Being a member of the academic elite doesn’t necessarily make a good doctor, an AusDoc survey has revealed.

From an experienced doctor’s perspective, high-achieving academics can face problems in practice. “Almost only the academic elite enter the system. This doesn’t necessarily make the best doctors…they are not used to failure and uncertainty and the hospital, or medicine in general, is a robust – and at times brutal – world.”

The AusDoc survey, conducted in February 2021, asked medical students, registrars and an experienced doctor and academic about the tensions they face and what they need from the healthcare industry to ensure they succeed in their careers.

It revealed that the transition from academia to a clinical environment is far from seamless. As top performers at university, medical students are not used to failure – but university does not prepare them well for the real world, students say.

One survey participant noted: “Medical students are obsessed with procedures, but don’t understand, or are not interested in the value of the human factor.”

The medical students surveyed echoed the feelings of practising doctors, and are acutely aware they are underdeveloped in their clinical skills, which is ultimately how they are judged.

“There is a lot of theory, but it is difficult to translate into practice,” said one student.

The shift in emphasis from science to clinical work, while exciting, quickly puts medical students out of their comfort zone, especially since they are now operating in a new, intimidating environment.

To help overcome the stresses of translating theory into practice, they seek to continuously learn and test their clinical skills to build up their confidence.

They want to make the transition from understanding the theory of a particular condition to making an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for real patients. So what would help?

Top 3 solutions requested by medical students to help sharpen their clinical skills

  1. Diagnosis challenges

“Helping you how to think like a doctor and make a differential diagnosis. We are very book smart, but need to make the transition.”

Offer medical students challenges such as spot-diagnosis challenges or picture quizzes.

Getting a diagnosis right is an instant confidence booster, and a reason for med students to keep engaging with your information. Appeal to a med student’s “medical detective” and you’ll have a winning tactic.


  1. Challenging case studies

“As a way to test my knowledge and skills, I like to continuously challenge myself with real-life cases, quizzes, etc…not only is it part of our examination, but it also boosts your confidence.”

Medical students are hungry for a library of case studies or case challenges that will give them some experience of complex patients, as opposed to symptoms cited in a book. A commentary on each case study from a medical expert would add to the learning experience.

  1. Quizzes

“Quizzes are really helpful to test your knowledge. More symptom-led would be great to test your clinical reasoning skills; there is not enough of a focus on that.“

If you are creating a quiz as part of your educational materials for medical students, it’s helpful to add some context so the quiz becomes a learning experience as well as a fun challenge.

Medical students say they find quizzes most useful when they offer not only answers that are “right” or “wrong” but also provide an explanation of why an answer is right and why an answer is wrong.

Healthcare marketers that can help students bridge the gap between academia and practice may be on to a winning strategy to acquire loyal practitioners.

As one student noted: “The university is only concerned about us now, not our future.”



Project Pathway 1 | Understanding Medical Students and GP Registrars, AusDoc, February 2021