Whether it is for a personal statement, medical school interviews, or networking events, you will undoubtedly be asked: “Why medicine?” Though a seemingly simple question, coming up with a unique and comprehensive answer can be challenging. In this post, I outline how I approached this question by breaking it down into specific components. Use these steps as a guide for brainstorming a personal answer to a very common question.
A good starting point for answering “why medicine” is to think about what originally drew you to the field. Think about the experiences you had in high school (or maybe even earlier) that initially ignited your interest in medicine. You could think about a personal experience with a physician, a project you worked on, or a family member that works in medicine as starting points. From there, think about all of the experiences you’ve had in the past few years that confirmed your interest in medicine, including classes, volunteering experiences, and research.
Now that you have in mind the experiences that drew you to medicine, it is time to focus on the most important aspect of this question. Channel your inner toddler and play the “why” game.
I recommend writing out why each of these experiences was interesting to you. For each answer, go one level deeper and ask yourself why. Keep asking yourself why until you have reached the core of what you really want to say. For example, if you had a personal experience with a physician that made you realize you want to help people, ask yourself why you want to help people. If you realize that helping people is satisfying, gratifying, or humbling, ask yourself why it makes you feel that way. This process involves a lot of reflection and takes some time, so be patient!
After establishing why you are interested in medicine, it is important to think about how you are the right fit for medicine. Consider how you will make a good physician through specific examples. For a personal statement, it may be more appropriate to delve deep into 1-2 stories, drawing from particularly meaningful patient experiences that showcase the characteristics you have that make you a strong physician. For an interview, it may be better to give an overview of your key accomplishments, including community service, research, and leadership positions. Talk about how those accomplishments relate to your potential as a physician.
The “so what”
Finally, it is useful to reflect on your goals in a broader context. Imagine you are now a medical student, resident, or physician - so what? Think about how you will advance the field of medicine and add to the community. Perhaps you have an interest in global health, underserved health, primary care, medical education, health policy, or academic medicine. What are your goals? What do you hope to achieve as a physician? If you have extra-curricular experiences related to your long-term goals, this can help tie everything together and further strengthen your answer.
After going through these steps, I recommend taking some time to integrate your ideas and refine your answer so that it is concise and clear. If you’ve gone through all these steps, your answer to “why medicine” will be personal, engaging, and very effective.