How to Answer the “Why Medicine” Interview Question


Sometimes the simplest questions are also the most difficult to answer. On the surface, the “why medicine” question may seem like a straightforward question with an equally straightforward answer; however, this isn’t the case.

Simple as it is, this question forces you to deeply examine your own motivations for pursuing medicine. As such, it is one of the most important questions you have to answer – not only for medical school applications and interviews but also for yourself.

Let’s break down how to answer this common interview question.

Medical school is not for the faint of heart. Regardless of how intelligent you are or how hard you work, you will face numerous challenges and obstacles on your way to becoming a doctor. Understanding your true motivations will help you push through difficult times and remind you of why you’re pursuing medicine in the first place.

One of the worst things you can do is fabricate a response in an attempt to present yourself in the best possible light. Not only will you be lying to your interviewer, and make yourself more susceptible to any curveballs they might throw at you, but you’ll also be lying to yourself.

When thinking about how you want to answer this question, it is important to look inward. This is your chance to think about yourself, your life, and why you want to pursue medicine, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

With that out of the way, let’s dive deeper and talk about what interviewers are looking for in your response.


What Interviewers Are Looking For

First and foremost, admissions committees use this question to get to know you better as a person. They have already seen your application and read through your personal statement. Now, they want to get to know the person behind it all.

The “why do you want to be a doctor” question should not be a regurgitation of your primary application or personal statement, but rather a genuine discussion about what led you to pursue medicine and why it’s the career for you.

A well-thought-out answer shows that you have put considerable thought into your reasons for pursuing medicine and weighed the pros and cons of this career field. It also shows that you know what you’re in for and are prepared for the challenges ahead of you.

This is also the perfect opportunity for admissions committees to assess your in-person communication skills – something they can’t do at any other point in the application process. Although admissions committees can get a feel for your written communication skills through your essays and personal statement, the interview is where they get to see how you interact with others.

Communication skills are fundamental for aspiring physicians. You want to make sure to communicate your reasons for pursuing medicine as clearly and effectively as possible. If you can’t explain to someone why you want to go into medicine, you will likely have trouble communicating a difficult diagnosis to a patient.

Another thing that interviewers are looking for is your commitment to medicine. Becoming a physician is one of the longest and most challenging career paths that you can choose. Admissions committees want to make sure that you are committed to becoming a physician and are willing to overcome the challenges ahead of you.

Part of the reason that medical school admissions are so rigorous is that medical schools want to make sure that they’re accepting students who will ultimately graduate and become practicing physicians. Although getting into medical school is no easy feat, there are still some students who don’t end up completing medical school.

Some drop out due to health issues, family circumstances, or other unforeseen events. Others drop out because they are unable to handle the rigors of medical school or decide that they no longer want to become a doctor.

This affects medical schools in two ways. First, it’s bad from a financial perspective. Once a student matriculates into medical school and begins classes, their spot is locked in and is not easily replaced.

If a student drops out of medical school during their second year, the school can’t just replace their spot with another second-year medical student. Instead, they lose out on the tuition that the student would have provided over the next two years of their training.

In addition, a high attrition rate can affect the academic reputation of a medical school. Schools with high dropout rates may deter students from applying or attending that school.

For these reasons, medical schools are incentivized to be cautious when choosing students. The “why do you want to be a doctor” question is one way that schools can determine which students are driven and motivated enough to make it through medical school.


How to Approach the “Why Medicine” Question

Now that you know why this question is so important, how should you approach it?

Much like with your medical school application, you want to build a narrative around the “why medicine” question. You should follow the same approach that you would if you were writing a good story.

First, you want to have a beginning, middle, and end to your response. This will allow you to organize your ideas in such a way that they flow seamlessly together. Remember, this is your chance to show admissions committees your stellar communication skills. If you jump around from point to point haphazardly, your response can be confusing and difficult to follow.

We recommend formatting your response in the following way.

Start by discussing how you were first introduced to the field of medicine. If possible, incorporate specific experiences and follow the “show don’t tell” principle. This will make your response much more engaging and grab your interviewer’s attention.

Next, discuss how you learned more about the field. What did you do to educate yourself about the world of medicine and the realities of being a doctor? This is your chance to discuss any stand-out experiences that you had and what they taught you about medicine.

Lastly, you should talk about why you are committed to medicine. What does becoming a doctor offer you that other careers, especially other careers in healthcare, don’t? Be specific here.

A great way to approach this part of your response is to think about the impact you want to have on your patients. What can you offer your patients as a physician that you can’t offer in other careers and why are these things important to you?

For example, you might discuss the fact that physicians possess deep knowledge and understanding of medicine which provides them with a level of problem-solving ability and intellectual stimulation that you don’t get in other fields of healthcare. By possessing this level of knowledge yourself, you’ll be able to provide more nuanced care to your future patients.

This is just one example to get you thinking. It is important for you to reflect on your specific reasons for pursuing medicine. Your response should be genuine and true to yourself.


Mistakes to Avoid

Now, let’s talk about some mistakes to avoid.

Although it is important to prepare for this question by organizing your thoughts, you should avoid trying to memorize a “perfect response.” Interviewers are trying to assess your communication skills and this approach often feels rehearsed – which can come across as disingenuous.

Remember, you won’t have a script when you’re talking to patients. Instead, you will have knowledge in your head that you need to communicate effectively to the person sitting in front of you. This is no different. You want to show the interviewer who you are as a person, and let your personality shine through. This is often difficult to do when you’re reading from a script.

Next, avoid responses like “I like helping people” or “I love learning about the human body.” These are some of the most common answers that premeds give to interviewers. If you give a similarly generic answer, you will have a difficult time standing out from the hundreds of other premeds who said the exact same thing.

In addition, these responses aren’t specific to becoming a doctor. You can help people and learn about the human body in many different career fields, so why become a doctor instead of a nurse, physician assistant, or physical therapist? You want your answer to reflect why you want to become a doctor specifically and why it’s the best career for you.

Next, avoid answers that involve money, power, or respect. These responses indicate that your reasons for pursuing medicine are extrinsic – meaning they come from external sources instead of internal ones. Although these reasons may be involved in your decision to become a physician, they can come across as selfish and lead interviewers to question your commitment to medicine.

Being a doctor is a field focused on helping people. Your response shouldn’t be focused on what medicine can offer you, but on what you can offer the field of medicine — and ultimately your future patients.

In addition, research has shown that intrinsic motivations for becoming a doctor, such as enjoying the intellectual challenge of medicine, are correlated with increased academic performance, whereas extrinsic motivations had no significant association with a medical student’s academic performance.

This last point should be obvious, but don’t say you’re going into medicine because your parents are doctors or because they want you to go into medicine. Although having family members in medicine can be a great motivator and provide you with firsthand perspectives of what it’s like to be a doctor, this should not be your primary reason.

Similar to the previous point, this response suggests that your motivations for pursuing medicine are extrinsic. They are influenced by what others want for you instead of what you want for yourself – which is often a red flag for interviewers.

Although the “why medicine” question is one of the more difficult questions you will have to answer when applying to medical school, it is just one aspect of the medical school interview. In addition to practicing what to say, you also need to practice how to say it–which is often difficult to do on your own.

While your friends and family can help you sound good, they won’t have the nuanced understanding of what medical school admissions committees are looking for. The best way to prepare is by completing mock interviews with doctors or instructors who have served on actual medical school admissions committees.

In a Med School Insiders mock interview, you’ll work with a former admissions committee physician who knows firsthand what interviewers are looking for and how to present yourself in the best light. Together, our team has conducted thousands of interviews and we know the process inside and out.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our list of the Most Common Medical School Interview Questions or our Guide to the Medical School Interview.


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