Adrian Gutierrez

Adrian Gutierrez

After a long day of studying or coming back from being a medical student and in the hospital, most of us tune in to our favorite TV shows on Netflix.

One of my favorite shows that I always like to reflect on is Mindhunter. This criminal thriller series always kept me on my toes but also made me into a better medical student.

These are the basic principles that I received from the show. (Some spoilers ahead)

Principle #1: Ask Questions

Principle #2: Understand how your environment affects you

Principle #3: Educate others to solidify your knowledge

Principle #4: Learn to listen


Principle #1: Ask Questions

In Mindhunter, a young FBI Special Agent, Holden Ford, finds himself in the middle of a hostage negotiation. Despite the fact that he successfully saves the hostage, he is unable to save the hostage-taker. He questions why this is considered a successful negotiation. He attends multiple lectures that are aimed at teaching future FBI agents the techniques of a successful negotiation and how the hostage-taker is disposable. Though he is ridiculed for wanting to change this mindset, his curiosity to dig deeper into this problem leads him to find the source of this teaching: that the FBI lacks the knowledge of why hostage-takers take hostages. This pushes him to create a program to dive into the minds of criminals where his team changes the ideas of criminology forever. 

This may seem dramatic, but the principle is easily applicable to any student — especially a medical student. What separates an average medical student from an exceptional one, is the ability to apply what they learn from books/educational resources and ask questions to dig deeper in the subject. In order to be exceptional, a medical student must be able to be curious. 

For example, as a medical student, you will most definitely encounter kidney function. You learn how to calculate the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and that protein is normally not filtered through the kidney because of its negative charge and barrier proteins. You will also learn of how age can affect the rates of GFR. Though this is plenty of information to learn already, one could go a step further and be more inquisitive. A student can ask more than is stated in the syllabus. “Why does age decrease the rate of GFR?” or “Are there ways to slow down the rate?” These were questions that I asked before I learned how hemodynamic and structural changes occur as we age including scelerotic changes of the glomeruli, stiffening of the afferent arterioles, etc.

Asking questions will not only prepare you for answering any questions on your boards or your patients, but will also give your preceptors the confidence in you to take on more responsibility. 

You are now the exceptional student who will change medicine forever. 

Principle #2: Understand how your environment affects you

The basis of the show is that serial killers are created – not born. I believe exceptional medical students are no different. Of course, I don’t mean to categorize medical students with serial killers. However, I think the right environment can produce an exceptional student. 

When starting medical school, I found the pace of it difficult to keep up with. Though I tried many tactics to combat this, I found that surrounding myself with the right people and conditions made a world of a difference.

It cannot be stressed enough that having the right support group around you will have an impact on your studying and interprofessional skills. The target goal of a support group is one that puts full faith into you even if you do not have the faith in yourself! It also pushes you to continue with your studies rather than distracting from being able to get the most studying you can. 

Putting yourself in the best studying conditions is just as critical. Though I am one who personally likes to talk to my friends while I study, I found it more effective to study in the library where there was minimal talking. I found it more satisfying as I was able to complete my studying goals for the day at a more efficient speed while still having time to hang out with my friends afterwards! 

The simple changes of surrounding myself with the right people and finding a better study location made significant changes on my ability to prioritize my studies and improve my test scores. If I had not made these changes, I doubt that I would have been able to get past my first year.

Again, you are not a serial killer. You are an exceptional student. 

Principle #3: Educate others to solidify your knowledge

In the show, Special Agent Ford and his partner travel across the nation educating the police force about the minds of serial killers. Their travels were not only to educate the police of their findings but also to solidify what research they had on the tendency of serial killers. Though the team did plenty of research, it was a sheriff’s question in a small police station in Iowa that made Special Agent Ford question himself. 

Sometimes as a medical student, we teach our friends or other students the things we just read or watched on a certain subject to try to share the knowledge. Then it happens. Your friends ask follow-up questions and you do not answer because that was not in the book/video. Do you know the material or did you just memorize it? 

I wouldn’t be harsh on myself and you should not be either. Of course you know the material, but maybe you didn’t learn it deep enough to explain the subject completely or to fully grasp the foundational concepts. 

So what happens next? You go back to your resources and rewatch/reread them in order to complete your understanding.  Or go back to other resources to  add  to your knowledge and  fully grasp your concept. Not only is it extraordinarily helpful for someone to question what you are teaching but it is necessary so you confirm you know your stuff! 

Special Agent Ford was questioned while educating others during his trip around the nation and because of it, he learned to research more so he can support his finding more about what it is to be a serial killer. Educate your friends and confirm your knowledge!

Principle #4: Learn to listen 

Raise your hand if you would feel uncomfortable talking to a serial killer about how they performed their murders in a casual manner. Is your hand up? Mine is. If yours isn’t, you have the mind of a true serial killer detective. 

In Mindhunter, Special Agent Ford speaks to multiple famous serial killers such as Richard Speck, Wayne Williams, Edmund Kemper, and many others. Many detectives wouldn’t even dare listen to what these killers have to say because it makes them uncomfortable. He, on the other hand, spoke to them face-to-face. Excellently, he would listen to each case carefully to find ways to get the best interview.

As I started my clinical rotations I found that I was intimidated by the fact I had to interview patients in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Entering the facility at 7:00 am to find myself at steel bars with an awaiting stoic security guard only added to this anticipation of meeting my patient in person. As I finally was able to meet my 71-year-old patient, traveling through three additional sealed doors, I knew that this patient encounter would require plenty of listening. His speech was fast-paced and he was constantly asking when his ventriculoperitoneal shunt was going to be performed. I let him voice his concerns as it became evident he was anxious about the procedure. It was at this point my intimidation level was brought down to zero because I just saw another person of need that I could help. I told him that I could find out a specific time when the procedure would be done and when I found it I would personally tell him so he could relax in the meantime. I was not able to get an answer immediately, however, when rounding with my attending, my patient told my attending, “ He is awesome” while pointing to me. I found it remarkable that he felt this strongly about me when all I did was listen and reassure him that he was receiving the best care. 

Though it is not likely you will be interviewing a serial killer, there will be many patients that may seem uncomfortable to interview. However, with the patience of listening to your patients you will find that most likely they will give you the information needed to find out how to help them. 

Envisioning myself as Special Agent Ford during my clinical rotations made me become a better medical student because I applied each of these principles to my daily routine. Following in the footsteps of Special Agent Ford will not only allow you to better understand the factors that go into creating famous serial killers but also lead you to become the most exceptional student they can be.


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