Taking the lead

5 ways to succeed in leadership positions in medical school

As an OMS II who’s had several leadership positions, here are my five biggest tips for success in leadership roles during medical school.


As an OMS II at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine (RVUCOM) in Ivins, Utah, I’ve held several leadership positions and gained experience interacting with medical students across the country. Through my leadership roles, I’ve guided my fellow students on how to maintain grades, conduct research and have a happy life outside of school all at the same time. Below are my five biggest tips for success in leadership roles during medical school.

1. Find your passion

I currently sit as the Student Government Association President and the National Liaison of Radiology, and I recently finished serving as the Council of Student Government Presidents Student Doctor of the Year Coordinator for RVUCOM.

If you are looking to acquire a leadership position in medical school, finding something you are passionate about will transform the position into a hobby that you will enjoy. The more you enjoy your leadership position, the more you are going to take from it to apply to your career moving forward.

Understanding your desire to perform the leadership role you have achieved will help you get through any difficulties or setbacks you encounter in that position. In your desire to help the individuals that your club or organization represents, you will at times have a target on your back and will have to take flack for mistakes.

When it is something you care deeply about, working through these difficult times is much easier. This pushback may come from the individuals you are representing or from the faculty that you are presenting changes to.

I was forced to make many politically charged decisions in light of the COVID pandemic. I served on a team that helped make decisions for our school regarding vaccine mandates, mask mandates and virtual classroom education vs. in person instruction. I received much pushback from those whom I was intending to help keep safe, provide the best learning experience for and represent in the best way that I possibly could with inadequate information.

This was difficult; however, I knew that I had a desire and a passion to do this work, which helped me to understand where my colleagues were coming from and what we all could do moving forward.

When choosing a leadership role to pursue, there are a lot of factors that play into this decision. Time commitment, connection to the represented population, connection to faculty and responsibilities are just a few of the factors to consider.

In my case, representing an entire university put me out of touch with the general student population more than I was expecting. While I enjoyed my time as our president, every decision you make has pros and cons. I recommend talking to the individual who had the position you are running for before you apply for it. This will give you the opportunity to ask them questions that you are concerned about.

2. Connect with upper-level students

I would argue that the best resource for nearly everything in medical school is to build relationships with upper-level students who have done what you are looking to do. In nearly all circumstances, it is better to gain advice from those who have come before you than to try to be a maverick and pave a new path.

At RVUCOM, most leadership experiences are available in the preclinical years. That gives students two years to build as much leadership experience as possible. With this in mind, it is good to connect with your senior colleagues to identify a more streamlined approach for how you can best use your time and learn from any mistakes your colleagues are willing to share.

These individuals are also a great way to figure out what type of leadership options are even available. Oftentimes we are working so hard to make sure we are performing at the highest levels in our coursework that we can miss the communication that our university sends out regarding clubs, organizations and other leadership opportunities.

3. Connect with faculty

Faculty members have the benefit of many years of experience that they can share with you to help point you in the right direction for your career. At Rocky Vista, our senior leadership works extremely hard to make sure they are in contact with students to help us meet our career goals. I reached out to them and had a meeting to discuss what type of leadership would fit best for my future, my passions and my personality.

A small piece of advice that I found extremely beneficial is to find someone outside of academia who has many years of work experience in the professional setting. During COVID, our school set up a COVID Response Team (CRT) that consisted of individuals representing all aspects of the school. From student affairs to Human Resources, we had someone on that team to help represent their group. This allowed me to meet professionals whom I otherwise would not have.

One of these individuals gave me fantastic leadership advice from her experience as a chief operating officer at her previous corporation. Her advice provided unique insights into the logistics and business aspects of running a medical school. These tips helped me communicate with our faculty and staff in an entirely new, more understanding and productive manner. Always be looking to learn from everyone you talk to. You never know who is going to have the golden piece of advice that will drive you to the next level. 

4. Time management

This is arguably one of the most difficult things that a medical student must manage. Many of us have friends and family that we want to spend time with, as well as time we need to take for ourselves. I have explored many different routines. The one I always come back to is a concept of time blocking. This involves sitting down at the beginning of every week and setting aside time in your calendar for all activities you are wanting to do for that week.

One thing I learned quickly is that you need to budget time for human error, distractions and, to be frank, laziness. There are going to be times where you have enough motivation to move planets when you are planning the week. But as we all know, things rarely go according to our plans. When I make my schedule, I budget 15 minutes in between each task. While on the surface this doesn’t seem like much time, if you have four tasks that you want to accomplish and you budget your 15 minutes after each of them, you have just built in an extra hour that can be used to make up lost time, get ahead or simply relax.

I am also a big fan of the pomodoro technique. If you aren’t familiar with this, you set a period (most people use 25 minutes) to work with no distractions. This means phone off, email closed and any other communications silenced. After these 25 minutes, most people will take a 5-minute break to do whatever you need to do. This goes for four rounds and then most individuals take a longer break to rest their brain a bit. This can be morphed into whatever time constraint you like. For many students, the best way to make the most of their time studying is to limit distractions the best they can to optimize their focus and performance.

5. Know your priorities

When you are planning your week, do it with the mindset of using your priorities as a checklist. If your family is your main priority with no exceptions, budget that time first and then move to the next priority. You will then have peace of mind because you know that you are focusing on the things that matter most to you. Using a virtual calendar gives you the chance to look at your week in an overview format to identify what is getting your time quickly.

When you set your priorities, stick to them. Make sure those around you know what your priorities are. Medical school is a team effort. That includes those individuals in your life who are not in medical school. Make sure you are letting them know what is going on in your life as you start to take on your leadership opportunities.

I recommend making plans with people who are important to you and telling them when you will be spending time with them and what you will be doing. My girlfriend is a huge priority in my life. We have set aside our date night for Wednesday night, when we make dinner and watch a TV show with no distractions. This night is dedicated to us. When you set aside this time, you will work more diligently before and after it.

Lastly, communication is paramount. Your loved ones need to know what is going on in your life. If you can’t honor a time commitment you have made, your loved one(s) need to know as soon as possible, and you should also share what you will do moving forward. Keeping your focus on what’s most important to you and your goals will guide you.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

5 ways to deal with rejection as a medical student

From student to resident: Tips for transitioning from virtual med school

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy