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Raising Awareness About a Hurtful Term

Alikhan, Ali MD; Modjtahedi, Boback S. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181d6c930
Letters to the Editor

Resident, MacNeal Hospital, Berwyn, Illinois; (Alikhan)

Resident, University of California at Davis, School of Medicine, Sacramento, California. (Modjtahedi)

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To the Editor:

We are concerned that the popular term gunner, which has achieved worldwide use among medical students, can be hurtful to some even when used in jest. While definitions vary, a gunner is often seen as a student who is motivated and ambitious,1 but there is usually the implication of ruthless competitiveness and a willingness to abandon social graces and, in some cases, ethical behavior. Gunners usually do not fear their classmates' ire nor seek their approval. The term is often applied to those who succeed at the expense of others,2 but in the competitive world of medical education, it is sometimes applied, out of jealousy and bitterness, to those who succeed simply because they are high achievers.

Many students who are called gunners fight the categorization while others embrace it. But some—often those legitimate high-achievers who have been labeled gunners out of spite—can subsequently become alienated and feel disliked by their peers. This is especially concerning, given the intensity and rigors of medical school, when students really need each others' support.

The first step toward lessening this problem would be for educators and administrators to recognize that gunner and similar terms can be mean and disrespectful and can go beyond the harmless student banter of joking insults. The second step would be to discuss these terms' potential to hurt by having meetings, with all students present, to educate them about the damage these terms can do both to individuals and also to the sense of community and mutual support that is so important for students' well being. Such meetings should also help students acknowledge that the stressfulness of medical school can lead to anxiety, anger, and jealousy, but that counseling and other positive avenues exist to deal with such emotions. We sincerely believe that such faculty-administration-student discussions could help students think twice before calling one of their colleagues a gunner.

Ali Alikhan, MD

Resident, MacNeal Hospital, Berwyn, Illinois;

Boback S. Modjtahedi, MD

Resident, University of California at Davis, School of Medicine, Sacramento, California.

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1 No D. The 15 types of medical students. SMA News. 2006 November;38(11):11–13.
    2 Wright J. Gunners blasting their fellow medical students [radio broadcast]. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2010.
      © 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges