Ahh, the question that plagues all prospective medical students. From a distant auntie over the dinner table at Christmas, or a member of the public you’re politely chatting away to at work, your answer to this question will likely have some common elements - “I want to help people” or “I find the human body and its functions extremely fascinating”, or for the misguided folk out there, “I want to drive a Maclaren”. However, when you’re sat opposite an intimidating interviewer during your interview for medical school, your answer will need to have more substance, and be a bit more personal to your experiences in order for you to stand out. So here are a few tips from us to help you really dissect what made you want to study medicine in the first place, and present it in a considered and elegant manner.
In order to ensure we answer truthfully and adapt to the specific nuances of the question asked on the day, we need to ensure we are working with an adequate Framework. What we will do now is explain a key Framework that will help you answer the uglies.
The Precipitating Factors
The mightiest of Oaks all began life as a substantially less impressive acorn, and the same applies for a desire to pursue a career in medicine. For many of us, there could have been a vivid memory of an event or experience that led us to consider medicine as a career path. Whether it was having a wonderful experience with a doctor as a child, having a close relative in medicine, or watching Christina Yang fight any contender that stood between her and the chance to scrub in on a heart transplant, there was likely something that first lit the spark. We call this, the ‘precipitating factor.’ A great response to the question, “why do you want to study medicine?” or a question in the same vein should begin with your precipitating event. By introducing your precipitating factor, the interviewer can begin to understand you a bit more, including your personal motivation to consider medicine as a career in the first place, essentially setting the scene for the rest of your response.
The Persisting Factors
Now that you’ve reflected on that initial spark, what is it that’s kept that spark crackling away? What is it that’s stopped the wild winds from extinguishing it all too easily? Have there been some events along the line that re-emphasised, or even strengthened that initial interest? Perhaps, while studying in highschool or university, you discovered a love for all things science and it just ‘clicked’ that a career in medicine might be for you? For others, you may have veered off on a completely different path, whether that be working full time, studying a degree in an unrelated field, or just about anything else. What was it that drew you back to a career in medicine? These persisting factors are a really important consideration to make when responding to the question in an interview, as they show that your interest in a career is multifaceted and lines up a number of your interests and traits. Essentially, the persisting factors are the bellow that allows that original spark to grow into a flame.
The Protective Factors
Medicine will be hard. That is not a conditional statement. At some point in your medical career, you will find it to be difficult. The life of a medical student is filled with countless hours of daily study, accompanied by the enduring challenge of balancing study and a social life, and not to mention maintaining enough income to pay bills and buy groceries. Following your life as a medical student, a career in medicine begins weeks of oncall, staying back after your contracted hours, dealing with death for the first time, and many other difficult, exhausting, and sometimes very defeating situations. A career in medicine is not for the faint of heart. As such, unfortunately a passion to follow in Christina Yang’s footsteps won’t be a sufficient enough reason for your interviewer to believe that you have enough motivation to follow a career in medicine.. Ultimately, when the university offers you a position in medicine, you become their liability. Their goal is to be able to generate cohorts of doctors, and they want to take students on board that they know have the motivation and passion to pursue a career in medicine despite all the hardships that come with the territory. Their goal is to graduate you as a doctor, and they need to know that you have what it takes to make it the whole way.
The Goals Within Medicine
Considering the above, there needs to be something along the way that can steer you back on track, or help you make it through the various challenges of medicine. Goals, as beneficial as they are in both the short and long term at helping you to achieve something, are not a great way to push through the difficulties of medicine. A brilliant saying echoes through the medical community from generation to generation to make sure expectations are realistic, “medicine is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself”. Things may not necessarily become easier when, in however many years, you’re all done and are wearing the Consultant (head honcho of the medical world) hat. So there has to be something beyond finishing your physician or surgery or general practitioner exams, or whatever you choose to do with your medical degree, that is going to keep your passion for medicine and involvement in the medical community aflame. For example, the countless hours of study you will face in the future will be offset by the fact you have an eternal curiosity for all things human biology. You’ve discovered that you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and love discovering new things each and every day. The part-time work experience you’ve gained working in hospitality has really highlighted your passion for working with a wide variety of people and getting to learn each and every one of their stories, which you can’t wait to spill over to learning your patient’s stories in a medical career. Your goal is to be able to prove to the interviewer that your interest in pursuing a medical career is not a superficial interest, but that several factors that you intrinsically possess will allow you to soldier on through the difficulties of a medical career pathway. You want to show them that you’re in it for the long haul.
We implore you to sit down, and look deep within yourself (so to speak) in order to get to the bottom of what led you to a career in medicine. When was that initial moment you realised medicine was interesting to you, and what did it mean to you at the time? What other factors in your life do you believe suit a career in medicine and have helped foster that interest? What traits do you possess that are going to help keep you in medicine? These conversations with yourself can be incredibly eye opening, and can truly help you understand your interest in pursuing medicine, and help provide a considered and thorough response to the question “why do you want to study medicine?” when you’re sat opposite your interviewer at the final hurdle.
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