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