Do You Have To Be Smart To Be A Doctor? (Explained!)

Dream of being a doctor but feel you’re held back by your intelligence? You’re not alone. There’s lots of people who assume the same.

But is it true? Can I still be a doctor if i’m not smart?

Yes. Studying to become a doctor is more dependent on hard work than natural intelligence (although it helps). Knowing how to study efficiently, with discipline and commitment, is key.

Obviously there are certain intelligence criteria, depending on how and where you get into med school, that you’ll have to meet to get your foot in the door. But almost everyone is capable.

Struggling to believe me? We’ll explore it more in this article.

We’ll cover:

  • If an average student can get into med school
  • If becoming a doctor is as hard as they say
  • Which doctors are the smartest
  • Tips on overcoming your supposed “lack of intelligence” and becoming a doctor anyway!

As someone who’s thought exactly this myself, I can tell you; it is possible.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

Are med students really that “smart”?

Maybe the idea that doctors or med students are “smart” comes from most people’s high school experiences.

Industrious, hard working or high achieving students, more often than not, are those that have an idea about going into med in the first place!

This was at least true in my case, growing up and going to school in the UK.

It’s open for debate if these people are the most intelligent or not. Based on what I’ve observed actually being a med student; I’d say students vary in their natural intelligence.

For example, I wouldn’t ever consider myself, based on my high school grades, in the “smart” category! But I am hard working.

So while you have to be professional to be a doctor (and it takes intelligence to do so), you don’t have to be incredibly intellectually gifted.

And don’t worry about all those “Am I Smart Enough To Be A Doctor” quizzes either. They’re only meant for fun. Don’t be encourage/discouraged by their results!

Can an average student become a doctor?

The short answer here is no.

Gaining access to public medical schools is, for the most part, insanely competitive. You’ll have to score in the top percentiles of your state exams and then give a satisfactory admissions examination to stand a chance.

And that’s before performing well on a medical school admissions interview too.

But the good news is that there are still options.

As I’ve discussed several times before on this site, there are several alternative routes into medicine that exist where average students can gain access to med school.

Related: Can I Get Into Medical School With C’s? (Yes, There’s Still A Chance)

But there are also plenty of other routes; just as I’ve covered with the stories of studying medicine in Czech Republic, Bulgaria etc (cheaper places with more relaxed admissions requirements!)

These are open to average students.

Is it super hard to become a doctor?

There are a lot of challenges involved in the journey of becoming a doctor that can make it super hard.

The two biggest ones:

  1. Time
  2. Financial cost

These far outweigh the intellectual challenge!

But how “hard” you might find it also comes down to mindset.

The more resolve you have and the ability to take failures in your stride (as well as discipline and habit to get the work done), the easier you will find it.

Of course there’s a lot of material to cover where some experience with the topics can help. Without certain backgrounds (math for example) things might seem more difficult. But never impossible!

Here’s what I think are the main factors that determine how “hard” you might find it being becoming a doctor…

  1. Your expectations
  2. Your med school’s expectations

The first one I’ve touched on before, arguing that grades shouldn’t really matter that much in med school. But in some cases, particularly those of highly competitive schools, they can be important.

They often determine whether you are able to keep your place on a course or not!

But the biggest factor that I’d argue makes becoming a doctor difficult? You.

Without the motivation to work (or the attitude to improve) it’s going to be very hard indeed.

Related: I’m a Lazy Medical Student. How Do I Improve?

What is the average IQ of a doctor?

According to, the IQ of the average American physician is between 120-130.

This puts doctors in the superior intelligence bracket of most occupations!

But a 2009 article in the Daily Mail, interestingly, claims that there has been a gradual decline in the average IQ of doctors over the past few decades.

Possible good news but still not great in terms of how society views medicine (and becoming a doctor).

In their eyes, medicine is one of the smartest occupations to go into (except for maybe scientists or engineers).

But the problem with judging doctors by IQ is that it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

To really ask how “smart” you need to be to become a doctor, you have to ask what it means to be “intelligent” in the first place.

IQ is only intended to measure reasoning and logical thinking.

It doesn’t take into account communication skills, empathy, bed side manner, work ethic or determination.

Things that are hugely important to becoming a great doctor!

Which doctors are smartest?

Again the answer here is subjective.

Most high scoring USMLE students aim for neurosurgery or plastics. But then there are many that, out of preference, opt for other specialisms too. Thus making it difficult to suggest that there’s any one type of doctor out there who’s smarter than all the others.

A common measure would be to look at the most competitive specialities. As only the highest scoring applicants are granted residency on these programs, they could be a good estimate.

These are:

  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Neurological Surgery
  • Plastic Surgery
  • ENT
  • Opthalmology
  • Orthopaedic Surgery (and most other surgical specialisms)

But again, competitiveness does not necessarily indicate intelligence.

Or that any of the above specialist doctors are “smarter” than any other!

Advice for if you want to be a doctor but you’re not “smart”

If you want to be a doctor but don’t consider yourself “smart”, then I know how you feel.

I’m someone who has spent most of his life feeling the same!

But here’s some practical advice I’ve found useful that’s helped me on my journey…

  1. Remind yourself that intelligence is complex, it’s not all about grades.
  2. Look into alternative routes into med school – there are many options available for students with average grades.
  3. Learn how to study more effectively (use active recall).
  4. Learn about study techniques that can help with your lack of discipline or habit (like the Pomodoro method).
  5. Recognize that it’s never too late to turn things around/start over!


You don’t have to be smart to become a doctor.

You can still get into (some) med schools with average grades.

If you have a desire to learn and a commitment to the task then you can make big strides.

Don’t let your own perceived lack of intelligence stand in your way!