The question “Why do you want to be a doctor?” is possibly the most important question you will answer during your medical school interview.
Seems like a straightforward question but it’s actually very in-depth.
Plenty of premed students will answer predictably and ultimately not impress the interviewer. They hear the similar stories over and over.
You need to stand out and impress. And you also have to convince the medical school that you truly want to be a physician.
Therefore, it’s important that you put a lot of thought into this question. Use this post as a guide to help shape how you are going to deliver your answer in a way that will impress the med school interviewers.
Quick note: “Why do you want to be a doctor?” and “Why medicine?” are often used interchangeably. The only difference is that “Why medicine?” can technically mean any career path in medicine and here we are specifically talking about the doctor track.
Why Do Medical Schools Ask “Why Medicine?”
Like any university, a medical school’s reputation depends a lot on the doctors it creates. Medical schools want you to be successful so that they can say that they produce successful physicians. And of course, more successful doctors mean more donations/partnerships = more money.
Ultimately, medical schools are looking for students that are going to go on and do great things. Therefore, they only want to accept students that are very committed.
The question “Why medicine?” or more specifically “Why do you want to be a doctor?” is used to weed out students who are motivated for the wrong reasons.
You see, every med school admission committee member knows about all the perks of this profession. You don’t have to explain why you will enjoy this career but rather why you will be one of the most passionate doctors out there.
So, how are you going to stand out and prove to medical schools that your passion for medicine is genuine?
They are looking at your past experiences and how those shaped your desire for medicine. They are trying to determine if you are a genuine person or not. That’s why saying what you think they want to hear never works.
Do You Understand What The Career Entails?
When shaping the answer to “Why do you want to be a doctor?” it’s important that you understand what a career as a physician actually entails.
Not only for your own sake but also so that you properly convey your understanding of the career to a physician.
Sure, physicians are helping people. They are leading teams. They are constantly learning. Etc.
But that’s obvious to anyone who knows anything about this career path.
What about all the downsides? What about all the little nuances about being a doctor that the average person can’t understand? What is the REAL day in the life of a physician like, not the dramatized version?
This is the kind of information you need to really know why you want to go into medicine and be a doctor.
You can get a pretty good understanding with some intuitive google searching but the best way to learn is to get first-hand experience. That’s why we strongly recommend shadowing.
Personally, I spent an entire summer shadowing an OB/Gyn. I went in at 8am when he opened his practice and stayed until the end of the day. Sometimes, I even stayed late or came in after hours to really experience the lack of structure in a physician’s schedule.
I learned so much about what this career entails. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Maybe it’s too late to shadow someone for you, but I recommend you reach out to any physician that you know to pick their brain. Maybe that means a conversation about the pros and cons of being a doctor. Or maybe you can sneak in a last-minute short shadowing gig.
Further Reading: How To Find A Doctor To Shadow
Once you get through 4 years of medical school, you better make sure it’s the right path. Spending all that time and money on this career path and then realizing you hate it is soul-crushing.
When it comes time to interview, your interviewer will be very curious to see if you know what being a doctor is really like. This is difficult to BS your way through so make sure you have a solid understanding.
The Big Cliche: I Want To Help People
Before we go over the outline for a good answer to the “Why do you want to be a doctor?” question, let’s discuss the holy grail of all premed cliches: “I want to help people.”
I’m not saying this is bad. It’s necessary to want to help people if you are going into this career.
But this is not something you outright say in an interview. It’s a given. You need to prove that you want to help people.
How do you prove this? Through your extracurriculars and your “story.” Are you volunteering? Were you part of organizations growing up that helped people in some form or fashion? Did you have some kind of clinical experience that involved sitting by a patient’s bedside?
This Reddit Users expands on the simple “I want to help people” answer:
Then you use these stories to demonstrate that you want to help people without actually saying you want to help people.
A final note about this, there are plenty of career paths out there that involve helping people. Therefore, this is not a good enough reason to want to become a doctor.
Why Do You Want To Go Into Medicine?
Before we get into how you should answer this question, we want to ask you first. So why do you want to go into medicine?
Really think about it. Because the answer is going to come from within. So before we walk you through it, we want you to really think about your past and what motivated you to pursue medicine and specifically becoming a physician.
Because medicine will be extremely challenging and tedious at times. If you are not passionate about it, you will get burnt out.
To help cultivate your thoughts, here are common reasons that spark a passion for medicine:
Some kind of medical experience
You, or someone close to you, had some kind of medical emergency or chronic illness. The experience of being in the hospital and observing a physician comfort you, or your loved one, in a time when you were most vulnerable.
This kind of experience will stick with you forever and could very well be a motivator for wanting to become a physician.
A role model
Could be parents, a teacher you had, a neighbor, or your friend. Doesn’t matter. Someone in your life was a physician and inspired you to do great things.
Helping someone in need
Perhaps you were volunteering, helping a friend get through a difficult time, or changing someone’s life for the better. These kinds of experiences do motivate people to want to help others as a career.
Now all you need to do is tie this to the medical field in particular.
An obsession with medical sciences
Sometimes that spark can come from something as simple as being a biology nerd. Maybe you just love the medical sciences so much you just need to be a lifelong learner.
Again, you’ll need to tie this to a desire for medical practices in particular since there are all kinds of professions that reward lifelong learners.
A general interest that was later reinforced with experiences
This is what happened to me. I went into college with the general interest that I wanted to one day be a doctor. Nothing profound happened in my life, I just thought it would be cool and it seemed like something I would be good at.
But then I started doing things like shadowing, scribing, and volunteering.
My shadowing experience in particular was amazing. It increased my passion for medicine tenfold. This kind of desire came across as genuine when it came time for me to answer “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
How Do You Answer “Why Do You Want To Do Medicine”? (Step by Step)
Okay, hopefully, you did some self-reflection and you have a good idea of what lit your spark for wanting to go into medicine.
If not, go back to the previous section and read through the most common reasons why premeds are motivated to pursue medicine.
Now let’s dissect how you should answer this question step by step.
Step 1: The story
First, you want to set the base for your argument. Describe the story, or chain of events, that triggered your desire to go into medicine.
Storytelling is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal. A story draws the interviewer in. They become interested in you and are more likely to remember you among the entire pool of interviewees.
Step 2: Actionable steps you took
The next step is to describe the actionable steps you took after that original spark of inspiration. Did you shadow a physician? Did you volunteer? Did you find a clinical job? Did you meet with people in the industry?
The idea here is to demonstrate that you were serious in making sure this passion was a real fit and not simply a sudden whim.
Step 3: How these steps reinforced your desire
After you describe what steps you took to reinforce your passion, describe how these experiences affected your original decision. Did they reinforce it? Did they make you question it? Did you learn a lot?
There is no wrong answer here, but the more honest you are with your expectations the more genuine your desire will portray to the interviewer.
Step 4: Conclusion
Conclude on a positive note. Explain to the interviewer the aspects of being a physician that you like. Show the interviewer that this journey has made you so incredibly passionate about medicine that you couldn’t imagine yourself doing anything else.
Why Do You Want To Be A Doctor? (Specifically)
Before we continue, I thought it was worth mentioning that there is a difference between the question “Why do you want to go into medicine?” and “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
Wanting to do medicine is one thing, but why do you want to be a doctor specifically? Why not a nurse? Why not a PA?
It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the other roles. If your interview is going to drill you on this specifically, you want to demonstrate that you respect the other positions.
Remember, you aren’t becoming a doctor simply because it pays more or earns more respect from the public. You need to have legitimate reasons.
Think about aspects of the career that make being a physician unique. Maybe you want the opportunity to publish research. Maybe you love the concept of being a life-long learner and the physician route facilitates this the best.
The Correlation With Your Strengths And Weaknesses
When answering the “Why medicine?” question, it’s important to have a good grasp of your strengths and weaknesses.
This is also a common interview question so we devoted an entire post to it which you can read here.
When you are honest with yourself regarding your strengths and weaknesses, you will further convince your interviewer that you really know why you want to be a doctor. Medical schools want to know that you know your limits before embarking on this challenging journey. This will give them the confidence that you have put serious thought into it and you won’t drop out after one year.
Things You Want To Avoid Saying
Now let’s go over the things you should avoid saying. Some of these things might be true for you and that’s totally fine. You just want to avoid saying it to the interviewer!
- Money, profit, and prestige
- Probably the most obvious thing you should avoid talking about. Don’t tell, or even hint at, the interviewer that you are becoming a doctor for the money or power. This is a terrible reason to become a doctor.
- If you are going to work this hard for the money, you’re going to make a lot more money going into something like sales. Remember, it’s a passion. Ideally something you would do if you weren’t even paid.
- Challenging yourself
- Although challenging yourself is great and this profession certainly challenges you, it’s not a good enough reason to pursue this path.
- There are plenty of other challenging professions out there.
- Job security
- Job security is awesome. And yes, at this point in time there is a lot of job security in this field. This will probably stay the same for a very long time. People will always need doctors.
- But this is not a good enough reason to go through the grueling process of becoming a physician. You need more to avoid burnout.
- Parental influence
- You want to avoid hinting at any possibility of your parents pressuring you to become a physician. This tells the interviewer that you are not completely convinced it’s the right path for you.
- Talking about yourself
- Last but not least, avoid talking about yourself. Seems counterintuitive I know. After all, this question is about YOUR motivation for becoming a doctor.
- People tend to think about themselves. It’s the selfish nature of mankind. So even if it’s subconscious, the interviewer might not feel the connection if you keep using words like “I”, “Myself” and “me.”
- Try gearing the conversation towards how you like to help others. Try inserting words like “you” or “them.” It might feel awkward at first but it’s will remove any suspicion from the interviewer that you are self-centered.
The best example I can give you is my own example. Why? Well because I know it worked. Proven by my acceptance letter.
I think this example will be helpful because I didn’t have any defining moments in my past that pushed me toward medicine. I was in that “General Interest” category.
Here is my answer (paraphrased of course because it’s been a while):
When I was in high school I quickly realized that I had a knack for the sciences. Courses like biology, physics, and math came easy to me. Additionally, I had been in and out of hospitals due to repeat dislocations of my knee cap. Without going into much detail, my knees were predisposed to dislocating easily. Being around the medical staff such as physicians, orthopeadic surgeons, and physical therapists, instilled in me the idea that medicine could be something I was interested in.
When I got into college, I wasn’t committed to my studies. Coming from a small town, I was much more interested in the social life. My grades suffered and I was beginning to think that medicine was unachiavable. At that moment, I decided a change was necessary so I ended up shadowing a physician. I shadowed this OB/Gyn for an entire summer and ended up loving it. I loved every aspect of this career. What was once a general interest in medicine became a strong desire to become a physician. When I got back to school I participated in more premed activities and orginazations, I devoted myself to my studies, and put a pause on that “social life” I thought I was enjoying.
What I learned that I loved about the profession was a couple of things. I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed challenging myself, and I saw how a physician interacted with a patient at the bedside and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t change a thing about my premed journey. It showed me that I was capable of overcoming difficult obstacles and made me realize that getting through medical school was very possible. There is still a lot I need to learn about this profession and I’m looking forward to every minute of the journey there.