Doctor's notes

What kind of personality makes the best doctor? It is a question that is being asked of thousands of sixth formers, mature students and, indeed, their interview panels. Universities are currently finishing off the process of interviewing for places at medical school. The competition is intense: 40,000 applications from 10,000 candidates - for just 5,000 places. Even if you have spent all your summer holidays as a volunteer in a hospice, play six instruments, have several Duke of Edinburgh awards, and are a member of Mensa - as well as, of course, holding multiple exams at A grade - a place cannot be guaranteed. It seems that these are merely obligatory achievements for the prospective modern medical student.

If you ever saw the TV series Doctors to Be, it is obvious that the interview process is often loaded with unfairness. Some schools coach their proteges, and boys tend to be less good at interview compared with girls of the same age. No wonder many universities are looking at personality profiling. Finding the empathetic, team-playing, personable potential doctor with a low risk of burn-out or criminality, together with a high commitment to the job - it sounds highly reasonable.

But the idea of having clones of doctors, chosen to make sure they will be eternally happy in their work, scares me. Profiling and selecting for conscientious types, for example, sounds a good idea until you realise that "conscientious" is just a ratchet or two off being "obsessive". Having an entire staff with exactly the same traits isn't good for anyone. Even worse, if people are chosen to be able to cope with poor working conditions, the working conditions themselves might never get improved.

Good doctors - like all good people - might have some shared qualities. But I want my cardiac surgeon to be unfazable and determined, the kind that might even put her results figures to one side in willingness to take some risks with getting me the best possible result. But I'd like my psychiatrist to be kind, patient and reflective: philosophical, even. No doubt the local public health doctor would prefer to be a popular type, but I would like him to be unafraid of being unpopular if there is something important to be said.

Doctors, like nearly everyone else, are flawed individuals. So I'm willing to compromise. While it might be nice to have a cardiac surgeon with the bedside manner of Dr Kildare, it would be much more important to me that she was technically excellent. And I'd much rather my shrink was sensitive and empathetic than had a memory that could recite every side effect of every antidepressant in the pharmacy. At least, that's my preference. Variety is the spice of life, but diversity is the bread and butter.

· And if we didn't have medical diversity, we wouldn't just have duller and less innovative healthcare; we wouldn't have Green Wing. The Channel 4 series got my vote this week in the public nominations for the Baftas; if only because my sides have stopped hurting and I am now aching for series two. It's so funny because it's painfully realistic. The bit about medical exams - being asked to tap dance in front of a panel, before you realise it's all but a nightmare - was straight out of the dreams I used to have. What's more, Green Wing has made a star of a radiologist, a medical variety who barely get a mention in medical dramas. Pity that Dr Alan Statham (played by Mark Heap) is the sex-starved, frustrated type: but since I have friends who are radiologists, I couldn't comment on the accuracy of this stereotype.

· The abortion debate is now primed to be all over the looming election. Michael Howard declared, in Cosmopolitan magazine, that abortions are too easy to get in the UK and the time limit on them should be reduced. Currently, two doctors have to sign the forms that legally allow an abortion to take place, to say that continuing with the pregnancy will involve a greater "physical or mental harm" to the woman. Whether or not you think we effectively have "abortion on demand", it seems bizarre that it is still doctors who must sanction an abortion, effectively asking the medical profession to pass judgment. The current legislation means that both patients and doctors weave a delicate dance in the consulting room, mindful of asking the "right questions" and giving the "right answers". It would be better instead if the law let doctors do what they are trained to do - have a sensitive, realistic discussion about what the options are. The current enactment of the law is often a meaningless charade. If we are going to look again at abortion law, maybe we should be looking at how to make it a much more honest one.

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