Why do YOU want to be a doctor? (Do NOT answer until you read this)

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Why do you want to be a doctorWhy do you want to be a doctor?
Why do you want to study medicine?
How can you be so sure medicine is the right career for you? 

This is the definitive guide to answering the Why medicine question, in your head, on your personal statement and at interview.

Here’s a common question we’ve been getting asked on our subscriber list.

“I know I want to do medicine but I’ve no idea why!
Or at least no idea how to articulate why. Can you help me tell them why? What should I say to avoid sounding crass and how can I make my answer stand out?”

This is important. The so called why medicine question is a guaranteed to be asked at every interview. It is something you must tackle in the opening line of your personal statement. It’s also a question that is answered badly by 90% of candidates. In fact, good answers are so scarce that there is a tendency by some interviewers to allow crappy answers a pass, as long as it doesn’t include one of the cardinal errors.

The fact that it is answered badly by almost everyone is good news for you, because by the end of this article (and with some work from yourself) you’ll be able to eat the competition up even before you’re halfway through your interview by having a killer answer to a GUARANTEED interview question.

The exact reason WHY you want to do medicine is personal and probably unique to you. This article can’t tell you what that reason is, but it should help you answer the question in a convincing manner.

Secondly, this article is not going to go through the standard answers taught on courses and in textbooks which are generic, boring and heard so often at interview that we just switch off with boredom.

These include:
An interest in people and science
An interest in helping people

A friend of mine interviews many, many candidates who who all say something along the following lines.

“I love the satisfaction of helping people and I think a medical career will give me the skills to help those most in need.”

My friend normally follows this up with, ‘So why not nursing? Nurses help people.’

It’s usually enough to get the poor interviewee thrown quite off balance!

Of course, you must be honest when answering questions at interview, but the successful answer to this question does not lie in being completely honest and opening your heart to the interviewer.

No, the successful answer lies in giving something personal to the interviewer. Making sure your answer includes some detail from your past, that tells them something about who you are. This is what will set you apart from the rest of the crowd of hopefuls. It will make it clear that you haven’t just ripped off someone elses answer or done a google search to see what other people are saying.

There are two key strategies you can use.

Strategy 1. The sudden change of plan
With this strategy you mention a certain well heeled career path (not medicine) that you had embarked upon or were planning to embark upon when suddenly your interest shifted to medicine due to one or more reasons.

This is an ideal strategy for graduates and other people with lots of excellent, but non-medical achievements on their CVs. It also works well for anyone struggling to describe how they initially became interested in medicine.
Remember you have to be fairly quick in getting the story across. Spending 2 minutes on your formal, never completed, legal education is too long. The idea is to use the previous experience as a stepping stone to talk or write about medicine.

Example:
Let’s say you have been doing an undergraduate degree on pharmacy and are now applying for medicine.
Well the ‘sudden change of plan’ strategy is ideal for you, as you can initially say how your interest in chemistry and healthcare science took led you to pharmacy.

You enjoyed the technical aspects of it and enjoyed research. However you really, (and unexpectedly) enjoyed communicating with people and solving their problems. Furthermore you were very good at this and began to realise that a career in medicine would allow you to focus more on this aspect of healthcare, as well as equip you with better tools and skills to help patients. Then go onto how your work experience confirmed all of the above, always giving concrete examples of course, and you’re done!

For a final flourish you should add what specific skills your pharmacy background will bring to medicine. These will be unique and interesting. You will find that suddenly the interviewers are all on your side and the place at medical school is yours (as long as you don’t make a major cock up in the rest of the interview.)

Strategy 2. The very early spark
With this strategy you talk about how a childhood or early life event suddenly sparked off an interest in becoming a doctor and that continued to grow with you as it was fed by other life events.

This works best if you have lots of early work experience, and some evidence of an early interest in science or medicine that you can talk about.

Start by describing the very first time you became interested in the work of doctors:
-You had a doctor in the family who inspired you.
-You or a close friend or relative had a serious illness.
-You witnessed deprivation, disease or illness in an usual setting, whilst on holiday in a poorer country for example.
-You had an early insight through a medicine related school project
-You carried out early voluntary work with patients throigh friends or family.

The initial spark does not have to be completely unique but you should be able to talk about it convincingly.

Next go on to mention how that initial spark spurred you on to pursue your interest at every available opportunity with examples.

By the end of your answer the decision to go to medical school should look like the next obvious step in your story. You can then go on to briefly mention your ambitions after you get a place to study medicine.

The more factors you can put into your very early spark story the more realistic it sounds and the more opportunities you must have had to think about your decision.

The ‘story’ you finally come up with will need to be refined as you make sure other people (friends and teachers) get to read or hear it. Their feedback is important and their first impressions will usually be an accurate guide to how your answer will be received by the medical school admissions team.

Don’t be afraid to COMBINE the two strategies if you feel that suits your background better.

Remember to prepare your answer early. Give yourself months to refine and practice it if possible because you’ll be relying on it in your application form and at every interview as well as at work experience placements.

Remember that at interview the length of your answer is important. Stick to the rules we set out earlier.

Remember that 95% of candidates will have no clue about the best way to tackle this. Follow the rules above and I guarantee you’ll be ahead of the crowd.

Still having problems?
There are some of you out there who have truly unique circumstances that will not easily fit the strategies above. If that sounds like you, email us with the details and we can get one of our team to draft out a custom made answer that helps you explain why you want to get into medicine.

Anything to add? Leave us a comment below!

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Good luck!

Leo

18 Comments + Add Comment

  • Ideal, thank you.

  • This is the clearest guide I’ve seen so far.
    Nobody realises that this one of the hardest questions to answer honestly and effectively.0

  • This is a guaranteed interview question and one which was fired at me for every interview last year. Unfortu ateky my poor response is probably the reason i’m having to reapply.
    This should help me though. As its the sort of thing nobody tells you. Thank you so much.

  • The sudden change of plan can be very difficult to sound right when you come from a completely unrelated field such as accounting and financce, (as I do). Any tips?

    By the way great site I’ve been reading through everything here

    • Jamie, the more unrelated the field the more creative you can be.
      Working in accounting me have brought you insights into working with medical companies, private hospitals and doing tax for doctors.
      Also you may have done some finance work for a medical charity and seen their work and been inspired.

      The list is infinite and in a way, what exactly you say doesn’t matter as much as how your subsequent idea of a medical career is balanced and realistic. That way they won’t fault you, trust me.

  • As a GEM you have to go for the change of plan unless you wnt to state that you failed to get in earlier or that you failed to realise your true passion aged 18.

  • I wanted to do music and be a professional clarinet player, but music is not very stable field financially, and I thought that my interest in medicine would be a more stable career option. How can I form this is to the reason that I want to be a doctor without the interviewers thinking that it is all about the money?

    • Hi Marie,

      Just talk about what attracts you to medicine and ignore the music thing. Much safer. you can then mention the interest in music as something that complements your academic side.

      Hope that helps.

  • I’m currently studying English Literature at university, but am hoping to enter into a graduate entry medical course. I can’t think of any way I can link this to wanting to be a doctor however. Do you have any ideas I could utilise?

    Also, your articles have been really informative and useful so thanks.

    • I think literature is full of inspiring examples to draw from.
      Also, your interest in English Literature means that you are able to look at life from different perspectives. Medicine is a career that enables and often requires you to do just that every time you see a patient.
      Eng Lit is definitely a strength if you can spin it well.

  • Hi Leo,

    Firstly, thank you for your website.

    I’m a trainee lawyer in the City and I’m planning to apply for GEM in 2014. Will my ‘sudden change’ be seen as representing a crisis in my professional life? Sort of like Scrooge dashing round with the turkey to Tiny Tim’s house on Christmas day?

    • Well it depends how you present yourself. Sudden changes of career are reasonable as long as you convince us you have good reasons, are realistic and have the character to get through it.

      Leo

  • I’ve wanted to be a doctor throughout my secondary school years, based my work experience around medicine, and each placement has affirmed my ambition, like ‘yep, that’s who I wanna be.’ I talk about the positives about the doctor; the fantastic variety, mental challenges, patient contact, working as a team, the necessity of honest empathy etcetc, but this makes me sound naive about the obvious mental, physical and emotional challenges of being a doctor, it’s not all white coats and roses, I understand and accept this and think I have the capacity to deal with them. How can I express my ambition without sounding like I’ve not thought about the negative effects the job will have?

    • Simple. Just balance out your answer. Start with all the positives that draw you towards medicine but the n follow it up with a few words about how you understand the difficulties that go with this career path. As long as you show you are being realistic and no too ‘starry eyed’ you’ll come across very well.
      Good luck!

      Leo

  • Hi Leo,
    I have an interview next month and I am struggling a bit with how to answer this question. I have my reasons and what led me to pursue it now (as I am 26). My undergrad was physical geography but I am finding it hard to link this in. Should I just not talk about this? Do you have any suggestions?

    • Geography often deals with real world problems through a scientific framework so I think on some level it shares something with medicine. Perhaps you enjoyed that aspect and wanted to work more closely solving problems for individual people? Equally you can just say that you were suddenly inspired to do medicine after an experience you or a family member had. It’s not always essential to link things perfectly and sometimes it can sound more contrived if you try and make your story too perfect.

      In short there are many ways you can attack this but as long as you sound passionate and realistic, as well as honest, you’ll be fine.

      Leo

      • yes that’s exactly what happened! Well both myself and my partner had some problems and needed surgery a few years ago. I was worried that my interest is not as long standing as other applicants, so that might not come across in a good way.

        Thank you for you help. Interview in 3 weeks!

  • Hi Lio,

    This is the most insightful site I have come across on the topic!! Thank you for creating it!
    While in high school I always wanted to be a doctor and then in grade 12 made a choice to be a chef instead, I am a successful sous chef now but thinking of going back into medical school. How do I link it to medical school without sounding like I cant stick to a decision kind a person.

    Thank you