What Aptitudes Do Doctors Typically Have?

by Jon Durkin

Medicine has become an increasingly popular career goal among college students. Every year larger numbers of first year students at our colleges embark upon pre-medical programs. Of course, only a small fraction of those hopeful entrants last the entire course and eventually earns the title M.D., as the study of medicine is certainly one of the most demanding educational programs in terms of amount and complexity of subject matter and sheer time involved.

The information presented on this page is based upon the test scores of seventy doctors gathered from a validation study carried out some years ago with the financial assistance of the John Edward Fowler Foundation. All of the members of this study had the M.D. degree, and their experience as physicians ranged from residency to several decades of practice.

If you are considering medicine as a career and are aware of your aptitudes, you will find this web page interesting and probably helpful. Its purpose is to acquaint you with the results from our study. If you possess aptitudes which we have found characteristic of doctors, then it may strengthen your confidence in selecting a medical career.

Aptitudes Most Strongly Present in Doctor Sample

Tweezer Dexterity, Finger Dexterity

A great deal of medical work involves precise, rapid, manual activities often requiring the deft use of many delicate instruments. These dexterities, helpful throughout medicine, are especially important in surgery, optometry and dentistry.

Inductive Reasoning

This aptitude is most useful in diagnosis. It enables the physician to perceive relationships and connections among symptoms and thus arrive at an accurate medical interpretation of the patient's condition. Inductive Reasoning is the primary aptitude of the researcher and investigator. It can be equally important to the medical researcher for relating bits of evidence and the family practitioner for relating symptoms.


This is the aptitude of good inspectors. The ability is needed whenever close, careful attention must be paid to small visual details. A student or doctor would use it in examining a patient, using a microscope, reading X-rays, or any of the many medical demands for such careful attention to detail.

Structural Visualization

In order to understand anatomical relationships thoroughly, a doctor must be able to think structurally, to visualize in three dimensions. Before making the initial incision, the surgeon must have a mental blueprint of that part of the patient's body in which the operation will occur. This is why Structural Visualization is especially useful for surgeons.

Rhythm Memory

As a group the doctors scored high in this aptitude. How it may be used by doctors is not yet clear to us. Perhaps a superior sense of rhythm is useful in listening to heartbeat patterns, or as an aspect of the coordination and sense of timing necessary in surgery or other meticulous and sensitive work performed by doctors. We are also finding athletes as well as musicians and dancers possess Rhythm Memory.

In addition to the above-mentioned aptitudes, there are two others that doctors tend to possess, and which may be helpful to the medical student:

Silograms (Word Learning)

Memory plays a central role in the education of the medical student. It has been estimated that 13,000 new words must be learned in the first year of medical school alone. Perhaps no other profession requires the acquisition of as large a technical vocabulary as does medicine. This aptitude can be helpful to all medical students.


High Foresight helps in achieving long range career objectives. A medical student may spend twelve or more years in college, medical school, internship, residency, and post-residential training programs before attaining full qualification for a chosen specialty. People who score low will often turn away from distant goals and seek those which are more immediately obtainable, especially in the face of frustration and difficulty.

Other Aptitudes

For other specific aptitudes, such as Ideaphoria, Pitch Discrimination, and Analytical Reasoning, the percentiles of the doctors more closely approximated those of the general population of our examinees. Although on our Personality measurement, doctors scored both Objective and Subjective, there are more doctors who are Subjective than would be expected for a random population. On Graphoria, our number checking worksample, although doctors did not score particularly high, they rarely scored in the very low portion of the scale, suggesting that although high Graphoria is not an essential characteristic, a clearly low score may be a handicap, particularly in school.

Which Specialty?

Even with all these aptitudes, the study of medicine is a long, difficult job. Many other factors will have a bearing on the eventual achievement of a medical career, but if you score high in these aptitudes, then you should give serious consideration to becoming a doctor. The aptitudes in which you are strongest may influence which specialized field you enter. A special strength in Structural Visualization may point to some form of surgery. Strong Observation may suggest radiology. High Tweezer and Finger Dexterity and Inductive Reasoning may indicate laboratory research, especially when combined with a Subjective personality. The Silograms and Foresight aptitudes are primarily helpful in the years of training; the dexterities, Inductive Reasoning, Observation, and Structural Visualization apply to the practice of medicine, as well.

If you lack one or two of these aptitudes, it doesn't mean that medicine is out of the question, but you may have special difficulty with that part of the training program which depends heavily upon an aptitude you lack. For instance, one opthalmologist, clearly low in Structural Visualization, lets others perform any non-routine eye surgery that comes along, while he spends much of his time in writing and lecturing on medical topics. Those low in Structural Visualization might aim for such fields as teaching, public health, or psychiatry. However, if your aptitude pattern is dramatically different from that of practicing doctors, if you lack several of these aptitudes, then you would probably find more success and happiness in another profession, one which would be more in keeping with your particular strengths. This is not to say that you must have most of these aptitudes, just that we have found that physicians do tend to have them. Motivation, determination, and capacity for hard work are also important characteristics for individuals pursuing the study of medicine.


In addition to the aptitude measurements, we found the doctors of this sample to be above average in English vocabulary, a reflection of superior knowledge. Their median percentile score on our norms was 67.5. A large and exact vocabulary is vital to understanding the plethora of written material the doctors must study. Just as vocabulary is related to success in business, a large English vocabulary is related to success in science courses in college. A person's vocabulary can be improved through extensive reading or directed word study. Visit the vocabulary page to learn more.