“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” ~ Jim Rohn

A few years ago, I was talking to a med student about how to “stand out” and create a professional niche for himself.

We reflected on the nature of high-performing students… Before medical school, many students might have stood out by “grinding” and getting good grades. Now, in medical school, the whole student body consists of people who can “grind”. What would it take to “out-grind” everybody now? Is that even a good strategy? If you only learned how to grind harder, but haven’t defined a professional direction, is that the way you want to spend your time in medical school?

The thing is, the core curriculum in medical schools is needed for you to become a competent doctor, but it is not necessarily a place to “stand out” or to rely on to build your future professional identity. The main reason is that curriculums are focused on competencies and standardization and not on variation, which is the whole essence of standing out. In the core curriculum, every student gets the same thing. (I know that some curriculums offer more latitude than others, but the culture of medical education is still primarily about standardization)


I asked him what he was interested in, and he had said that he was interested in how technology can interface with health, and more specifically, telemedicine. (this was some years ago when telemedicine was still emerging and a small niche)

I asked him to consider:

    • If you spent 2 hours of solid reading on the topic of telemedicine, you will know more about telemedicine than 50% of the faculty at this school
    • If you spent 2 hours per week for a month (~10 hours) of solid reading on the topic, you will know more about telemedicine than 90% of the faculty at this school
    • If you spent 2 hours per week for four years (the time at medical school) of solid engagement and learning with the topic, you will be one of the top experts in the school on telemedicine.

What it takes to stand out is not tips or tricks, it is a consistent application of yourself towards a purpose and expertise. Is 2 hours a week too much? No. Will people put in the 2 hours per week? Most people won’t. Most people would put in 60 hours a week on something that someone else has told them to do rather than to put in 2 hours a week on something that is initiated by oneself.

Why? Because thinking for yourself is hard. The key insight about standing out is to begin to define your own agenda and to spend consistent time on that agenda. (just doing that alone will separate you from 90% of your peers)

What are YOU interested in? What kind of CONSISTENT ACTION are you putting in to invest in your interests? You may not have something to show for it after 2 hours, or a week, or a month. If you keep at it consistently, you will look back one day and realize the amazing life that you have created from defining and exploring your own path.