Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Why being in a hospital makes you good in the City

Posted in Careers by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on August 21, 1999

In a job interview for an investment bank, I was asked what qualities I had that were good for the job. I started by saying that I worked hard, and was just about to modestly word the high regard I have for my intellect, when he cut me off. Of course you’re clever and hard working – everyone applying for the job is. Tell me something different, he challenged. In one of those “I should have said…” moments, that only come 24 hours after an event has passed, I realised that my medical background gave me lots of valuable and transferable skills. So, here are my top five reasons why City folks should be desperate to hire doctors.

1 – Work under pressure
Investment bankers like to talk about how high pressure their job is. It’s a tough job, they brag. The work never stops, they add. And neither does the stress, they finish, with satisfaction. My advice – listen, with polite interest and sympathy. But be sure to mention that last 36 hours on-call you did, or the week of night shifts. Rightly or wrongly, being a doctor requires you to continue working, to a high standard, when most would have opted for sleep.
2 – Weighing up risks
Investment bankers gamble for living. But they do make money, and lots of it. The key is to take better risks than the competition, by being better informed, and analysing the information faster and more accurately. It’s a process not unlike choosing a therapy for a patient. Should you operate on a patient with carotid arterial disease? It depends on their likelihood of stroke, and how much of an operative risk they are. You read the literature, assess the patient, and then make a bet. It’s one skill that shows you understand the job you’re applying for.
3 – Communication skills
City jobs have a similar hierarchy to the one you’re used to. At the bottom end, you start work as an analyst, gathering and primitively analysing data – bit like a house officer. At the top end the partners collect customers, and manage the work. Take this as the consultants. At each step, however, communication skills are important. From convincing a client to use your services, to explaining your findings to the rest of the team, to feeding back to your client, good communication is good practice. As a dear surgeon once told me, the real aim of the clinical medical course is to get communication habits into you. The examiners cherish those who dress well, look them in the eye, speak loudly, and provide well-structured answers. After all, your first job is to talk coherently at 3 am when you ring up the consultant about that worrying chest X-ray.
4 – Memory tricks
Our psychology lectures began in the second year. I loved these experiments, but most of them struck me as quaint ways of looking at the world. In one study, medical students were pitted against doctors for recall of patient information. Rather than showing the effects of aging, the doctors crushed the students in these tests of memory. The key, said the lecturer, was in how the doctors classified the information for internal storage. I put this down as another amusing experiment, and forgot it until my first year in the clinical school (I’m afraid my university is still staunchly proud of its traditional distinction between preclinical and clinical years).
At the hospital, I was soon asked if I knew the surgical sieve. It took a few months to realise that the interesting experiment betrayed a major trick of the medical trade. A few more months, and I am incapable of discussing any topic, including the football, without classifying it. I’ve discovered the power of sieves for absorbing information.
For dealing with the information overload so inevitable in the financial markets, I can think of no better tool. It’s one of medicine’s best kept secrets, but don’t hide it from your interviewer.
5 – Multimedia learning
In addition to demanding learning of many facts, the course also demands learning from many sources. Consultants love to quote Osler’s opinion on book work – “To learn medicine without books is to sail without maps, but to do so without patients is to have not set sail at all.” But you don’t just learn from patients and books. You learn from other doctors, as you walk in the corridor; you learn from the internet, as you search the literature; and you learn by doing jobs on the wards, as your consultant casually asks you to “just put a chest drain in him” – the steep learning curve of “See one, do one, teach one” is excellent training for your first day on the trading floor. So, in a sharp suit, clear voice and calm tone – ask for help.