"Why medicine?" How to answer this common MD interview question!

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For many applicants, the question, “Why medicine?” is an expected, yet challenging to answer when asked in an interview setting. Fortunately, you’ve likely reflected on this question when considering whether to apply to medical school and throughout the application process, particularly when writing your personal statement. But you might not have had to synthesize these ideas into something that can be concise enough to verbally communicate. Thus, what I hope to offer today is one framework for the what and how to communicate an effective answer to this question when asked in an interview setting.  

How to answer "why medicine"

1. The content

Oftentimes, interviewers will ask you, “Why do you want to go into medicine?” to elicit two main things. 

The first aspect they want to hear is what you understand is at the heart of doctoring. As you likely have discovered, doctors see their work as more than just diagnosis and treatment—it involves all aspects of serving patients in the clinic or hospital, and complementary work to broadly improve the health of patients from other angles as well. Thus, your interviewer will want to know is that you’ve grown to understand the different ways that people practice the profession, both directly in patient care and around it. 

The second component is focused on you. Given what you’ve understood about doctoring, what draws you into the role? You should consider both your breadth of experiences within medicine as well as outside of it. For instance, is there a particular population you care deeply about, since you have already dedicated your time to working with this community and hope to continue to serve them from a standpoint of a physician in the future? Is there a particular element that complements being a physician, like having an anthropology background that has attuned you to observation and connecting deeply with others, or having a passion in basic science research that you hope to continue pursuing in order to better understand the underpinnings of disease? 

2. The delivery

One approach to effectively delivering these messages is to address both elements, verbalizing what you’ve seen physicians you’ve worked with accomplishing that speaks to your own passions, both within the walls of the hospital and outside of it. 

Consider starting clearly: “I was drawn to medicine when/because…” and then reference components that have stuck with you. For instance, I remember it struck me when I was considering medicine that it offered a dedicated space to comfort others in times of vulnerability, not only by providing knowledge or answers, but by simply being a human presence. Having this be our opening gives your interviewer your perspective on how you think of a doctor’s role. 

Afterwards, bring up your own experiences. Choose one or two that speak to your understanding of medicine and what kind of doctor you hope to be. Talk about your social justice work, and how you saw physicians advocating and the areas you hope to change in the future. Share about your experience and passions in data science, and how you’ve seen and perhaps, worked with physician-scientists who combine their knowledge of disease and expertise in big data to address population-level problems. You can use anecdotes, but remember that you want to be clear and concise with their question always in mind—every sentence should help illustrate why you want a future in medicine.

3. Some statements to be cautious about...

 “I wanted to be a doctor because I was sick as a child.”

Instead, use your own experiences as a reflection for what you appreciated about doctors—whether it their comforting presence, their support to your family, etc. You can reflect on whether this has encouraged you to shadow in or seek opportunities in particular fields, but focus instead on what you learned from them. 

“I’ve dreamed of being a doctor since I was 8 years old.”

Instead, focus on the here and now, largely college and post-grad years, and what has recently helped affirm this dream. While it’s special that you’ve been dreaming of being a physician for a long time, you have more maturity of thought now and can add depth to the “why.” 

“I wanted to be a doctor because my parents are doctors.”

Instead, hear from them how they think about their own careers doctors. Reflect on how you may be similar or different, and focus on how you’ve carved your own path.

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