One of the most common, and paradoxically, most difficult medicine interview questions in Australia is the motivation question. Almost every university that has a medical admission interview asks students to clarify their interest in medical studies. The reason this question tends to be a student’s weakness in the medical school interview process is that many people attempt to guess what the examiner wants to hear.

In our experience at Fraser’s, this almost always involves a cliché story about a hospital encounter, an unwell relative, or a childhood dream. Unfortunately, the interviewer is less interested in an answer driven by passion and emotion, and much more interested in practical demonstration of your logic. In this article in our interview series, we will dissect the “Why Medicine” interview question, and help you come up with a reasonable, personal, and effective response.  

“Why Medicine?” Interview Question

The first question you should ask yourself is this - “why does the interviewer care about my motivation to study medicine?”. The blunt answer is because you represent an investment for the government, and the university. From a financial standpoint, your CSP/BMP is supported by the government, therefore they are interested in making sure that you are committed to completing your training. From a reputational point of view, the medical school is investing their trust in your ability to represent them once you begin your clinical training in the hospital. 

Now that we know why you are asked this medical interview question, let’s discuss what features make for a stand-out “Why Medicine?” answer. The interviewer is asking for a pragmatic approach - what evidence do you have of your interest in medicine? Have you undertaken work experience in this field? Have you considered other career options? Have you researched the medical profession and found aspects in which you are specifically interested? Concrete, snappy answers will win you points in this question. Stating that you have a “passion” for helping others will almost certainly work against you. Similarly, you should try to avoid references to your highschool achievements as a postgraduate applicant as it would highlight a possible lack of extracurricular experiences during your university years. 

What Is YOUR Motivation To Get Into Medical School

So how do you create a snappy answer? The best approach is to tell the truth. Remember - an interview is all about the art of marketing your real qualities in the best possible way. For example, if you are interested in medicine because it is a stable career choice, perhaps you can present yourself as being interested in working as a medical “pillar of the community”. If your drive for medical work is derived from your research experience, then perhaps you are interested in “clinical experience to frame your theoretical laboratory work”. Regardless of the source of your motivation, you should consider how this motivation is an asset to the medical workforce. 

Another important tip when structuring your motivation response is that you should sign-post, and present your answer logically. This means letting your interviewer know that there are “x” number of reasons that you have chosen to study medicine, and then list them chronologically and elaborate. Bonus points can be gained if your story is interlinked. For example, you volunteered at a hospital, and this experience led you to studying medical science. Ultimately, any response that demonstrates the rationale driving your behaviour would be appropriate in this medical interview question

Why Medicine And Not Research?

A common response that an interviewer may challenge an applicant with involves asking a student to differentiate between the medical and research workforces. After all, both types of employment “help people”. It can even be argued that the research workforce contributes far more to the greater good of humanity than does an average medical practitioner. Furthermore, both fields involve biomedical science therefore there is little difference between the intellectual content of the work. 

When responding to this question, you should tread very carefully. Firstly, it is easy to fall into the trap of several inappropriate answers. It is very inappropriate to state that you are interested in team leadership, social status, or financial benefits of the medical role. It is similarly wrong to undermine the importance of research work in your answer. The reality of the situation is that contemporary medicine is deeply intertwined with research. This is also reflected in most medical degrees in Australia, which require candidates to complete a research project in order to graduate. 

A nuanced response to a motivation question reflects on the importance of research in medical studies and medical practice. You should consider research an inevitable part of your medical work, therefore the question you are really answering is “What Role Will Research Play In Your Future Medical Career?”

Wondering about your tone during a medical interview? Check out our article!

Why Medicine And Not Nursing?

This is another common follow-up question that is used to challenge candidates. It is especially common in panel interviews where students provide empty, generic answers referring to their childhood passions for medicine. After all, nursing staff spend far more time with the patients than do their medical counterparts. Furthermore, the role of the doctor is medical decision making, and procedures. The role of ‘caring’ for the sick is firmly in the nursing job description. 

An important facet of this motivation question follow-up is that it screens candidates' perspective of allied health staff in the hospital. Allied health as well as nursing, are two umbrella speciality titles that refer to almost all non-medical staff in the hospital environment. These individuals work very closely with doctors in multidisciplinary teams. Therefore any candidate that is seen as dismissive of their contribution to patient care will be very harshly penalised in this motivation station. 

Here’s a detailed article about what to wear to a medical interview!

The approach to differentiating the roles of medical and nursing staff is central to responding to this question appropriately. Demonstrate that you understand that nurses are central to bedside care and ward administration. Mention that you understand the nature of the multidisciplinary team as well as its role in patient care. Bonus points may even be awarded to candidates that have clearly considered whether the nursing role is in line with their interests, and clarify why exactly they have chosen their current medical route. 

Possible “Why Medicine?” - Possible Follow-Up Questions

Beyond the follow-up questions described above, the interviewer may continue the motivation discussion by probing your resilience in the medical interview. Therefore a common question students encounter in MMIs is one asking them to clarify which challenges they expect to face in medical school, and how they have prepared to overcome them. Once more, the interviewers here are not asking for an emotionally-driven ramble, but for an evidence-based demonstration. 

Tell your interviewer which actions you have undertaken to improve your resilience in the face of the specific challenges of medical school that you expect. In order to do this, you should first have a discussion with a current medical student, doctor, or interview tutor, to gain a better understanding of the subject. 

Finally, you may be asked to elaborate on your weakness in medical interviews. This is simply a reformulated test of your resilience. It is important to respond to this question with a story of self-improvement. In other words, present a past weakness that you have recently overcome, rather than a current weakness which would damage your standing relative to other candidates. Rehearse this (and the other) responses regularly, dedicated less than 20% of the answer to the challenge you faced, and focusing on the rationale for the actions you undertook to overcome said weakness. 

The medical interview motivation station is challenging because students fall into the trap of believing that a genuine desire is enough to impress the admissions committee. However genuine desire cannot be marked on an interview rubric - it does not fall into grade categories. Much like the case with the entire medical field, all responses should be driven by careful feedback by your seniors in the field, as well as clear and reasoned evidence. The lesson here? 

Use your interview tutors well! 

Where To From Here?

Hope our article was useful and helped you better understand the most commonly asked med school interview question, here’s a list of useful FREE resources we offer on Fraser's website.

Check out some of our other articles to help improve med school MMI interview score:

  1. How to prepare for a medical interview? - Solo preparation
  2. 5 essential tips for your medical interview
  3. Medical school interviews: Why are they hard?