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How to answer the big question

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First things first, congratulations on getting an interview! That’s a massive achievement all on its own! Now is the time to be prepping for that interview as it’s not the sort of thing you should be winging. There are already a couple of blogs on how to ace an interview (all of which you should read!) so this one is just about how to answer that one big question.

So why do you want to be a doctor?

Every medical school will ask you this in some shape or another. Here are a couple of ways it might be phrased

  1. Why do you want to be a doctor?
  2. Why do you want to study medicine?
  3. You say you want to help people, why not do nursing?

All these questions are slightly different and have to be answered in a different way, but they can all be answered with the same core structure: what is the reason you’re in that interview room?

Everyone is going to have a different answer, but here are a few things that might help you formulate your response.

  1. Previous experience: if your real reason for wanting to do medicine is that you want to help people, you wouldn’t be waiting around until you’re through 5-6 years of university to do that. Talk about your volunteering experiences and the health inequities you’ve seen and how those have made you realize you can use your privilege to help. You could also talk about your own or your loved one’s experiences in healthcare.
  2. Predict the follow up questions: there are thousands of helping people professions and you’ve chosen the one with the greatest earning capacity so you have to have a really good answer for the “Why not nursing?” question. If you have a previous degree, or are partly through another degree they’ll ask you why not stick with that. Whatever you do, don’t bash other professions, it doesn’t make you look like a team player. For this question you need to build medicine up, not bring other professions down. I’d advise you to always answer this question even if they don’t ask it, pop it into you standard “why medicine” response.
  3. Don’t be too selfless: medicine is long and often times not at all enjoyable and you are a human. If you go in and convince your interview panel the only reason you want to do medicine is for others they’ll think you’re a saint but they’ll also think you’ll burn out before your first midterm. Yes you want to help others, but you also have to have your own reasons for doing it.
  4. Avoid saying “I really want to help people”: you’ll say a version of it for sure, but try and avoid those exact words. Chances are your panel has heard them 30 times already.
  5. The nevers: never say anything along the lines of travel opportunities, money, job security, or status.

Here’s an example of an answer that uses this format:

“So why do you want to be a doctor?”

“Well there are many reasons, but it mainly comes down to a couple of things. Through my volunteering I’ve had the opportunity to work with a family whose child had some really complex health needs and I’ve seen the impact that caring for her has on the family. Her medical team is absolutely incredible and I’ve been able to see how they’re able to work collaboratively with the family to help this little girl just get on with being a normal child even while she’s ill. And I cannot imagine how rewarding that must be; I’d love to be able to use the opportunities I’ve been given like good health and education, to be able to make those kinds of differences. The other arm of it is that I love science. It’s always been such an enticing field but at the same time I’m not so interested in being in a lab, I know I want to work with people and do what I can to help while still engaging in research and learning. I think medicine is a really clear platform for that. I suppose the obvious next question is why not do nursing or one of the allied health fields. Those are all incredible careers and certainly I think I could be happy in one of those fields. I think though what sets medicine apart for me is the broadness of it, rather than being in a single element of a person’s care I want to be on that journey from investigation right through to treatment. While it’s a little scary right now, I think that one day I would really enjoy making those sorts of decisions, and have that “figuring out” role.”

“Why do you want to be a doctor” is probably the hardest question you’ll have to answer in your interviews. By my last interview I felt like saying “Ugh I just do okay!” but from the interviewers’ perspective it’s also the most important answer. And anyway, once you’re in medicine practically every stranger you meet will ask you why you want to be a doctor. Nowadays I usually just say I chose medicine because professional cat patter wasn’t an option.

Presenting yourself in interviews
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