It’s the standard question on panel interviews, but these days many will not have to answer it at all or only tangentially with the popular MMI style interviews. I still think it is an important question in pursuing a medical career. There are many different and valid answers, partially depending on if you’re interested in being a clinician, researcher or have another goal in mind for your MD. Before interviews a number of us practiced together using MMI prompts and this standard question came up, there was a lot of variation in people’s responses. Since I really do think you need to have your own reasons I’ll just go over some major themes (similarly, for personal essays I don’t think it’s a good idea to read other people’s essays first, I found if they were really good I ended up aping their approach and it wasn’t ‘me’).
- Helping others – Empathy, responsibility, wanting to combat injustice or wanting to make a difference in the world. All these came up whether the person wanted to do research, already had a specialty in mind or was interested in primary care. I think this is part of doing good with one’s life/giving back.
- Leadership – This is something of a followup to #1, “if you want to help people, why be a doctor and not a support worker?”. This can throw people if they’ve never thought about it. Although medicine is becoming more team oriented, the doctors are still looked to for decision making and guidance, or by many patients, “what should I do doc?”. Wanting that role was part of some good answers.
- Specific interest – Some had a path mapped out and getting in was one step on the way to that career. This seemed to be more common in those interested in research. This generally seemed to be associated with doing internships in a certain area or graduate research. This can be a good answer, however if phrased as if your whole life is to be in that one area and everything you’ve done is to pursue it, it can come off quite poorly. “What if you don’t match to that field?”, “Are you not open to other areas of medicine?”, etc.
- A hero/role model – Often those wanting to pursue medicine have family members that are in the medical field or some ‘ideal’ person that pulled them towards the field. I was mainly practicing with graduate students, so there seemed to be less of this for some reason. I view it as something that can ignite an interest, but not sure it comes off well in an interview as a core motivation.
- Curiosity – An interest in the workings of the natural world, disease, and the human body. Some people watched Bill Nye as a child and wanted to know how things worked. It can be a nice answer expressed the right way and if you’re able to draw on good experience from your own life.
- [not mentioned, but relevant] Money, prestige/status – These are associated with being a doctor in our culture. If they are part of your reason I think that is OK as long as it isn’t the central reason (perhaps this is an unpopular opinion). I would recommend not bringing these reasons up in the interview.
- Fit – Certain skills/characteristics that you possess that make you think you would excel as a physician.
- Reflection – Big picture views of ‘the good life’ or what one should do given your skills/advantages/etc. These can tie an answer nicely together and make them personal.
- Etc. – Many things that I haven’t thought of and didn’t come up in my practice sessions. I’m sure there are other answers or combinations of those mentioned. It has to be your answer, and as silly as it sounds, practice saying it in front of a mirror.
I won’t go into my full answer, but it included curiosity about the world, the fit of the field with my problem solving nature, interest in helping others and a larger view including a career in medicine in my view of ‘a good life’.
Don’t think this post is quite complete without a recommendation of “So, You Want to Be a Doctor, eh?” by Dr. Anne Berndl. Check it out Link