A lot of people take being professional for granted, and a lot of it is obvious… once it’s obvious. But planning and preparation can save a moment of embarrassment and make you shine on the wards and during interviews as you prepare for the next steps of your career.

1. Dress for success.

We can all wear what we want – it’s 2018 and we’re all empowered – but others WILL judge you. It’s just part of the game; do what you can to remove potential barriers so the focus is on you, not your look. Sadly, this is doubly important for women, who are always assumed to be nurses or objects, not physicians.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: don’t miss alarms and look like you just rolled out of bed. It reflects poorly on your time management, and makes you look disheveled. Brush the hair, teeth, wear deodorant and generally be presentable (sorry, no grisly duck dynasty beards).

Clothing: this isn’t about what’s right, but what gets results. It means slacks, a collared shirt, and closed shoes for men. For women there’s more variety, but in the hospital your bottom should go below the white coat, and the top shouldn’t show cleavage. Point blank – patients and administrators skew older. I don’t mean to go millennial and talk about the old timers, but this is an easy win to keep focus on your personality.

2. Be practical with email and phone calls.

When you’re applying for match / communicating with your university, a simple way to help your cause is to send professional emails. What does that mean? When you address someone, always use their title and last name. Most people don’t care, but some do, and you never want to offend anyone. Be mindful of brevity; at most, have 2 paragraphs with a clear, ONE sentence ask at the end. We’re all busy – anything outside of this risks being ignored / glossed over.

Give them time to respond. Follow-up should be 3-5 days later if you don’t hear back, at a minimum. Other tips: don’t use color, gifs, emojis, or anything else that you would do with your friends. Remember the audience, and give them what they want.

Phone calls follow a similar pattern. Use some of the C’s of communication: be courteous, clear, concise, and correct. People that take calls want a quick overview to the why, a direct ask, and follow-up, if warranted. I throw in courteous, because chances are whomever you’re talking to is stressed / running on low battery. How do we know? Because they’re in healthcare (get used to it).

3. Be on time (aka early).

Being punctual shows respect and dependability. There’s an old saying – to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be absent. Make it a point to be 5 minutes early every time. There’s no harm, and it lets things proceed punctually (or at least takes you out of the problem if there’s a delay). Time management is one of the most important factors of being a professional; be reliable and take one variable off the table from the get go.

4. Stay organized.

This is really the key to med school (and practice). Organization involves your personal space, your calendar, and your notes. Create a system and stick to it. At OnlineMedEd, we organize everything down to the content with color-coding. Your life doesn’t have to be as meticulous as Dustyn’s brain, but if you carry something with you, make it a simple, clean notebook. Something overflowing with additional papers sticking out could be a cause for concern for both patients and interviewers. Don’t worry about the why – it doesn’t matter – just accept that it’s a fact.

5. Communicate.

Far and wide, practice is about communication more than it is knowledge. Yes, you need to know information, but no one ever said I didn’t like my doctor because they didn’t know enough. How you treat others, interact with the team, and confide with the patient and their family is the true indicator of success. The intern bootcamp goes through this in extensive detail – check it out when you’re ready!

Life skills separate the student from the physician. When you’re on the interview trail or with patients, these will take central focus. Don’t overlook them as you learn and advance in your career!