MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEW GUIDE — All About You

Motivation for Medicine

WRITTEN BY
MEDISTUDENTS TEAM
SEPTEMBER 6, 2021

The following are topics relating to your motivation to study medicine, which you may be asked about during your interview, and suggestions for what to include in your answers:

Why medicine?

Questions which aim to draw out your reasons for choosing to study medicine are extremely common and to be expected within your medical school interview. You may be asked directly why you have chosen to apply for medicine, what your motivation is or what interests you about a career in medicine. The question may be framed in relation to your work experience and how this has supported your decision to apply for medical school; alternatively, you could choose to include some discussion of your work experience, if it supports your answer. However the question is delivered, it’s important that you are well prepared to justify your decision to study medicine, but without simply giving a rehearsed response.

What to include in your answers

“Why medicine?” may seem like one of the more straightforward questions you’ll be met with at your medical school interview, but it is often the question applicants worry about answering, or answering well at least. Often there is the perceived idea that you need to “stand out from the crowd”, couple this with a focus on trying to give a profound answer, and it's easy to slip into a cliche answer. Focus on giving an honest and personal response, reflecting on your interests and experiences which have developed your enthusiasm for medicine, and avoid exaggerating your motivators or experiences.

Another risk to be aware of with this question, is the temptation to practice and deliver a set answer. It’s advisable for all questions that you avoid giving answers which are clearly rehearsed, but it’s particularly important with questions such as this, where you’ll have a good idea of what the question will be, and therefore are able to plan your answer. While it may be tempting to prepare a set answer, it’ll be clear to interviewers that it has been rehearsed, and as a result you risk your answer not appearing genuine. During your preparations, focus instead on the areas/reasons you want to cover and the experiences and research you have done which will support these.

Ultimately, your answer will be personal to you and what it is about a career in medicine that appeals to you. However, a few things you may wish to consider when preparing are:

  • Focusing on both your scientific interest and your desire to work with patients. These are crucial elements of your future career and an interest in both is essential for studying medicine; ensure that you discuss how both are contributing factors to your decision to want to study medicine.
  • Demonstrating an understanding of the realities of working within the medical profession. While you don’t need to go into great detail if you haven’t been asked about this directly, demonstrating a realistic understanding of the role of a doctor, through research, work experience and discussions with professionals, shows that you have considered these and made an informed decision to study medicine.
  • Linking to the previous point, what work experience or visits, discussions with professionals or research have you carried out that can support your answers and demonstrate why you have chosen this career path.
  • Finally, don’t overdo it on your answer and try to list every reason you can think of to study medicine. Focus on a few key points which appeal to you and explain in more detail why these motivate you to pursue a career in medicine, including examples, such as work experience, to support your points where you can.

Why not a different role?

As well as receiving questions about why you have chosen to apply for medicine, you may also be asked why you aren’t drawn to a different career. If you mentioned your interest in the challenging academic side of medicine, or your desire to help others through your career choice, you may be asked why you haven’t chosen a different role which fulfils these elements. Similarly, you may be asked why you have chosen medicine over a different healthcare profession or how you think your role as a doctor will vary from other healthcare professionals.

What to include in your answers

As we touched on in the ‘Why Medicine?’ section, discussing the combination of academic study and scientific knowledge with the social aspects of working with patients, is a useful tactic. In this instance, it will support you to justify why you have chosen medicine over a different role which is academically challenging or in which you can help others.

To support you to answer queries regarding why you haven’t chosen an alternative healthcare role, it's vital that you have an understanding of what different roles within the NHS entail and how they are distinguishable from the role of a doctor. Although your reason for choosing medicine will be a personal one, understanding how different healthcare roles compare will enable you to discuss why you are interested in becoming a doctor rather than other roles within healthcare.

If not medicine, then what?

Within the questions regarding your motivation and why you have chosen to study medicine, you may be asked what you would do if your application wasn’t successful and you didn’t obtain an offer at university for the next academic year. Although this may seem like an unusual or perhaps even negative choice of question, if it does come up, it simply allows interviewers to examine your commitment to studying medicine.

What to include in your answers

This may be something you’ve already considered, in which case you may even have an idea about what you would do in this situation. However, if it isn’t something you’ve thought about, it is worth exploring your options; not only will it support you to answer any questions relating to this situation, but it’ll also be beneficial if you were to experience it.

In this instance, interviewers are looking for applicants who show dedication to becoming a doctor, who would explore an alternative route to achieving this outcome. Would you spend the next academic year undertaking further work experience or a related foundation degree that would develop your skills and understanding, and support you to be successful in gaining a place at medical school in the future? Consider how your choices demonstrate your commitment to studying medicine and your determination to obtain a place on the course, if you are not initially successful.

How do you know medicine is the right choice?

Similar to questions relating to why you want to study medicine, you may be asked how you know that it is the right choice for you, or what steps you have actively taken to ensure that it is. Alternatively, you may be specifically questioned about your work experience, or other relevant experiences, and how they have supported your decision.

What to include in your answers

Consider how you have prepared yourself for applying to medical school: how have you developed an understanding of the demands of the profession and what your future role will entail? You could use the following as examples:

  • Your academic study – particularly if you’ve undertaken additional reading or projects relating to medicine
  • Any relevant experience you’ve gained
  • Any research you’ve carried out – this could be additional reading or even simply conversations you’ve had with doctors or other healthcare professionals to gain more understanding of the role

Most importantly, ensure that you reflect on how your research or experiences have supported you to explore the challenges of the role and enabled you to make an informed decision that it is the right option for you.

Your future career

Linking to the previous section and your decision to study medicine, you may be asked questions relating to your understanding of what your future role will involve. Interviewers may enquire about your goals and what you’d like to achieve from your career in medicine, or even what impact you believe you’ll make within the profession.

What to include in your answers

As with all questions in this section, a genuine, honest and personal response will always be best. If there is a particular area of medicine you’re interested in or goals you have in mind, then share these with the interviewer. The only caveat that we would give to this, is to ensure that you also demonstrate that you are flexible, you have an interest in exploring different specialties and do not simply have one set route which you hope to take.

As well as an understanding of the role of a doctor, ensure that you’re aware of the training opportunities and routes available; remember these are only a rough guide, but they can provide more insight into how you may progress, which you can bring into your discussion to support your answer. Finally, when sharing your aspirations, don’t forget your reasons for going into medicine; considering what impact you hope to have on the patients you’ll be working with on a daily basis will support you to provide an effective answer, with or without any set goals or particular areas of interest.

Your understanding of the role

Interviewers want to establish that applicants to medical school have a thorough understanding of what their future role will involve and a realistic view of a career in medicine. You may be asked what challenges you envision you’ll face as a doctor, what you consider to be the pros and cons of the role or even what you’re most and least looking forward to.

What to include in your answers

When approaching these types of questions, ensure that you discuss both the positive and negative aspects of the role. You should aim to demonstrate that you understand the challenges you’ll face, and you’ve considered the impact of these when making your decision to apply for medical school, rather than holding an idealistic view of being a doctor. However, the trick is to strike a balance between the two, showing a realistic understanding of your career choice but ultimately a positive outlook overall.

When acknowledging the challenges of working in medicine, aim to add a positive spin, where possible, or share positives to counteract these perceived negatives. For example, being a doctor is a demanding role and there is a great deal of pressure on making the correct decisions, which can be stressful and challenging. However, you may enjoy that level of responsibility and relish the challenge of working in a role where you’re required to continuously learn and improve in order to support patients effectively. In addition, you may highlight that while you will be challenged with making vital decisions, you’ll have the support of colleagues, who are experts in their specialties. This allows you to acknowledge the challenges you’ll face, while demonstrating that you are confident that you can overcome these and have the resources to do so.

It may also be useful to reflect on your work experience and any discussions you’ve had with healthcare professionals, drawing on these as examples of the challenges and/or positives of working within medicine, to support your answers. Reflecting on your reasons for wanting to study medicine can also be useful to provide you with examples of the positive aspects of the role and what appeals to you about it; considering what opportunities you’ll have and how you’ll help others, and why these are important to you.

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