By Brian Chou, OD, FAAO
Today, you can’t envy the high school students applying for college, nor the undergraduates applying to graduate school. The admissions landscape is far more stress-filled and competitive than ever. It’s sustained a cottage industry of test-preparation services and personal admissions coaching.
This lopsided focus on grades and test scores reminds me of Captain Ahab’s relentless, obsessive, and ultimately tragic pursuit of Moby Dick. I am surprised by the pervasiveness of the notion that good grades and high test scores are requisite for life and business success.
Recently, one of my employees with aspirations of going to optometry school, was astounded to hear that in my 15 years of practice, not a single patient had inquired about my academic grades. It’s not that grades completely don’t matter. As a metric of academic education, they are a means to get into college and graduate programs.
However, in real life, personal interactions and group social dynamics are arguably more important, whereas academic test scores and grades take a back seat. Most patients seek a doctor who is compassionate and honest, while the competency is presumed. In choosing my own doctor, business partner or associate optometrist, I look for good character and communication skills, not a book-smart nerd.
I would argue that the academic emphasis on grades and test scores is creating a bumper crop of automatons and worker bee optometrists, ready to work as loyal employees in retail chains and discount warehouses clubs. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m concerned about a dearth of leadership to innovate and create within our profession, and to pursue private practice. Neutered and numbed by the need to perform well academically, and saddled with increasing debt and indentured to work for initially higher-paying retail outlets, are future optometrists even familiar with the premise of Robert Kiyosaki’s book, “Why ‘A’ Students work for ‘C’ Students?”
While their counterparts are studying in the library, the “C” students are partying and getting into trouble. In effect, the “C” students are preparing themselves to operate in a structure-free environment, to overcome repeated setbacks and failure, to adapt to changing demands and expectations, and work in varied social settings.
Yet it is these same skills of social and emotional intelligence that trump academic intelligence in life and business. How do I know? Not to boast, but in high school, college and optometry school, I was always near the top of my class. Yet with the benefit of life experience and hindsight, academic excellence has been amazingly disappointing to me for navigating the real world. Come visit my practice, and you’ll find my certificates and diplomas hanging in the employee bathroom. No joke.
Stay home and study, or go to the party? My advice: go to the party.
How strongly do you weigh a prospective owner-doctor’s academic record when considering him or her for partnership?