Answering the BIG Medical Interview Question
1 month ago by Rob
One question which commonly comes up in both panel interviews and multiple mini-interviews (MMIs) for medical admission is the question of why you want to be a doctor. This question can take a number of different forms, such as:
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- What are the things you like about studying medicine?
- What kind of a doctor do you want to be?
- Why do you want to be a doctor instead of another type of health professional such as a nurse, social worker, or psychologist?
While this medical interview question might seem superficially simple, formulating an effective response to this question to really wow the interviewer can be quite the challenge. In this blog post I’ll be discussing some tips for approaching this family of questions, to help make sure you can make a big impact in your medical interview!
Why ask the question, “Why Medicine?”
Every year, tens of thousands of candidates apply for positions in medical programs in this country, and thousands of them are offered the chance to sit a medical interview. This fact underscores the importance of this question. With so many different people wanting to do medicine for so many different reasons, the interviewer wants to know what it is that is driving you personally to apply for medicine, and what makes you different from all those other candidates.
Understanding this gives us a key piece of advice: Keep it personal. The medical interviewer isn’t interested in general facts or claims about medicine, nor are they interested in vague statements that aren’t specific to you or medicine. For instance, the common response that “I want to do medicine because I want to help people” might sound good on its surface, but actually provides the interviewer with very little insight into your personal motivations for medicine in particular. Many occupations (such as nursing, social work, and psychology as mentioned above) in and beyond healthcare are able to help people, and no medical candidate would ever say “I don’t want to help people”!
Giving a Comprehensive Response
A strong response will feature granular detail on why you are interested in medicine. Such responses indicate that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about medicine, and that you understand the nature of the career and its unique upsides and challenges. Anecdotes will form an important part of this. For instance, the wealth of personal detail in the following example demonstrates a high level of insight into the nature of medicine as a career and the individual’s personal goals and hopes:
"I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to do medicine—when I was younger, I always said I wanted to be an astronaut!—but there were two key experiences I had which put me on the path to pursuing a medical career. Firstly, a couple of years ago my grandfather was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, and he was placed on an experimental treatment which was able to send the cancer into remission. I was really amazed at the time and awed by the fact that groundbreaking medical research like that treatment is able to let people who might otherwise have died live happy and fulfilling lives. Later on, I was able to do work experience at the Garvan Institute, where I learned more about the process of medical research. I think that being able to research and understand challenging diseases is fascinating, and I’m very glad that I might have the opportunity to develop new treatments like the one that saved my grandfather. I think that also fits in with my strong interest in science as a school subject and my success at the Chemistry Olympiad."
Now, you might not have a grandfather who had a blood cancer, or a history of work experience at the Garvan Institute—but if you’ve made it this far through the challenging process of medical entrance, there must be something within you driving you towards medicine. That brings me to another tip, which might seem trivial but is in fact very useful: Ask yourself.
Spend time thinking about questions like, “Why medicine and not nursing?” and ask yourself what it is about medicine that leaves you so strongly driven towards it, or what would be missing in a nursing career that you hope to find in a medical one. (Of course, you don’t want to denigrate other health professions, rather, you should recognise their differences to medicine and why those matter to you.)
Even if you’re not specifically asked about nursing or other health careers, this will still help you explore your motivations for medicine in detail, motivations which you can use in your response. The only person who truly knows why you want to do medicine is you! If you can effectively convey your reasons to the interviewer, your response to this medical interview question will be very effective.
Some Useful Material
A few further points to consider:
- Volunteering and work experience in health contexts, and what you got out of them, are great to discuss (“Volunteering at St. Vincent’s hospital gave me a really good insight into how medicine can impact the lives of the most vulnerable…”)
- Acknowledge your own passions and interests, conveying a multifaceted and realistic view of yourself to the interviewer that isn’t just focused on academics or helping people (“I’ve always found the human body fascinating, so I think that studying medicine will be really interesting for me…”)
- Avoid mentioning things like financial remuneration or social status
Putting It All Together
Here’s an example response built up using the principles set out above:
"There are many reasons behind my interest in medicine, 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 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. I can’t 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 in other people’s lives.
The other arm of it is that I love science. It’s always been such an enticing field to me, but at the same time I’m not so interested in being in a lab. I want to be able to do that rigorous scientific study, but also have a way to be out in the world working with people, and I think medicine is a really great career path for that. I think that’s one of the main things that pushes me towards medicine actually, as opposed to other health careers. It’s the fact that there’s such a broad range of opportunities, like pathophysiology, research, clinical skills, and of course patient interactions. So, I think that medicine would make for a really fascinating and vibrant career where I can learn a lot but also put that knowledge into practice to make a real difference in the lives of others."
I think the main takeaway for this question is that responses are going to be really heterogeneous, and that there’s no one “right” response. Rather, the people who are the most successful are those who are able to transcend cliché and give a lot of really authentic detail about their own personal interest in medicine, whatever it might be, as well as delivering their response with enthusiasm and passion. I hope that some of these tips have been useful to you, and I wish you luck in your interview!
Written by Callum, an experienced MedEntry interview tutor.