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How MIT Will Help You

Jason H. Wasfy

I’ve been to many medical school interviews over the past few months. They all blur together -- similar questions, similar answers. But one interview started differently than the rest.

The interviewer had only just introduced herself in the waiting room and was leading me to her office when she asked me an odd question. “Were you ever an Eagle Scout?”

I hardly even know what an Eagle Scout is, I have never been a Boy Scout of any sort, and I had no idea why she asked me that. I responded, irreverently, that I hadn’t been an Eagle Scout and that I sure hoped none of my recommendation-writers had tried to embellish my record by claiming that I was.

She laughed. “No, don’t worry,” she continued, “I was just wondering because I just read a report by a director of a surgical residency program on how to identify graduating medical students who will become among the best surgeons. The answer had nothing to do with the student’s medical training. The author said that there are two sure-fire ways to predict that a medical student will become a good doctor. One of them is whether the medical student was an Eagle Scout when he was a kid.”

I gazed at her, hopelessly befuddled. “And the other?” I asked.

“Whether the medical student holds any sort of degree from MIT.”

That’s a pretty strong conclusion, when you think about it. One of the two best ways to predict whether a medical student will develop into a good surgeon is not his medical school, his recommendations, his dexterity, or his scores on the medical boards. Rather, with high certainty, a medical student will become a good surgeon if sometime in his life, he worked his way through MIT, no matter what the course of study or how many years had passed since that student’s days at the Institute.

This sort of strong endorsement of the preparation that MIT provides for medical school stood in stark contrast to what I saw and heard at a pre-med panel discussion over IAP. One of the panelists said that anyone who chose MIT knowing that he or she planned to apply to medical school was making a stupid choice, because the classes are so difficult here. I think the physician who said that was right, to some extent -- work here that receives a D or an F might earn a B+ at Stanford or Yale.

But I don’t think that the tougher grading here is bad in the long run, even for prospective physicians. Because the Institute has held its bar so high as our peer schools have gradually lowered their standards, the world outside MIT has come to hold great respect for an MIT degree. Sure, a degree from Stanford or Yale or from any other of America’s great universities almost always inspires respect. But I really don’t think that any of those schools commands the same sort of awe that MIT does. The reason why medical students become better surgeons if they’ve sampled the MIT experience is probably because they’ve learned to work hard when the odds seem daunting.

Classes are just starting up again. When you’re staring down a tough problem set at three in the morning, remember how much these few years will give you and have already given you. I don’t mean to imply that an MIT degree is any more useful for a future in surgery than for any other profession. Hard work and perseverance, while certainly requisite for surgery, are important in any number of fields and situations. So don’t worry too much about your future. The experience that we’re all going through now will pay dividends in future respect, and more importantly, in developing a work ethic that can accomplish just about anything.