand what your students are going through.

Only by answering questions you're unsure about, do you recognize your knowledge has gaps.

So, the next time you step into a class after taking a test yourself, you’ll be a better teacher.


🔵 It Will Keep You Connected

When you step outside your comfort zone, your eyes are wide open.

You're less focused on YOU, and more focused on what's happening AROUND you.

It could be a grant proposal you have a low chance of getting, or trying a new technique you've never tried before.

It could even be participating in a training session, 20 years after the last time you walked into a classroom as a student.

You will get to know more people in the process, and discover things around you that you hadn’t noticed before.

Suddenly, you’ll discover a better way of doing your daily routine. You’ll collaborate with people outside your circle. Your day-to-day life will become more dynamic and exciting.

That’s the magic of networking.

Readers’ Favorite

If you're lucky enough, you fail.

You read that right. The best thing that can happen to you is that you fail.

I failed during my second year of dental school, and it changed the way I approach problems.

I failed the USMLE, and it made me a better doctor.

You can read about it here and here.


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That’s it for this issue.

Hope for better times.


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