Spring 2023

Alumni on the Skills Doctors Need

What skills would you recommend clinicians start learning today to be better prepared for tomorrow?

Youth and Mental Health

During their first week on campus, members of the Class of 2023 attended lectures and presentations. This 2019 photo shows them gathered for the Introduction to the Profession lecture.

Robert Colvin, MD ’68         

Clinicians should develop an understanding of how bioinformatics, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence can assist them.

Vic Piotrowski, MD ’74

How to manage and balance time commitments to profession, family, and social activities, and how to plan personal finances, both short- and long-term.

Nneka Holder, MD ’97         

Learn time management skills and how to be strategic about the project you pursue. Also focus on developing an approach to taking a history that is based on humility and an open mind. This approach will improve communications with patients and ultimately lead to better compliance with treatment plans and recommendations. 

Jan Polissar, MD ’61 

The use and understanding of artificial intelligence is important. It already can detect cancer on X-rays better than clinicians can. I suspect soon an automated preliminary interview with a patient will enable orders for lab tests and provide a comprehensive differential diagnosis list for the clinician. The tool could also provide customized education for the patient and their family and treatment recommendations for some conditions, especially for patients in areas short on medical care.

Christopher Baker, MD ’74 

Instill the importance of becoming lifelong learners who are able to adapt to change. Develop the skills for delivering patient-centered care and learn about tools that help you care for yourself and your family and friends, to better maintain resilience and avoid burnout.

Marguerite Barnett, MD ’79           

The skill of knowing how to listen to the patient. 

Craig Comiter, MD ’92

I think it’s important that clinicians speak a second language fluently.

Scott Wasserman, MD ’97   

We took a statistics course during our first or second year. It was not one of my favorites, but now, more than 25 years later, not only do I love statistics, I know that a strong foundation in statistics is critical in medicine. Being able to parse the medical literature and understand how to apply clinical trial results and analyses to your patients is essential. 

Susan Haas, MD ’79 

Clinicians need to know about public health principles and practices.

Steven Jonas, MD ’62           

In addition to trying to do the best you can in your medical studies, also try as best you can to stay up with what is going on in the outside world.  Medicine, politics, and the economy are intermeshed, as the COVID pandemic has shown us all too well. 

Robin Yuan, MD ’78 

Emphasize the development of communications skills and learn how to maintain compassion with their patients.

Students in white coats read paper documents
In this 2019 photo, members of the 2023 class of MD students read their oath to the profession.

Michael Hirsh, MD ’79        

Our contact with patients is absurdly short so honing skills associated with observation and active listening is essential — and priceless. 

Mary Flowers, MD ’78         

Typing and computer skills to deal with electronic medical records and patience (not patients) to deal with insurance forms and phone calls for authorization for procedures and treatments. 

James MacDonald, MD ’96 

I would recommend students read widely and well beyond scientific writing. Have a thorough understanding of the history of U.S. medicine, with all its successes and flaws. Students should also learn to write well. There is no skill so singularly lacking from most physicians’ tool kits. Finally, I think students’ education should emphasize the development of a “growth mindset.’’ Our profession and our world as a whole are changing at ever-increasing speeds. Physicians will be re-inventing themselves throughout their careers. 

Michael Quinoñes, MD ’86  

Learn how to NOT be a snowflake. Life is hard. 

Richard Peinert, MD ’73     

Besides the usual doctor stuff, I would advise medical students to learn how to manage their money and wisely invest for retirement. I would also recommend cultivating empathy and a sense of humor.

Peter Zawadsky, MD ’68     

I believe artificial intelligence will assume a greater role in establishing the diagnoses and management plans of sick patients. Artificial intelligence will be accurate only if the patient’s history is entered accurately. Therefore, medical students should concentrate on honing their history-taking skills.

Howard Kirshner, MD ’72  

How to interview and show interest and empathy, how to deliver gender-based care, and how to effectively manage pain.

Instill the importance of becoming lifelong learners who are able to adapt to change.

George Lewinnek, MD ’67   

I would suggest that those starting out learn how we know what we know — what is proven, what is speculation based on sound theory, what is usual and customary but has no other basis, and what may be misleading marketing. That makes it less likely that a practitioner gets caught up in a fad that later proves to be a mistake. Also, prepare to change: learn how to learn the new, especially when it involves techniques that require practice under supervision.

Robert Hodge Jr., MD ’72   

Practicing medicine has become increasingly more stressful and burnout and suicide are major hazards of those delivering health care. Learn and practice the skills that can help you to lead a balanced life. Compassion and empathy are critical. 

Richard Schwartzstein, MD ’79      

Analytical thinking based on core physiological/pathophysiological principles to avoid reliance on illness scripts and pattern recognition. Be curious, embrace uncertainty.

Stephen Smith, MD ’63        

Our profession requires multiple sources of knowledge and skills for best results. Knowledge evolves over the span of a long career, sometimes requiring change in viewpoint. Keen observation in the presence of the patient may lead to astounding accuracy and efficiency. The successful clinician develops positive and sympathetic communication skills that encourage the patients to unburden themselves of their story and engage in a management plan regarding their problems.  

Brian Lewis, MD ’69 

Learn to see the individuality of each patient and cherish the aphorism that “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” Keep your ego in check and do the kind thing — and do it first.

Students in white coats attend a clinical skills class.
Students in this 2017 photo are shown attending  a clinical skills class.

Karen Singer, MD ’77          

Clinicians need to be skilled at using electronic medical records.

Robin Smith, MD ’88

The business of medicine. You can be a private practice physician and earn a fair wage and retain your independence from large hospital systems if you know the business side of medicine in your state and community, specifically, how clinicians are paid and what market forces are at work to determine that payment (fee for service, population health quality and efficiency incentives, for example); an understanding of patient billing and how to help patients receive quality services at lower cost; and how medical insurance works (both for patients and for clinicians) and what it means to be a part of a network.

Lily Conrad, MD ’80

Become adept at the physical exam and taking a thorough history. Touch and examine the patient. Basic skills are being lost; these are timeless, and essential, if technology fails or is simply not available.     

Cheryl Kovacs Warner, MD ’79

Essential skills to develop at the start of a career include empathetic and patient-focused care, taught as part of the interview, examination, and diagnosis; and counseling and managing care. These need to be gender-sensitive and include an awareness of socioeconomic disparities driven by race, religion, and immigration status, among others. Other skills include understanding the importance of evidence-based care that is efficient, decreases error and complexity, and improves health.                                           

Martin-Jose Sepulveda Sr., MD ’78           

Learning how to partner and collaborate, developing an awareness of implicit and explicit bias and cultural competency, and learning the language of the predominant minority population served (most often, Spanish).  

Sylvester Sviokla III, MD ’72          

Develop the skills to conduct motivational interviewing aimed at changing health-related behaviors. 

Wendie Grader-Beck, MD ’96        

Learn to listen and build your capacity to share in vulnerability. These skills increase our ability to connect with our patients.

Jorge Casas-Ganem, MD ’98           

All medical students should receive some basic education regarding death and dying. This is not the most attractive aspect of medicine, but it remains one of the most important.   

Andrew Warshaw, MD ’63  

In today’s world the practice of medicine must be complemented by an understanding of the business of medical practice, whether as an employee or an independent practitioner. 

A group of students in white coats at a lecture
During their first week at HMS, the students in this 2019 photo assembled for a lecture designed to introduce them to the medical profession. 

Jane Liebschutz, MD ’91     

Every physician should have a solid understanding of statistics and a basic understanding of study design. Almost all medical advancements today need to be interpreted with an eye to understanding benefit and risk. Without understanding statistics and potentially flawed study design, a clinician cannot hope to discern how relevant the findings are for their patient or their practice. 

Harvey Clermont, MD ’65   

Develop the ability to have an honest dialogue with both the patient and the family. Stay current on all recent public health issues.

Gregory Juarez, MD ’92      

I would recommend taking a general course in financial management to understand the language and priorities of an organization or medical group. I would also recommend a course in operations management and project management to help assist a department or medical group to bring administrative value to colleagues.

Marvin Bittner, MD ’76       

Learn how to function effectively in organizations. Developing good relationships with patients is a traditional component of medical education; however, increasingly, physicians are working in organizations. This calls for another set of skills. 

Daniel Kopans, MD ’73        

A habit of lifelong learning and the ability to read publications carefully. Don’t just read the abstract. Were the data collected correctly, and are the conclusions supported by the data? 

Matthew Keller, MD ’07      

Telehealth and virtual medicine should be incorporated into medical education because they are here to stay. 

Morris Fisher, MD ’68         

Clinical skills. Arguably in one fashion or another we will have a fixed-cost medical system. In such a system, physicians who order fewer tests will be valued. Also, develop the ability to learn from patients and how to avoid fitting patients into preconceived categories.

Alena Balasanova, MD ’12  

Start developing a capacity to self-reflect and adopt a growth mindset. These are skills that are valuable in medicine and often get overlooked in favor of more technical or procedural skills. Finding mutual meaning with patients is critical for any specialty and to do this you must first understand yourself.

Jessica Wu, MD ’93   

If you can’t imagine finding joy in working for a large health care system where you are a “provider” judged by your “productivity,” I strongly recommend learning the skills to start an independent practice: leadership, accounting, and human resources. Yes, it’s a risk to turn away from a paycheck but your reward will be more time to care for patients, loved ones, and yourself.

Michael Kochis, MD ’20      

Team management and leadership skills. As a surgical resident, I am struck by how much our day-to-day work depends on not only knowing the clinical medicine we are explicitly taught as students and on building relationships with patients, but also on collaborating with other doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals.

Gordon Cutler Jr., MD ’73  

Develop the habit of reading daily on medical progress and develop a deep understanding of molecular biology, genetics, metabolism, immunology, epidemiology, statistics, computer science, and digital technology. Cultivate the skill to hold clear, brief, priority-based, empathic communication that meets the patient where they are. Learn to accept uncertainty and to keep an open mind to reassess diagnosis.       

Jonathan Friedberg, MD ’94

Bioinformatics, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence skills will be essential for basic and clinical research and are highly sought at academic medical centers.

Finding mutual meaning with patients is critical for any specialty and to do this you must first understand yourself.

Edmund Lee, MD ’96

Develop the ability to actively clear your thoughts. Modern medical practice is a barrage of information, tasks, and demands. The ability to clear your mind will allow you to focus on the one thing that is most crucial.

Felipe Jain, MD ’08

There is an enormous wave of depression surging due to social isolation, our sedentary society, and the automatic comparisons made on social media. Learn how to recognize depression.  Determine how you’re going to help patients along the course of their treatment and don’t give up if your initial recommendations don’t work. Most people will get better after a few treatment trials — if they persist

Bruce Lyman, MD ’72

Develop the ability to be intentional about asking open-ended questions such as “Tell me about that pain.” Learn to listen deeply while making eye contact with your patient and observe body language. Learn to be comfortable without a computer screen in the room. Learn “again for the first time” the skills of a meaningful physical examination.  

Lise Johnson, MD ’88

Communication. Clinicians need to know how to engage with patients and form a trusting relationship and how to take responsibility for the patient and proactively communicate with all team members. 

Elizabeth Kaufman, MD ’85

Above all else, clinicians need and will continue to need good communication skills. Patients will always need to feel heard and understood, and to be educated and advised about their health.  Good communication between doctor and patient is not only crucial for the patient’s health and peace of mind, it’s also wonderfully fulfilling for the physician.

Robert Duerr, MD ’88

For students who seek to become surgeons, learn to read all types of imaging without a radiologist’s assistance.

Daniel Weingrad, MD ’73

Develop a commitment to self-learning by reading, attending conferences, and conducting internet searches. Develop an absolute commitment to evidence-based decision-making.   

John Benson Jr., MD ’46

There will be enormous, well-meaning pressure to include added curriculum in public health, addiction, violence, and the economics of medical care. But short of extending the medical school curriculum, either into college years or after four years, faculties should continue to emphasize clinical competence, basic science, and mental health. Relevant statistics, communication skills, and demonstrable professional behavior and humanistic qualities need more time and faculty to teach them.