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In this episode, I discuss the importance of knowing why you want to be a doctor. I break down some things I’ve heard from students in my mock interview sessions to help you clarify what your motivations are for pursuing medical school.
I initially had a discussion with a student who is a career changer, someone who started off her career in finance and then decided to go into healthcare, initially becoming a nurse. Now she is applying to medical school because she wants to be a physician. When asked why she wanted to change course and become a physician, she wasn’t able to come up with an answer. So I dug into her story and discovered there was more to it.
Do you know why are you embarking on this journey to take 4 years of your life for medical school, plus 3 years for residency, and go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt?
What motivates you? What was the spark?
If you don’t know these things, then you better take some time to figure these out.You don't need to tell people that you love science and you love helping people. That goes without saying if you're applying to medical school.Click To Tweet
Having health issues as a kid
Having health issues as a kid is not in itself a good reason to become a doctor because plenty of people who had health issues did not go on to become physicians.
What was so special about your interaction with the health care providers that made you take that next step and go volunteer in a hospital or find someone to shadow? What emotions did you have? Why did you take those next steps? It’s important to tie that together. You already have this initial seed planted in your head, but you need to take that next step.
You love science and you love helping people.
You don’t need to tell people that you love science and you love helping people. That goes without saying if you’re applying to medical school. It’s obvious that you like science enough to go through undergrad as a premed, and of course, you better like helping people if you’re trying to be a physician. Your patients will endlessly make demands of your time and empathy, so you need to like helping people. But these aren’t good reasons to become a doctor by themselves.
[Related episode: 10 Traits You Need to Succeed in Medical School]
You want to be the clinical expert and be able to make the final decision.
This answer focuses on you, your knowledge, and your power for yielding the final decision. In many states, a PA and an NP can practice independently these days, so you can make the final decision as a PA or NP. And you can study as much as you want after you graduate from your programs, to become a clinical expert with any degree.When you talk about why you want to be a doctor, talk about the impact you want to have on the patients. If you want in-depth knowledge, what does that mean for the patient?Click To Tweet
You don’t want to feel limited in what you can do.
This can come across in a negative way if you’re just emphasizing the limitations on yourself. Again, be sure the patient is in the conversation. Instead of talking about how your scope of practice may be limited in other health care roles, talk about how you can affect the most change for the patient or do more to help the patient when you have a broader scope of practice.
Reframe it into how you want to be able to act on information to make a difference for the patient. This changes the whole sentiment of what you’re saying because it’s now focusing on helping the patient. Focus on the patients.
You want the intellectual stimulation of being a doctor.
These are very cliche things and aren’t really relevant to why you want to be a physician. Tie it together with having the satisfaction to make a difference in the patient’s life, and it makes a huge difference.
You were exposed to medicine at a young age because your parents or relatives are physicians.
Again, what was the next step? How did you go from your parent being a nurse to you wanting to be a physician? Why not a nurse or a PA? Draw upon your experiences of being with patients. Talk about the connection you can have with patients as a physician.
You want more knowledge vs. nurses or PAs.
True, but that answer alone does not suffice. Why do you want more knowledge? If your reason is autonomy, that is not a reason to want to be a physician. Start thinking deeper. Why do you want to have increased knowledge? Why is autonomy so important to you?
You want to make treatment plan decisions.
NPs and PAs also make treatment decisions, and a lot of them are practicing in an environment where they work on their own. You need to dig deeper and have more to your answer.
You have a PhD, but you need to become a physician to have the opportunity to treat patients.
Saying it this way is powerful because you’re focusing on the patient. It’s not about you or your level of knowledge or power. It’s all about the patient.
Why do you want to be a doctor? It is very important to know this. Think about these things as you go through your premed journey.
How to answer “Why do you want to be a doctor?” Tell stories of meaningful patient interactions that have inspired you to want to be a doctor. Avoid using simple abstractions like “I want to help people.” Avoid reasons that are focused on yourself, your knowledge or prestige. Focus on the patients.
How to answer “Why a doctor and not a nurse”? Tell stories of specific physicians and patients who have inspired you toward medicine. Focus on why those stories make you want to be a doctor. Don’t be negative about nursing, but instead explain what’s pulling you toward medicine.
Links and Other Resources:
- For more on clarifying your “why” and communicating it in your application, check out Dr. Gray’s book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.
- Anytime Mock Interview Platform
- One-on-One Mock Interview Prep with Dr. Gray
- Related Episode: 5 Biggest Medical School Personal Statement Mistakes
- Related Episode: 5 Common Med School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them