Ultimate Guide – What makes a Great Doctor?

4 minute read


What does it take to be a great Doctor?

It takes a large amount of intelligence, motivation and preparation to get into Medical School. Resilience, strong work-ethic and grit to withstand the challenges that medical school presents. Once in the field, what does it take to succeed?

It’s a given that once a Doctor has proven themselves by passing Medical School that they have the work-ethic and intelligence required. However, it’s a mixture of hard skills learnt at Medical School and soft-skills which a great Doctor will have that help with application of medical science to patients.

Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Examples include: empathy, non-verbal communication and listening ability. More examples of soft skills are discussed in our ‘ultimate guide to analysing your strengths and attributes‘. Hard skills are part of the skill set required for a job, these are acquired through training, an example of a hard skill is analytical skills.

Why are soft skills necessary?

Medicine is patient centered, everything about a Doctors role is focused on providing the best possible care for their patients in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Soft skills are key to making practice patient centered.

Examples of qualities that make a great Doctor and why

For some more examples, check out the “analysing your own skills and attributes” ultimate guide. Hopefully, these explanations below can get you thinking about why a Doctor needs to possess certain attributes.

Strong Work Ethic

✓ Necessary at Medical School to keep up your academic performance and when practicing as a Doctor

✓ Diagnosis can be a lengthy process, identifying those rarer conditions correctly may take multiple tests, conversations with specialists and trailing different treatments. Strong work ethic required for this commitment to patient care is extremely important

✓ Lifelong learning is an essential part of being a Doctor, you’ll be required to commit to studying the latest medical developments for the rest of your career

✓ Long hours and working nights make being a Doctor tiring at times. Work ethic helps keep you disciplined, focused on the task at hand and helps push through difficult times.


✓ Confidence in your own judgement will ensure a Doctor is listened to and respected by patients and colleagues

✓ Uncertainty is to be expected occasionally in medicine – confidence to understand the limits of your knowledge and ask colleagues for advice is essential


✓ Humility will make you approachable to patients and colleagues, this is essential when providing good care and working effectively as part of the multi-disciplinary team

✓ Humility pairs well with confidence, it avoids big egos in teams and helps a doctor to admit when they’ve got gaps in their knowledge. Admitting this and asking for help is paramount to keeping patients safe


✓ This extends into every aspect of a Doctors life. The GMC outlines a code of conduct which Doctors must stick to

✓ Professionalism maintains the respect of the medical profession and patient’s confidence in Doctors

Emotional Intelligence

✓ Emotional intelligence is having the capacity to control and express your emotions when handling interpersonal relationships – including those with patients and colleagues

✓ Being able to confront difficult emotional issues for patients in a sensitive and respectful manner requires emotional intelligence

✓ Treatment is not just about physical illness, Doctors treat patient’s health as a whole – physical and mental. Emotional intelligence assists this.

✓ Empathy is a key element of emotional intelligence. Strong empathy will help you to connect with a patient and make them more comfortable speaking to you.

Good Listener and Observer

✓ Patients know their bodies best, listening to them will give you a good idea of what’s going on.

✓ Listening to your patient’s history is as important as physical examinations and the two processes can assist each other.

How are these qualities and attributes relevant to me now?

Medical Schools know what makes a great Doctor and they look for elements of this when choosing who to offer a place to. Demonstrating you have the qualities of a great Doctor is key to gaining a place at Medical School.

Use our ‘ultimate guide on analysing your own skills and attributes’ to learn how to identify which ones you have. The documents “Tomorrows Doctors’”, the GMCs’ “Duties of a Doctor” and “Good medical practice” all further explain what it takes to be a great Doctor and what qualities great Doctors have.

Medical Schools will look for evidence of soft and hard skills when selecting applicants. Soft skills prove that you’ll be able to deliver quality care whilst maintaining a good patient relationship. Developed hard skills show you’re able to learn and will be able to amass the vast amount of skills needed to be a great Doctor.

Nothing beats first-hand experience

This guide is intended to help you, provide as much insight as possible into what makes a great Doctor and why, to improve your understanding of what makes a great Doctor. Work experience or shadowing can provide some great answers – you’ll be able to see why the qualities mentioned in this guide are relevant and think of some other ones yourself.

Finding out for yourself what makes a great Doctor

✓ Ask friends and family to see what they think makes a great Doctor from a patient perspective.

✓ Use work experience, shadowing or conversations with Doctors to provide answers from a Doctors perspective.

✓ Finally use all the information you’ve gained from a patient perspective, Doctors perspective and the information from this guide to build your own opinions on what makes a great Doctor.

Final Note:

Curiosity is key for Doctors, channel your own and get some first-hand insight into what makes a great Doctor!  Having your own opinion on what makes a great Doctor as well as opinions from patients and Doctors is key to your understanding of medicine as a career.


Author: Cameron Elsworth

Author: Cameron Elsworth

Manchester Medical School