How to avoid becoming a gunner in medical school

gunner: a pre-med or medical student who is ambitious to a fault. They often throw other students under the bus, put their accomplishments and grades on display, and generally make life miserable for any student who they perceive to be a threat to their own success. In short, they are what Hermione would be if she was a Slytherin.

On my blog, I am fairly vocal about my disdain for gunners. They are the people who made me feel like I was not good enough to be in medical school. They had me convinced that I was going to be a terrible doctor just because I struggled to learn all the steps of adrenal hormone synthesis.

Look, most pre-meds and med students are at least a little type A. That’s what helped them achieve. But when allowed to go unchecked, Type A personalities can mutate  into nasty little gunnerrhea inducing pathogens who seek to destroy the happiness and emotional well-being of everyone in their path, all for the sake of their own advancement. However, there is hope for a cure. Yes, gunnerhea is a preventable disease!

So for all the Type A’s out there who wish to avoid becoming a  gunner, I offer these suggestions:

1. Keep your grades to yourself. No one cares about your grades except your mom and other gunners, and the other gunners only want to know so they can brag about their better grades.

2. Don’t ask other people their grades. If they want to tell you, they’ll tell you.

3. Don’t even ask “was the test ok for you” or “are you happy with the test?” If the person didn’t do so well, you’re embarrassing them by even asking. What if the test wasn’t ok for them? Maybe they’d like to keep that information to themselves.

4. Don’t answer a question unless it was asked directly of you or of a large group. Answering a question asked directly to someone else only makes you look like a douche.

5. Do not ever ever ever ask a fellow student a question you already know the answer to. Leave the pimping to the professors. The one exception is if the student asks you to quiz them. And even then, don’t be a jerk. They’re not asking you to prove your knowledge to them.

6. Keep a strict 3 question limit in lectures. Even 3 is pushing it. Save the rest of your questions for your own time. And don’t you dare even BEGIN to ask a question in the last 5 minutes of lecture.

7. If you’re on wards, don’t stay after your fellow classmates leave unless they are all cool with it. In that same vein, if everyone decides to come in a little late or skip a lecture or whatever, you go with the team’s decision.

8. Learn the concept of teamwork. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Help your team members out and it’ll come back to you. Don’t give them help when it’s needed? Well, don’t expect anyone else to ever help you on one of your bad days.

9. You do not always have to be the team leader. Let someone else make the decisions for once, and don’t complain about them once they’re made. Go with it.

10. Don’t ask people “is such and such a good board score? Do you think it will get me an anesthesia residency?” Quit playin’. You know you’ve done all the research and you know you got an amazing score. So just tell your mama and let her be happy for you.

11. Don’t put down other people’s career choices, and don’t think for a second that your choice is “the best”. It may be best for you, but it’s worst for someone else.

12. Don’t brag about how much you do or don’t study. No one cares. Really.

13. Be nice when you correct other people’s wrong answers. Be gentle, don’t be a jerk. One day you will have to correct a wrong assumption or idea that your patient has, and whether you’re nice about it or not may determine whether they choose to follow your suggestions for their health.

14. If you’re wrong, don’t keep fighting for your answer. Cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it.

15. Don’t throw people under the bus. Making other people look bad makes you look even worse. So keep your snide comments to yourself. Don’t say them in front of attendings or professors.

So there you have it, folks, a prescription to treat gunnerrhea. Follow it well.

“Wayfaring MD” is a family practice resident who blogs at her self-titled site, Wayfaring MD.

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  • WayfaringMD

    Hey, it’s me, WayfaringMD. Just wanted to clarify that I am actually female…

    • kevinmd


  • The Hero Complex

    Gotta say I disagree with #7. What if you are on a rotation that you need a letter from for residency apps. Or perhaps you are paired with the class slacker for a rotation. Everyone doesn’t have to perform or care about the same things. Making sure you are learning the material or making a good impression in your future field is hardly “gunning.”

  • Suzi Q 38

    There is always a “gunner.” In the corporate world, they are the ones that sit with the CEO at dinner, clinging to the “king’s” every word, as if he were holding “court.”

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    I remember a gunner in med school who was also kinda dumb but he didn’t realize it. In one neurology lecture he sat in the front row, where he always sat, and kept peppering the professor with irrelevant questions. The professor finally looked at the rest of us and said, “Is he always like this?” We fell about the place in laughter. But the guy was back in the front row asking “advanced” questions again the next day. Congenital, incurable gunnerrhea.

    • N N

      Curious as to what specialty the gunner ended up in at the end.

      • ninguem

        Personal injury trial lawyer?

  • EmilyAnon

    Re #7 – I’m assuming your advice is for students on rounds not to stay behind in the patient’s room when all others have left, if so:

    This is anecdotal, but during rounds after one of my operations, the resident came in the room with 6 medical students. Except for the resident identifying himself, no mention of the group accompanying him. I was introduced as post debulking patient with recurrent cancer. The students never spoke, nor did I. When they left the room one of the students stayed behind asking me respectful questions, and I had my own about what kind of doctor she wanted to be and where she was in her training, things like that. I kind of liked the encounter, and felt we were both the wiser afterwards. But now I’m wondering if that student was tarred as a ‘gunner’.

  • azmd

    As a teaching attending I disagree with #7. If a student wants to make the effort to attend a lecture that someone has put time and trouble into preparing, they should not feel obligated to bow to peer pressure to behave disrespectfully, which is what skipping the lecture is.
    Let’s face it, some students are going to be more industrious/interested/engaged in their learning, and just because other students are not, that does not make the engaged student inappropriately competitive or a “gunner.”

  • Mike C.

    I suggest med school students ignore this list and do whatever makes them comfortable and don’t worry about your fellow students think.

    • Survivor DO

      This is true to a point, but at some point you are hindering other student’s education. Most of the above tips should be common sense, if they are not then I think the student would be well served by trying to practice them. In the end it will be better for them when their peers actually want to interact with them and attendings aren’t annoyed by having them around.

      Survivor DO

  • Erik

    WayfaringMD you sound really bitter and angry. There are a lot of people
    at my med school who have a similar disdain for overly ambitious people
    or “gunners” or whatever demeaning terminology you want to use. I
    really see singling people out for over ambition just promoting a
    culture of mediocrity in medical schools. While I do admit bragging and
    boasting can be really douchy, but so is walking around taking about how
    you barely based that exam. Or how little you like to study and how
    cool you are because you like to party or play video games all day, and
    your not a “gunner” or whatever. I mean come on, labeling people, and
    calling people names because of their personality/ambition is childish,
    we are adults. If someone is doing something that bothers you, ignore
    it, focus on your own life/career. If someone makes you feel inadequate
    then you really need to look at yourself, because you clearly already
    have issues with inadequacy. P.S. I am not defending “gunners” or
    whatever, I just think both extremes of the spectrum are immature, just
    do your own thing and get over what everyone else is doing.

  • Thomas Pynchon

    I don’t see what the problem is with having a little bit of ambition and individualism. The concept of working for a team and being a team member is the biggest load of garbage to infiltrate medicine and a reason why the field has lost so much of its own pristine image.

    I like to stay around late on rounds and I don’t care what anyone thinks because I actually enjoy what I am learning unlike most people in med who are there for the $$$$$$$ or parental pressure.

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