This is part of my series on medical school interviews. Be sure to check out the rest of the articles on the website to make sure you’re properly prepared when interview day comes around so you can perform at your very best and nail that medical school offer! As with all articles in this series, the following is intended as a rough guide containing talking points and elements to consider, rather than content to be repeated as-is in your interview.
Odd though it may seem, this is a question that can catch medical applicants completely off guard during interviews, and many will unravel extremely quickly. Instinctively 99% of students will simply say ‘I want to help people’, which an admissions tutor can then redirect in any number of ways and doesn’t suggest that much thought has gone into the application, which it most certainly should have done if you’re seriously thinking about committing to a life in medicine.
For example they could very quickly just say ‘then become a paramedic or a nurse. They help people’. When you think about it, an enormous number of occupations involve helping society in one way or another.
What you need to do is convey a sense of purpose and confidence, that gives the impression you have a solid reason you feel that specifically medicine above all else is the correct choice for you as a person. What is it SPECIFICALLY about the art of medicine that attracts you, and why do you think you’d be good at it?
For example, doctors routinely have to combine information from many sources (patient histories, blood samples, physical examinations etc) in order to solve problems and work out the diagnosis. If you enjoy science as well as problem solving, that would be good to mention. Better still, if you could provide an example from your own studies that combines these two aspects, that will sound much more convincing.
"When you think about it, an enormous number of occupations involve helping society in one way or another"
In terms of addressing the idea of why other healthcare roles might be unsuitable for you, doctors are ultimately in control of the care that a patient receives, and wield the most administrative power in doing so. While nurses and auxiliary care staff deliver treatment, the doctors decide what form it should take. If you feel that you want more of a say in this first stage of care then you’d be good for medicine, but be sure to make the point that this places a very large responsibility on you and you alone, which you must bear should anything go wrong following your decision.
Of course if you’re a graduate entrant to medicine (like myself) then you may well have worked in a clinical setting before. This might also of course be true if you did some volunteering in a hospital setting as a younger applicant. In this case try to reflect on the working environment - doctors can often be team leaders and you could talk about having led teams yourself.
Equally if you’ve had some experience in your own life, which could be seeing relatives treated in hospitals or having witnessed an accident with doctors present and seen them take control of the situation and reassure everyone, they can be good to talk about. My own answer is along these lines, which you can read more about in another article to come.
You might reflect on that most sacred of bonds, the doctor-patient relationship. While this has been restricted somewhat in recent years by reductions on consultation times, as a doctor your responsibility is not to your NHS trust or to your hospital’s clinical targets, but to your patients. It is an immense privilege that doctors are afforded, and if you can recognise how important that is and why you think you should be trusted with it, that would go a long way.
"as a doctor your responsibility is not to your NHS trust or to your hospital’s clinical targets, but to your patients"
Finally, I think a great but simple thing would be being able to come home at the end of every day and knowing you made a difference to somebody’s life. Be careful with this, because it won’t always be positive, and an interviewer could then follow you up on it. That is the great curse of the medical profession, particularly in dangerous fields like neurosurgery where mishaps are relatively more common and the actions of doctors can have very long lasting, debilitating results for their patients.
With this question, perhaps more so than any other you’d be asked in a medical school interview you MUST be honest. Absolutely do not try to fluff up your answer by giving false narratives or regurgitating buzzwords. Take a breath before you speak, look your interviewer in the eye and tell them plainly and simply why you want to be a doctor. This is a question all about self-reflection, there are no extraneous factors at play. Tell the truth, and it’s smooth sailing from there.