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"Why Do You Want To Be A Doctor?" (Real Doctor's Answer)

“Why Do You Want To Be A Doctor?” (Real Doctor’s Answer)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

The way I answered ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’ at my interview was so cliche and unoriginal it physically pains me thinking about it now.

My reasoning for wanting to be a doctor when I applied to medical school was two fold:

  1. I liked science at school.
  2. It seemed like a good career choice.

I’m serious, just those two things were what was driving me toward medicine at the time.

But I cannot tell you have glad I am to have had the opportunity to go to medical school.

It’s only over the years of first studying medicine and then practicing as a doctor that I’ve gained a far deeper appreciation of why being a doctor really is the greatest job in the world.

So how can you give an effective answer to the question “why do you want to be a doctor?”

To answer the question ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’ it’s best to prepare before being asked in an interview. You’ll need to identify your key reasons for pursuing medicine as a career, analyse how your personal strengths support these reasons and evidence each point with an example or anecdote.

But that’s only half of the story.

In this guide I’m going to cover why interviewers ask this question, what they mean by it, and how you’re going to answer it.

We’ll then finish with three common mistakes you have to avoid.

Why You’re Asked ‘Why Do You Want To Be A Doctor?’

Let’s kick off by first talking about why you’re being asked the question ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’ in the first place.

Now there are a couple of obvious reasons, such as testing your communication skills and giving the interviewers a brief insight into what makes you tick, but I want to focus on the reason that no-one talks about.

The reason you’re going to get asked ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’ is because your interviewers want to make sure you’re going to be a good investment.

Let me explain…

Interviewers don’t want to give out offers willy nilly to anyone that applies and doesn’t fart or fall asleep in their interview.

That’s because the reality is medical training, and medicine as a career path in general, is an incredibly long and challenging path.

By giving you an offer to study at their medical school they’re not just allowing you to pay £9000 a year to attend medical lectures.

By giving you an offer to study medicine these interviewers are actually investing a huge amount in you.

And I mean this both metaphorically and literally!

Your interviewers to an extent are acting as the gatekeepers of medical training.

They’re literally deciding who will be tomorrow’s doctors.

They’ve got a responsibility to try and select applicants who have the right qualities and attitudes to carry this title.

By offering you a place at their medical school they’re investing their faith in you as the future of medicine.

You’re Worth A Lot Of Money

Secondly, I mentioned you’re an investment in the literal sense of the word too.

If you’re a medical student in the UK, the actual cost of your five years of training far exceeds your course fees.

The government is investing in you and your training in the hope that you’ll work as diligent and responsible doctor within the NHS for your career.

It’s only through this lifelong work in the NHS that you provide value to the system that balances the cost of training you in the first place.

So it’s because of these two considerable investments that medical schools want to select applicants who don’t just have a surface level interest in studying medicine.

They want to select applicants who’ve not simply applied just because their parents suggested it and they couldn’t think of anything else better to do!

A student with their mum looking at different university courses

If you don’t truly have at least some passion for the study of medicine the reality is you won’t have that drive to keep on going when the going gets tough.

It may be that you don’t even finish medical school because you couldn’t motivate yourself to learn about topics that didn’t excite you.

If you don’t genuinely find some sort of enjoyment in the long on-call hours and even the horrendously busy shifts, you’ll find yourself burnt out incredibly quickly.

And if you’re completely burnt out you’re not going to be a good doctor and you’re not going to be doing the NHS justice.

That’s the reality and that’s why interviewers ask applicants this question!

What Are You Actually Being Asked?

Now this may seem blindingly obvious to you but I just want to take a second to think about what you’re actually being asked with the question ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’

Of course on a surface level, this question is eliciting your motivations for applying to medical school.

However, there’s a few deeper layers that you may not have considered before that make this question so powerful.

These include touching on your core values as a person and even what your aspirations in life are.

This interview question is also testing your knowledge of what the job of a doctor actually entails.

Through a perfectly crafted answer you’ll be demonstrating your in-depth knowledge of the duties of a junior doctor and why you think you’d be perfectly suited to them.

If you slightly miss the mark with your answer you may be hit with a follow up question of ‘why not nursing then?’ 

This can be incredibly difficult to answer if the reasons you gave weren’t particularly specific or you don’t have a great understanding of the differences in the roles and duties of doctors vs nurses.

Being able to address the different layers of what you’re being asked within the question ‘why medicine?’ is why thorough preparation is so important in delivering a stand-out answer.

How To Answer The ‘Why Medicine?’ Question

Right, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

How you’re actually going to answer the question ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’ when you’re asked it in your interview.

Here’s my five-step process for crafting your perfect answer:

Step 1

To start off with you’re going to need to identify your key reasons for pursuing medicine as a career.

Brainstorm as many reasons you can think of as to why you want to be a doctor and write them all down.

Off the top of my head a few I can think of are:

  • You have the opportunity to help people at some of their most vulnerable times in life
  • The vocation has a huge scope for different work depending on your interests
  • You have incredibly varied day-to-day work in clinical medicine
  • The diagnostic challenge posed by patients can be extremely rewarding to solve
  • You’re in a position to put the latest advances in medical research into practice to improve patient’s lives
  • The career provides ample opportunity to advance human knowledge through participating in medical research

Now from this list I’d recommend you pick out three core reasons.

These are your main driving factors and they’re what you’re going to build your answer around.

Just bear in mind what will set your answer apart from the hundreds of others the interviewers will have heard that day is authenticity.

You have to answer honestly and authentically to yourself- not by picking a couple of common reasons you’ve seen online.

Step 2

Now you’ve identified your core reasons, step 2 is all about analysing what your personal strengths are and how they lend themselves to these motivations.

The aim here is to subtly demonstrate to the interviewer that you’d be a perfect fit for the job.

A young lady being interviewed as part of her application to medical school

So say for example you’d picked out the reason that you want to help people.

What about you do you think would make you particularly proficient in providing that help?

Perhaps it’s that you’ve got a particularly caring nature and your friends and family often turn to you when they need some moral support…

Try and think of a couple of points for each of your selected core reasons.

Step 3

Now in step 3 I want you to brainstorm relevant experiences and anecdotes that back up all your reasoning from step 2.

Try to include concrete examples to back up statements when you can.

So carrying on from my last example, the time you received a thank you card from the care home you volunteer at would be an excellent anecdote to back-up the idea that you are a fantastic care-giver.

Work, school, work-experience or your extra-curricular activities are all excellent places to try and draw experiences from to support your reasoning.

Step 4

Step 4 is where we start to bring it all together. Put everything we’ve gone over in steps 1-3 onto paper.

I’d start with a mind map.

From this you can then start bullet pointing out sections of your answer, combing each core reason with a strength of yours and an example or anecdote.

Using these ‘core reason chunks’ you can then build out your answer into a more complete form.

In your answer you may want to show how you came to the decision to study medicine.

Was it a personal hospitalisation or watching another doctor at work?

These can be a great anchor in your answer and are a brilliant way to personalise and add a human touch to your response.

If you don’t have one, don’t worry.

I have no idea how I first came up with the idea of wanting to be a doctor so I didn’t make it a feature point of my ‘why medicine?’ answer.

If you are going to include a personal story, I’d keep it relatively brief and woven into the rest of your reasoning.

Plenty of people are cared for by doctors but don’t want to go on and study medicine. What particularly influenced you?

However, if you do have a genuine personal tale of how this sparked an interest in the profession that you then explored with work experience and taster days… Say it!

Step 5

Step 5 is all about practice.

Practice your answer with your friends, your family and in mock interviewers.

Your answer will likely evolve a bit over time as you deliver it over and over again.

Two friends practicing for an upcoming medicine interview

That’s perfectly natural and will ultimately lead to a better response.

The pressure of interview day can easily make even the most confident candidates’ minds go blank.

The more you practice the less likely you’ll start your answer with a blank face and long ‘umm’ as you desperately try to remember why you do actually want to go to medical school..!

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Answering ‘Why Medicine?’

Finally, I want to touch on three common mistakes to avoid in your answer.

Covering Too Many Points

I recommend covering three main motivations within your answer.

Now admittedly this isn’t a steadfast rule, so don’t be too concerned if you count up exactly how many points you touch on and it’s above or below this number.

However, what you want to try and avoid is simply reeling off a long list of different motivations of why people choose to study medicine.

We’re all multifaceted creatures so if we did list out every reason that plays into our desire to go to medical school it would likely be a very long list.

But what’s going to breathe life into your response is the elements of your unique personality that you can inject in through anecdotes and deeper explanations.

And to do this effectively, you need to explore each of your key motivations in detail.

Don’t fall for the trap of covering lots of points but all only briefly.

Trying Too Hard To Be Original

There’s no such thing as bad or overused answers to ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’

Just unsubstantiated answers.

You don’t need super-duper unique, never heard before answers to the question.

Your core motivations, such as liking science, wanting to care for people and enjoying a diagnostic challenge can be the same reasons that literally hundreds of other applicants give these interviewers.

However, it’s reasons delivered in a clear, substantiated and authentic manner that are what’s important.

You can stop worrying that you don’t have an inspirational ‘eureka’ moment that sparked your life-long passion for medicine!

Just focus on how your motivations impact you as an individual.

Sounding Too Rehearsed

Now this last common mistake can actually become harder to avoid the more prepared you are!

It’s sounding too rehearsed.

What’s really going to kill the personal nature of your answer is if it sounds like you’re reading it straight off a script.

Interviewers are not going to be impressed if you immediately launch into a monotone, pre-prepared monologue following being asked why you want to be a doctor.

There are a couple of ways you can avoid this pitfall:

Number one, if you want to learn a set script then you need to be particularly mindful of including emotion and gesture in your answer to really sell it as your true self speaking.

Avoid the glazed over medicine applicant robot look.

A medicine applicant undergoing an online interview

Or two, don’t prepare or learn an exact script at all. I’d actually recommend this approach personally.

If you have your ideal answer set out in bullet points, you can avoid the possibility of a wooden script delivery.

Your answer will likely slightly vary each time you give it, but if you know your bullet points you should hit your key points every time.

Your small margin for variation in the answer should give your interview performance a far more authentic feel.

Just be careful that you do know the bullet points well so you don’t skip over key sections of your reasoning on interview day!

Final Thoughts

And that’s a wrap! You should now have a solid understanding of how you’re going to answer the question ‘why do you want to be a doctor?’

If you’re going to take away just one thing from this guide, it’s that your answer has to be true to yourself.

When sat across from candidates it becomes very quickly apparent if the only purpose of their answer is to try and impress people.

You won’t come across as genuine and your answer won’t be compelling.

But now you’ve read this guide, I’m sure you’ll do a far better job than me when I tried to answer this question…

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.