Why do you want to be a doctor?
The third and final round of medical school admissions is the medical school interview.
If you have a medical school interview coming up, congratulations!
- You’ve made it to the end of a highly competitive process. That means the school sees you as a strong candidate and a potential fit for their program.
Now, the admissions team wants to evaluate the intangibles—the information about you that will never show up on a transcript or in an application.
They will look at your communication skills (essential for any doctor), your presence and confidence, your personality, and your values.
- Arriving at the interview feeling confident and prepared is essential. To accomplish this, you’ll need to practice for some of the most common medical school interview questions.
Medical school interview questions may vary, but there’s one question you’re guaranteed to see in both the interview and personal statements:
Why do you want to be a doctor?
Surprisingly, this question frequently stumps medical school candidates. It’s hard to give a meaningful answer that isn’t a cliché.
- That’s unfortunate, because this question is one of the most important.
- A poor answer to this question can severely hurt your chances.
On the other hand, a great answer can set you apart from the thousands of students who give responses that are uninspired or just plain bad.
In this guide, we’ll teach you to ace your answer to the question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” in your interview and your personal statement, ultimately increasing your chances of acceptance.
Why Do Interviewers Ask “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”
Studying medicine is a huge commitment, and being a doctor is a challenging job.
Admissions officers want to know that you’re genuinely invested in this career path.
It’s important to understand that this question is not asking you what you like about medicine.
- It’s also not asking what skills you have that are relevant to a career in medicine.
Medical schools want to know your “why.” What is your motivation or inspiration for choosing this demanding career?
If you have a solid “why,” you’re more likely to remain committed to medicine for the long haul.
- You’ll have the motivation to overcome obstacles and difficult days, which makes you a more appealing candidate for medical schools.
Remember that the medical school also wants to learn about “you.” This is not the time to recite a list of the reasons being a doctor is a great career.
Your answer must focus on why you want to be a doctor. It should tell admissions officers more about you, not about a career with which they’re already very familiar.
What Not to Say When Asked, “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”
Before we get to some strategies for tackling this tough question, let’s look at a few answers you’ll want to avoid.
- To make money: Naturally, medical schools do not want money to be your main motivator. Plus, there are other lucrative careers that don’t require the same commitment and sacrifice as medicine.
- Because you hate your current career: Your emphasis should be on why you’re drawn to medicine, not why you’re unhappy in another field. If your sole motivation is that you hate your current career, there are many other job options available.
- To be influential/to make a name for yourself: Selflessness and a heart of service are among the most important qualities a doctor can have. Don’t give an answer that makes you seem selfish, arrogant, or focused only on yourself.
- To enjoy a rewarding career: Medical schools want you to be realistic about working as a doctor. They want you to understand there will be hard days, sad days, and days that are long and discouraging. Avoid answers that may suggest you have an unrealistic idea of what it will be like to work in medicine.
- To help people: There are many careers that help people. In fact, another common medical school interview question is, “Why not nursing?” or, “Why not social work?” You need to give a specific answer that can’t be applied to many other careers.
- Because you love science: It’s safe to assume that most medical school applicants have an interest in science. And again, there are other careers that incorporate science. So, why medicine specifically?
- Because your parents were doctors: This can suggest that you’re pursuing medicine merely to follow in your parents’ footsteps. Is this career expected of you? Are you hoping that it will gain the respect of your parents? Remember, this answer is supposed to be about you.
- To be intellectually stimulated: This answer is a cliché, and it’s not a good enough reason to pursue medicine. Other careers are intellectually stimulating too.
- Because of an early experience with a doctor: Most people have had an experience with a doctor, and many of them do not go on to become physicians. Only go this route if it’s true and if you have clear, specific, and heartfelt reasons why this doctor was so special and why the experience motivated your interest in medicine.
In fact, most of these overused answers can be fixed if they’re treated as just part of your story. Alone, they are insufficient and impersonal reasons to become a doctor.
However, if you add specific, personal details, these answers can be greatly improved.
For example, if you want to talk about your parents being doctors, your answer should include:
- What specific event, characteristic, or component of the job inspired you?
- How did you make the leap from seeing your parents at doctors to wanting to be a doctor yourself?
- After this initial spark, what did you do to pursue your interest in medicine independently?
- How has your interest in/knowledge of medicine evolved from there?
By including these pieces, you’ll make the answer unique to you.
Keep in mind, however, that admissions officers are likely to hear many responses related to the “Overused Answers” mentioned above.
Unless you have an especially meaningful story that fits into these categories, it’s best to avoid them. You want to give a memorable answer that doesn’t sound like any other candidate.
What Are Some Good Responses to “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”
So, if all the answers above are bad or cliché, what are some good responses?
A good response will be unique to you. It will be true and authentic, and it will include specific and meaningful details.
Because of this, no one else can tell you what your answer should be. However, your response should generally follow these guidelines:
Tell a story
A story can make a common idea your own personal point. For instance, if you want to share that observing your parents as doctors sparked an interest in you, start with an anecdote.
- What did you see your parents do?
- What stuck with your or was meaningful to you?
- The more specific you can get, the better. Can you think of one moment that inspired you to pursue medicine yourself?
The same is true for any answer that could be perceived as generic.
- If you love helping people, share a story that shows an early and formative experience with helping others.
Instead of simply listing reasons, be prepared to share a story that provides evidence, meaning, and personality to your response.
Use a combination of ideas
Although you shouldn’t list a bunch of reasons, you don’t have to limit your response to one reason.
- In fact, your decision to work as a physician was probably inspired by a combination of factors.
So, you may start by explaining how watching your parents work as doctors sparked your interest.
- Or perhaps it was a childhood experience with an excellent physician.
- Maybe you were even affected by a time that medicine failed, which inspired you to pursue medical knowledge.
But what happened after that first spark? You can also share details of your clinical experience, your independent pursuit of medical knowledge, and so on.
- As you continued learning more about medicine, what did you discover about your strengths?
- What did you learn about the profession that affirmed your interest?
- What other experiences solidified your desire to work in medicine?
Show you understand what the career entails
You want to avoid appearing starry-eyed or ill-informed about the challenges of medicine.
At some point in your answer, you should briefly acknowledge that you know medicine is a difficult career.
- You understand that you will work long hours and that stress and burnout are a very real part of working in medicine.
It’s also helpful to indicate that you’ve considered how you will tackle these obstacles:
- Do you have an extensive support network?
- Do you have a method of de-stressing when life gets tough?
- Does exercise or meditation help you remain calm?
You don’t have to have all the answers yet, but suggesting that you understand the challenges of medicine and have given some thought to handling them will go a long way.
How to Figure Out Your Answer
Determining your answer to this question requires some self-reflection. It’s a good idea to start with a brain dump:
- Without editing or second-guessing, list all the reasons you want to become a doctor. What are the first ideas that come to mind?
- After listing everything you can think of, review your list. What ideas stand out to you or feel especially meaningful and compelling?
- Once you’ve chosen a few main ideas, dive deeper. What experiences illustrate these ideas or helped shape them?
- Come up with an anecdote or two that provide evidence or an explanation for your main reasons.
When you’re ready, grab an index card.
- On one side, write the question, “Why do you want to become a doctor?”
- On the other side, list the main bullet points you want to cover in your answer.
Go over your response with family members or friends.
Is anything missing? Is your answer compelling or interesting? Be open to feedback, and revise your response as needed.
How to Organize Your Answer to, “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”
It’s common for students to ramble on and on when asked why they want to become a doctor.
They list all the reasons they can think of, hoping at least one of them is adequate.
- This is not an effective approach to answering the question. Instead, you’ll want to organize your answer in advance.
You don’t want to sound scripted, but you do want to have a general idea of how you will structure your main points.
Here’s one simple approach:
- Start with the story. Briefly narrate an event or events that sparked your initial interest in medicine.
Include specific details. Why was this experience so meaningful to you?
- Outline your next steps. The admissions team already knows a lot about your experience in medicine, so don’t rehash your resume.
However, you should briefly mention what you did next. This initial experience isn’t enough to explain your decision to make a career out of medicine. What did you do to continue exploring the field and examining your interest?
- Explain what solidified your decision. How did these additional experiences solidify your interest in medicine?
Share another story, or give a few concrete reasons that helped you decide to follow through with your initial interest.
- Acknowledge the challenges of medicine. The end of your answer is a great place to state that you understand your career as a physician will not be easy.
Then, affirm your decision by explaining that you believe you can handle it and that it’s worth it (for the other reasons you’ve mentioned in your response).
In general, it’s best to begin with an anecdote that illustrates your reasons. Then, reflect on what you learned from the experience and why it was meaningful to you.
- At this point, you can explicitly state your reasons for pursuing a career in medicine.
- By showing before telling, you’ll make your answer more authentic, meaningful, and unique.
Others might have similar reasons for wanting to be a doctor, but the difference is in the details. Only you can tell your story.
Final Thoughts: How to Answer Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor
Whether it’s during your interview or in your personal statement, you are now prepared to effectively answer the question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
- Don’t agonize too much over finding a completely new answer that has never been heard in the history of medical school interviews.
Instead, take time to be reflective and to craft an authentic, compelling anecdote that illustrates your reasoning. Share details that are specific and meaningful.
If your honesty and passion shine through in your response, you can’t go wrong.