Applying to medical school is hard work. You need good grades, often an extra exam (UKCAT/BMAT), time spent writing a personal statement and plenty of preparation for the medical school interview. Everyone must have thought about why they want to apply, right? Wrong!
You would be amazed at how many applicants, and even how many actual medical students haven’t really thought the process through and haven’t got a good answer to this question. This is definitely something you should think through and talk to people about, well before you apply to medical school, and certainly well before any interviews.
Although it might not be a commonly asked question at medical school interviews, this questions is absolutely fundamental, and if you are asked and don’t have an answer then you are likely to be marked down heavily. You will probably also be left panicked and unable to continue to give your best for the rest of the day.
People have different reasons for going to medical school and it’s still the case that, after over 20 years of medical training, I am surprised by the answers that people give. you will have your own personal reasons, and you should think about these, talk to friends and family about these and make sure that you can express them clearly. There is no right or wrong answer to this question and the last thing you should do is give a different answer which you think sounds better – it will most likely come across as inauthentic and false.
Commonly, potential medical students are aware that they are on course for very high grades in their A-levels (or similar exams outside England and Wales) and want to make sure that these grades are not “wasted” with entry into a “lesser” course that is open to people with much lower grades. The thinking runs along these lines: “Going to get top grades at A-level? Make sure you study something really competitive them – law, medicine or architecture.”
Parental influence is often a factor in this situation – medical parents, or even parents who are not medics but who want the best for their children, can push you towards a medical career. This is sometimes a recipe for unhappiness. Don’t train in medicine unless you want to be a doctor, or at the very least think that you probably want to be a doctor and want to give it a really good try before making your mind up. If your real desire is to be a physicist, tightrope walker, ballet dancer or engineer, don’t be pushed into medicine!
Perhaps the most noble reason for wanting to study medicine is that you feel you have skills – in science and academic skills as well as communication skills, and you want to make the most of these by helping people. This might sound cheesy, but it’s a really good reason for studying medicine. If you DON’T want to help people, then please DON’T study medicine.
Many people have a more personal reason for studying medicine. You may have been seriously ill yourself, or seen someone close to you struggle with health problems and receive help from doctors and other healthcare staff who inspired you and made you want to do the same. Again, this is a really good reason for wanting to study medicine and you should be open and honest about this at your interview.
Some people enter medicine because they have no particular passion in any other direction and they recognise that medicine is a rewarding, challenging and (relatively) well paid job, with endless possibilities and scope.
Having said that, there are some really bad reasons why people apply to medical school and if you are in one of those unfortunate situations, you need to think of a better way of putting things across. If you are there only because your parents have pushed you into it, then openly declaring this is unlikely to convince the examiners that you have the passion and commitment to see the process through. If you are in this position, think seriously about whether you should be trying for medicine at all.
It would be fascinating to hear about your particular reasons for wanting to study medicine – please leave a comment below and we can start a discussion.