Interview Question: Challenges of Being A Doctor

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.

This could be phrased in a variety of different ways, but essentially you’re thinking about the negative aspects of being a doctor, of which there are many. Be aware of a variety of them, but there will be a couple that might particularly concern you, which would be good candidates to think and talk about should you be asked.

Medicine is often dramatised, leaving out many of the challenges of the profession (Image: Scrubs, Disney-ABC)

Medicine is often dramatised, leaving out many of the challenges of the profession (Image: Scrubs, Disney-ABC)

First and foremost is quite simply the inordinate amount of time to be spent working and studying. Doctors work up to 100 hours a week in some cases, depending on the particular speciality and stage of training, which might be maintained for years. Regardless of whether or not you personally can tolerate that idea, think that you’ll more than likely have others dependent on you before you get anywhere near consultant status, be it friends, partners or maybe even children. Medicine, despite recent efforts to limit working hours does not inherently offer a good work-life balance, beyond a few specialities, or at least certainly not as well as many other noble professions do.

Building on this point is the idea of responsibility. Beyond the friends and family we just considered, doctors have ultimate responsibility to their patients. While all of us have the idea of a patient crying with happiness after you’ve cured their malady to get them home in time for Christmas (or any other seasonal holiday of your choice), imagine a different scenario. You made the wrong call on a diagnosis, or got the dosage wrong which has resulted in the death of a child. You have to go out and explain to the parents exactly what happened, and that burden is yours to bear. Of course everyone makes mistakes, but when doctors do the results can have catastrophic outcomes for their patients, so they need to be able to manage this.

"Every surgeon carries about him a little cemetery, in which from time to time he goes to pray, a cemetery of bitterness and regret, of which he seeks the reason for certain of his failures"
René Leriche, 'La philosophie de la chirurgie', 1951

Of course, not every medical disaster that occurs will be your fault, but you’ve still got to be able to deliver bad news in the general case, which often results in the so-called ‘detachment’ of doctors by necessity. Imagine you’ve delivered a woman’s baby, only to have to tell her that it needs emergency surgery immediately or has been born with a birth defect she wasn’t expecting. An incredibly joyous situation has immediately turned into something potentially quite different.

Doctors often work very long hours which can challenge their personal lives (Image: hiroo yamagata on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Doctors often work very long hours which can challenge their personal lives (Image: hiroo yamagata on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thirdly, the roles of doctors in the UK have become increasingly intertwined with those of the administrative staff around them. You do not simply have free reign to operate as and when you like, you are at the mercy of the resources of your NHS Trust and you might not always be able to give the best care you want to.

Similarly, to the chagrin of NHS staff everywhere the amount of paperwork, dictation and bureaucracy has exponentially increased. Doctors spend hours dealing with emails, trying to find spare beds and chasing bloods, X-rays and the like rather than spending time with their patients and they would no doubt much rather be doing.

Personally speaking the challenge that most worries me is that work-life split. I wish to have a family of my own one day, which is of course possible and perfectly feasible knowing the enormous number of medics that have achieved that successfully. My personality tends to lead me towards whatever the most difficult of a set of outcomes is merely for the challenge and stimulation (and therefore very intensive fields), which is something I will personally need to work towards if I am ever to have a properly fulfilling career in medicine.