Stethoscope depicting becoming a doctor

How to Answer "Why do you want to be a doctor?"

July 12, 2021
Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. Purpose of the “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” Interview QuestionPart 3. Why Your Answer MattersPart 4. What to Avoid in your AnswerPart 5. Sample Answer to “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”Part 6. FAQsPart 7. Conclusion

Introduction

It might seem obvious—even self-evident—but the question “Why Do You Want to be a Doctor?” is an essential part of your medical school application. Admissions officers at institutions give this question immense weight, and the answer you provide is not only indicative of the research you have done or the grades you have earned.

These are the usual aspects you would expect, but it also speaks to your commitment to medicine’s art and science. Beyond MCAT scores and your GPA, your answer to this question gets at the heart of your commitment to being in the healthcare world.

This guide will provide advice that should help craft an excellent response and give a sample answer that you can use for inspiration.

Purpose of the “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” Interview Question

The reason medical school admissions officers ask, “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” goes beyond checking off a box or making small talk. It is not the same as a friend or relative being polite and inquiring after your education.

Instead, this question is used to gauge your commitment to the art and science of medicine, the hard work ahead of you, and the reasons why you want to be in medicine in the first place. 

Studying to be a doctor means long nights, hard days, countless unforeseen obstacles, setbacks, and unexpected events. This is not to dissuade you but to get you thinking about your true motivations and inner drive.

Then you must consider the actual being a doctor part. That is, what do you envision your future practice looking like, and who would be your prospective patients?

It is this type of thinking and follow-through that the question is designed to gauge. By asking this question, admissions officers also want to see your passion and commitment to the path of becoming a doctor.

Unlike other jobs or careers, this field is truly a calling and requires that you understand the duty of care you have to those you work with and your patients. Honesty and integrity are vital to being a doctor. This question is designed to see if you are answering truthfully and have thought through your decision to attend medical school.

Why Your Answer Matters

Medical school can take four or more years, and then at least three years of residency is required, too. In asking “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” your answer matters because a full seven years of your life lie ahead of you once you begin. We will discuss a few hypothetical scenarios below to help you understand the “why” in particular.

The “I Like Helping Others” Cliché

This is a good start, but it does not quite get to the heart of “why?” This line of thinking might work at a cocktail party or with your family, but let us think through it more. This thought process is limited primarily because of two reasons: it is cliché and inward-looking.

By cliché, we mean that of course you want to help others; admissions officers have heard that before countless times. That is what doctors are expected to do. Healing by its nature means you help others. What you should be considering is the patient experience.

That is, what can you do to make patients’ experiences better? What can you bring to medicine that makes care better, more empathetic, more considerate, or more thoughtful? Your answer should go beyond clichés and consider the fact that patients will be demanding things from you pretty much non-stop, so your commitment to medicine must go beyond platitudes.

By inward-looking, we mean that you must consider the context and environment you will be in— much like the points discussed above. Picture a busy emergency room or a crowded waiting area: these are the places and people you will face and who will be relying on you. Think of them inasmuch as you think of yourself.

Focus on Patients and What Drives You to Care for Them

Let us set up another thought experiment: say you were ill as a child—a broken bone or a bad case of tonsillitis, perhaps—and you had to spend many days or weeks in the hospital. This experience weighs heavily in your mind as you apply to medical school.

This is a good start, but again we must go beyond the surface level here. What did the doctors do that stood out to you? Why do they remain in your mind even now? How did they affect you as a patient? Why not the nurses or technicians?

In considering these answers, we can understand why this question is essential: what is the impact you want to make on your patients?

What will learning new medical science and technology mean for the care of your patients? What will reading dense medical textbooks mean for healing those in your care, and what will drive you to stomach blood or worse in those moments? Focus on the patients and their needs, and frame your thinking and responses to these sub-questions around that idea.

Structuring Your Answer

It is a good idea to have a structured, well-thought-out response to the question of “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” The outline below contains a general structure to plan your answer and some ways to organize your thoughts. You can also take some tips for our guide on writing your personal statement for some further inspiration.

Part 1: Introduction

You should begin by discussing how and why your initial interest in medicine developed. Explain your narrative and touch on outstanding patient experiences you may have had, inspiring moments or stories, and your initial contact with the world of medicine.

Remember to focus on specific aspects of what stood out to you and made the initial moment of contact memorable. Relate it to patient experiences and how you would improve them or how going to medical school would help you care for patients better, given what that contact showed you. Speak about how you developed your curiosity for medicine and the specialty you aim to be in when you are a doctor. 

For instance, if you had a great family doctor, speak about why that impacted you and what it means for how you will help take care of patients. Remember to tie back these experiences to how they inspired you to help patients and enter healthcare to further that goal.

Part 2: Exploration and Experiences

After you have spoken about your first instances of contact with medicine and your initial sparks of inspiration, you can move on to how you took your passion further and began your education.

Speak about what you did to learn more about the world of medicine and being a doctor. That includes any hospital or other healthcare volunteering experiences or extra-curricular activities related to healthcare. 

Be specific and highlight one or two instances in particular. Again, focus on how and why they inspired you to pursue medicine and how they inspired you to take care of experiences. It would also help to explain how these experiences reinforced or challenged your initial assumptions and how you adapted to these circumstances. 

Remember, being a doctor is full of unexpected experiences, so if you have specifics to highlight that show how you can adapt and change, be sure to mention those specifically. Everyone pursuing medicine is likely to have their initial reasons for entering the field challenged; keep that in mind and explain how you overcome adversity.

Part 3: Confidence

Once you have explained your initial spark of inspiration and your first steps into the world of healthcare, you can go on to speak about the reasons you are committed to going further. Use this time to emphasize how you came to know this choice was right for you.

This includes specific reasons and examples that showed you medicine was the path you wanted to pursue, specifically being a doctor rather than, say, a nurse or aide. Explain what drives you to care for patients and why being a doctor will help you do that and why medical school is the path to reach this goal. 

Remember to mention the introspection you have to do and the things you have learned about yourself. Be sure to speak about what you have learned about yourself, the assumptions you made that were challenged, and how you adapted to changing circumstances and experiences.

What failures and successes did you have, and how did they affect you? What did you learn from them, and how did they strengthen your commitment to the healthcare field? When considering these points, tie them to specific reasons why they would make you a better doctor.


What to Avoid in your Answer

Now that you know some things you should include in your response to “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”, we can discuss what not to say. There are some things to avoid mentioning or that would be detrimental to bring up during your response.

Namely, do not mention money or profits in your answer. If your primary drive in becoming a doctor is making money, that likely means you will not be putting patients first. Remember, being a doctor is more than a job or career. It is a lifetime commitment to help and care for others.

Also, while it may sound good, mentioning “being challenged” is not per se a good thing. There are many challenging career options out there, and doctors are expected to encounter complex problems every day. Instead, explain how and why being challenged is something you can handle daily and how you will care for patients despite the daily grind.

Speaking about yourself is good in small doses, but do not focus your entire answer on only yourself. Be sure to explain how and why your experiences have helped inspire you and driven you to help patients. Remember to mention what drives you to keep going despite adversity and how these reasons go on to inspire you to care for others. 

And while having medical professionals in your family is excellent, this is not reason enough by itself. Instead, tie it to specific reasons they inspired you to keep going and pursue medicine yourself.

How did they take care of patients that made an impression on you and made you want to pursue being a doctor? Remember that medical school can be challenging and bring blows to your self-esteem at times, so mention what it is about having folks in your family that keeps you going.

Lastly and certainly not least, do not state you want to go to medical school because it means you will get a “Dr.” in front of your name. This is not only a weak reason to go, but it also shows selfishness rather than compassion and care for others.

Sample Answer to “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”

The following is a sample answer to help inspire you and get you thinking about how you will answer “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” yourself. Make your answer unique and specific to you and your experiences, and do not feel you have to follow this example directly.

Keep in mind you will answer this question in an interview. Do not try to memorize your response. Focus on key points and make it feel as natural as possible.

When I was eight years old, I had to go in for a routine checkup with my family doctor. While I was not a child who was afraid of the doctor, I did not really enjoy these checkups.

My doctor understood this and took the time during each of them to provide some entertainment. Once, when he measured my height, he mentioned that the average raccoon standing straight up would be shorter than me. 

I found this quite funny as a child, and it showed me that doctors were people too and understood what it was like to be there in a cold office when you did not want to be. On that particular appointment, an x-ray showed a strange lump near one of my ribs.

Instead of trying to deflect attention away from it or being coy, my doctor calmly explained what happened and why they had to keep me there a little longer. He covered what an x-ray was and the various reasons they might see something unusual.

I was eager to learn more, and he was happy to answer my questions at a level I could understand. It turned out to merely be a blemish on the film, but the experience stayed with me.

After this initial spark of curiosity was triggered, I wanted to learn more and understand what it was like to be a doctor. I asked my parents, and they pointed me to some children’s books in the library about healthcare and doctors. I could not get enough of these, and in school, I took extra interest in science classes after that point. 

In high school, we had a field trip to a local hospital, and while other students seemed to have found it boring, I was excited at the chance to ask the doctors there even more questions and find out more about what it was like in their day-to-day lives.

I also made sure to ask the patients we were allowed to speak with what it was like for them and how they felt. Their stories reminded me of my childhood family doctor and reinforced to me that being a caring, empathetic professional was right for me.

I applied to a Biology program at college after that. I got the chance to shadow a doctor as part of this school’s pre-med program, and that was quite the eye-opener for me. It confirmed my commitment, but it challenged my assumptions, too.

For instance, while I thought I could handle the pressure of lots of patients and forms, it did show me that I needed to learn better stress management skills because I tended to get snappy, and that, of course, is not something doctors should do.

During this time, I often reminded myself during late-night study sessions or when I had to skip plans with friends to read my textbooks what my goals were and how learning all of this could make me more like that childhood family doctor who initially inspired me.

I reminded myself that this knowledge would bring me the skills and expertise to provide care and compassion, along with honest answers with empathy behind them, and yes, humor, too, as a doctor.

This is what solidified for me my decision to apply to medical school. Specifically, I see myself being a family doctor who takes care of patients by providing open and honest medical knowledge communications at their level. I am driven to take the knowledge I learn during medical school and use it to make my patients feel comfortable and cared for no matter what they are facing.

I also fully expect to have many long nights and hard days; I want to experience these to enhance my patients’ empathy because they likely will have similar emotions during their time with me. I have learned how to temper my responses based on circumstances so far, and I consider this important. 

I learned that I am quite good at taking disparate pieces of information, researching them further, and coming up with responses based on that work. Furthermore, I find I can translate knowledge for different audiences, such as experts and novices, as needed based on context.

Friends often comment that I help explain ideas to them that they did not previously understand. I enjoy this, and it brings me immense joy and pride to hear that people were helped by me doing this for them.

These reasons drive me to pursue medicine, and my experiences have shown me I have made the right choice. One day, I hope to be like that family doctor who inspired me while improving medical care for all of those that I come into contact with as a medical school student and as a doctor. 

FAQs

1. Should I mention my grades or test scores in my answer?

No, these pieces of information are already in your AMCAS application, and the admissions officers can see them in your submission. It may come off as bragging or self-promotion, which is not desirable.

If you are as intelligent and thoughtful as your scores indicate, that will show clearly in your responses without you having to mention the numbers themselves. The only time this is beneficial is when you are undergoing a closed file interview and are encouraged to speak on highlights of your application.

2. Should I practice my answer beforehand?

Yes, but try not to sound too rehearsed or as if you are reading from a script. Make sure your answer sounds natural and authentic to your experiences, but do not feel as if you need to get every single word perfect or that you must speak as if you are reading from an essay.

3. Should I mention my weaknesses?

Yes, and explain how you know them to be there and what you do to address them. No one is perfect, so be honest.

Mention how you know your weaknesses and how you manage them so that they do not detract from the care you can provide to others. Remember, doctors see humanity sometimes at its very worst and very best, and these types of situations can magnify both strengths and shortcomings in everyone.

4. What type of person do admissions officers want to see?

You! As yourself. Remember, the point of admissions officers asking you, “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” is to get an honest response. Do not feel the need to construct a personality or answer you think they are looking to see. Be honest and explain the life story that led you to apply to medical school instead.

5. Is it okay if I am nervous?

Yes, that is totally fine! As mentioned, it is a good idea to practice and think through your response beforehand. Understandably, you will be nervous; going to medical school and becoming a doctor is a big life decision that demands a lot from you; being nervous is a sign you are thinking about those factors.

6. Is it acceptable to make jokes or be humorous in my response?

Only incidentally. You can mention a humorous anecdote or moment you had in a hospital or with a doctor if it reinforced your commitment to being a doctor, sure, but do not feel the need to “break the ice” or make people feel amused.

The story you tell in response to this question need not be a drama nor a comedy; instead, it should accurately and clearly explain how and why you think you are suited to being a doctor.

Conclusion

The question “Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?” is anything but easy to answer, but in thinking through how you will respond, not only will it help your chances of getting into medical school, but it will make you a better doctor, too.

Remember to be open, honest, and thoughtful in your response while mentioning how you will care for your future patients considering your weaknesses and strengths. With a little practice and some introspection, you will be sure to answer this question in an excellent manner that genuinely reflects why you want to be a doctor.

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