- I want to help people
- I want to practice culturally-competent care
- I want to make a connection with people
- I want to improve people’s lives
- I want to help the underserved
- I find the human body fascinating
Craft an outstanding medical school essays and interview responses:
How to Answer "Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor" in Your Personal Statement
Since medicine is an extremely challenging profession, both from a lifestyle and responsibility perspective, many medical school admissions committee members and interviewers want to ensure that you have true motives and a clear understanding of what pursuing medicine will consist of. Adcoms are looking for you to take a step back and understand, what are some of the basic motivations that directed you to medicine?
We want to stress that there is not one correct answer to “why do I want to be a doctor” in your personal statement. In fact, you may have multiple reasons why you want to become a physician. What is important is that you show your interests in clinical medicine and highlight the unique a position a physician is in to manage somebody’s health.
Let’s go through common, generic reasons we read in our medical school personal statement edits and why these “why do you want to be a doctor” reasons do not convince us.
Note: we have updated these reasons based on essays we’ve read in the most recent medical school application cycle.
Stay away from these vague “Why Medicine” responses in your personal statement
Reason #1: I want to help people.
- Why we don’t love this response: You can help people in literally any profession. This response is not specific enough to healthcare, let alone clinical medicine.
Reason #2: I will be a great doctor who practices culturally-competent care.
- Why we don’t love this response: We are big fans of being cognizant of your patient’s cultural and how it may affect his or her health. However, “culturally competent” care is not becoming a buzz word. Oftentimes, when we students write about this in their medical school essays, they write, “As a physician, I want to provide culturally competent care” without giving any substance to that statement. IF this idea is important to you and you want to include it in your personal statement, then you have to make sure to give a clear example of what culturally-competent care means to you. Finally, remember that you can provide culturally competent care as a Nurse and as a Physician Assistant. So, you still have to a discuss reasons why you want to be a doctor, and not another health care provider.
Reason #3: I want to make a connection with people.
- Why we don’t love this response: We think this reason is very vague and you can make a connection with people in any other service-oriented industry. You do not have to go into medicine or healthcare in order to make a connection with people.
Reason #4: I want to improve people’s lives.
- Why we don’t love this response: Similar to “I want to help people,” you can improve people’s lives in a variety of fields.
Reason #5: I want to help the underserved.
- Why we don’t love this response: The phrase “helping the underserved” is too common these days. In fact, through the hundreds of personal statements we have read in the past 2 application cycles, we’ve read “helping the underserved” in 70-80% of applicants. Talk about not standing out! If you want to help underserved communities, we fully support you. But, our Cracking Med School Admissions team wants you to be more specific in HOW you want to help the underserved or if there are specific populations you want to serve. Ideally, you will include personal experiences with underserved communities. For example, our students who have matriculated into medical school have written about helping refugee populations. Other have discussed that they want to do health policy research on how socioeconomic factors affect access to healthcare. See how these levels of specificity will provide the reader with more insight into your specific interests in improving healthcare.
Reason #6: I find the human body fascinating.
- Why we don’t love this response: While this reason is geared towards the medical profession, we also read this fascination with the human body among PhD candidates. If research and the pathophysiology behind our human bodies is what excite you about the practice of medicine, you have to also say why you want to work with patients rather than focus completely on biological research.
So, what makes a physician unique?
Patient Care through Clinical Practice: One unique element of health care providers (e.g. doctors, nurses, physician assistants, etc.) is that they interact with patients. They are involved with patient care. This is not true for other professions that also “help people” and “make a connection with people.” For example, teachers help students, but they do not take care of patients.
Manage and Direct Patients’ Medical Care: Physicians are unique from other types or medical professionals because doctors are responsible for a patient’s health. Doctors lead the management of their patient’s health.
Take a step back and think about a physician you shadowed throughout your premed career. First, a physician will gather the patient’s history of present illness, past medical history, and social history. Then, a physician will conduct a physical exam.
Wait: You might be thinking, “I did this as a premed!”
The important role physicians play is that they are responsible for figuring out the next steps: the diagnosis and the treatment plan. Medical schools teach you how to take the medical history + physical exam findings to create a differential diagnosis, and then create a plan of action. It is typically your responsibility as a physician to also follow-up with the patients. Perhaps you have to analyze a patient’s blood test. Perhaps you are a surgeon and you have to operate on the patient. This is the differentiating qualities between a physician and other healthcare professionals.
Big Picture Impact: Because physicians are integral parts of the healthcare ecosystem and see a diverse array of patients, they also can influence the healthcare system as a whole. Most mid to top-tier medical schools are interested in premedical students who want to utilize their insights as a physician to make a bigger, positive impact on healthcare.
“Why Medicine” is a common question in medical school interviews IF you did not already answer this question in “tell me about yourself.” So, before you keep reading, read our blog post How to Answer Tell me About Yourself.
Why is “why medicine” asked? Since a career in medicine is an extremely challenging profession, both from a lifestyle and responsibility perspective, many medical school admissions committee members and interviewers want to ensure that you have true motives. Adcoms are looking for you to take a step back and understand, what are some of the basic motivations that directed you to medicine? Furthermore, the path of becoming a physician is a long career path, and medical school admissions committees also want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what pursuing medicine will consist of, and if you have the academic foundation & resilience to become a successful medical student and resident.
A winning framework to responding to the “Why Medicine” and “Why do you want to be a doctor” questions consists of the following:
Step #1: Provide context and your initial interest in pursuing medicine
- Questions to answer: Do you have any role models who are doctors? Did you have any early experiences with medicine that greatly affected you? Were you a patient as a child? Did you have to take care of any family members? Did you consider other careers before deciding on a career in medicine?
- Why this is important: Providing initial context from your life experiences can help your interviewer to understand some of your initial environment and how you may have arrived at the decision to pursue medicine.
Step #2: Highlight reasons for wanting to pursue medicine
- Questions to answer: Why are you passionate about health? Did you study science in school? If you did not study science, how will what you studied help you in becoming a great doctor? How did you cultivate your interests in healthcare and did you pursue any activities or research to do so?
- Why this is important: By describing how your interests in healthcare have developed, your interviewer can gain a more nuanced understanding of your scientific curiosity and affinity. This is often the metric they use to determine if you will remain inquisitive, enterprising, and capable of absorbing and driving scientific knowledge forwards in medical school and beyond.
Step #3. Give examples of your experience and activities
- Questions to answer: Are you passionate about health? Did you study science in school? If you did not study science, how will what you studied help you in becoming a great doctor? How did you cultivate your interests in healthcare and did you pursue any activities or research to do so?
- Why this is important: When you are asked these open-ended, common medical school interview questions, you want to give evidence of how you have already tried to make an impact in medicine and healthcare. We strongly encourage students to bring in stories and personal experiences. For example, let’s say you are interested in improving patient care for individuals with disabilities. If you give example of how you worked with a child with autism or did research around improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities, these personal experiences will show the interviewer your passion and experiences.
Step #4: Describe your desire to use your passion to make a positive and direct impact
- Questions to answer: Have you engaged in service work to help others? How does it make you feel and why is it important to you? Why do you want to pursue a career based around service?
- Why this is important: This section provides a basis for why you are interested in dedicating yourself to a career of serving others. It is also crucial to help you describe why medicine, in particular, is the kind of service that you are interested in doing and why you seek to be a physician and not serve others in a different capacity. Excellent answers will incorporate one’s scholarly endeavors and extracurricular activities. They will link their activities with their career goals.
Step #5: Describe any other reasons and what you hope to accomplish in medicine
- Questions to answer: Are there any unique reasons that are not covered in the other steps for why you are interested in pursuing medicine? How do you plan to use your scientific curiosity and desire to help others as a physician? Do you want to advance medical technology? Do you want to advance medical research? Is there a specific field of medicine you are already interested in pursuing?
- Why this is important: By connecting your current passions with the future impact that you hope to produce, an interviewer begins to get a window into what kind of physician you hope to become and how you could greatly benefit from attending their medical school.
We Get Into The Tiny Details Of Your Essays, With Each Draft, So Your Application Will Stand Out
Rachel Rizal, M.D.
Harvard, Emergency Medicine
Rishi Mediratta, M.D., M.Sc., M.A.
Why Medicine and Why Do I Want To Be a Doctor Sample Answers:
- Initially, I was not that interested in medicine and instead was passionate about space exploration and aerospace engineering. Because of many personal circumstances, I became more drawn to medicine. First, when my grandfather fell ill with pneumonia, I felt helpless to help him when I visited the hospital all while the medical staff remained attentive to small changes in his condition. Seeing how they listened to our and his questions, tailored their treatment to his needs, and reassured us at every step of the way, encouraged me to consider what role I wanted to play in helping others in the future. Second, after a bad ankle fracture while playing soccer, my doctors were just as attentive and they empowered me to come back stronger and more improved than ever before, solidifying my desire to pursue medicine.
- In college, I was a Psychology major. I was able to learn more about cognition and human perception works and how they can be affected by the underlying biochemical processes happening in the brain and rest of the body. I was also able to explore my interest in neuroscience by working at the Department of Neurology, studying the cognition of split-brain patients and trying to understand novel therapeutic options. Studying this has encouraged me to continue neurology research as a medical student. I aspire to alleviate patients suffering from debilitating chronic conditions.
- Although participating in scientific research was fulfilling, after my clinical volunteering experiences I began to remember the impact that my and my grandfather’s experiences had on me. During my volunteering roles, I was able to help and connect to the individuals on a personal level that I had not been able to do earlier, which was a fundamental shift and showed me the true impact of helping others. Also, volunteering for my local women’s center helped me to understand their needs and how I could be an advocate for them and champion the needs of those who may not able to do so themselves.
Goals in Medicine
- I am specifically interested in removing healthcare misinformation and disinformation among Black and Brown communities. As a medical student at ____ school, I want to teach health topics at after school programs in nearby low-income communities. As a physician, I will continue my scientific problem solving and combine this with my humanistic work serving others, my teaching work, and my desire to advocate for those who have traditionally been underserved by medicine.
Why Medicine and Why Do You Want To Be a Doctor Sample Answer:
“Throughout my undergraduate years, I’ve been very interested in oncology. I’ve found it to be very rewarding to comfort patients when they receive a very scary diagnosis, and I enjoy helping describe various treatment options. At the Children’s Hospital, I volunteered at the Pediatrics Oncology Department. I helped develop a program where we spoke with parents’ families describing what to expect with chemotherapy. Additionally, I want to translate my patient experiences to the lab when I can develop new targeted cancer therapies.”
You can add a paragraph like this in your secondary essays. And, you can also use this as a sample response to common med school interview questions.
Get 50 More Common Med School Questions & Interview Tips
If you are prepared, the Cracking Med School Admissions interview gives you the perfect opportunity to standout and shine by sharing with people what you are passionate about.
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