Why medicine? Why do you want to be a doctor? What motivated you to want to be a doctor? This question has many avatars. I get asked this question by friends and relatives a lot and my answer can vary day-to-day depending on my recent experiences of studying medicine or even my mood. So this is an explanation of why I wanted to study medicine. (Apologies if it ends up sounding like one big personal statement.)
These questions inevitably come up at most interviews and it’s usually a question that people dread getting but at the same time something that they have over prepared an answer to. I actually find myself giving a more genuine answer to that question now that I’m studying medicine than when I did at interviews. I’m going to share with you what I wrote in my personal statement regarding this question and the answers I gave in my interviews to this question.
So this is what I wrote in my personal statement about why I wanted to study medicine:
“Being … many members of my extended family have suffered from common illnesses that plague that community. To be in a position to help them as much as is possible, and others like them, would bring considerable satisfaction. I appreciate that studying medicine is a huge challenge but I am prepared to strive for and achieve my ambition in becoming a doctor.”
This was the opening statement I had written in my personal statement. Looking back on it I’ve not really written much regarding why I wanted to do medicine, the rest of my personal statement is a load of super cringe self-indulgent BS about why I’m the best candidate and all the extra-curricular activities I participated in. To me that paragraph, and (if I’m being honest) my entire personal statement, doesn’t reflect a genuine passion for wanting to study medicine. If I had said that at my interview though it would have guaranteed me a one way ticket to rejection. So I guess it’s easy for me to say sat behind my laptop with the luxury of hindsight.
So here’s the honest and genuine reason behind why I wanted to study medicine.
When I was very young I used to tell all the adults that I would be a doctor when I grew up, as well as an astronaut, race car driver and movie star (I’m still working on that last one, I’ll let you know if I ever crack Hollywood). As I got older I became more disillusioned about some of the career choices I’d made when I was younger. Throughout secondary school I seriously considered engineering, architecture and even acting as possible career prospects. My love of science just grew through GCSE and A levels so I knew by the time that I was 16 that I definitely wanted to study something science related.
I genuinely enjoyed being in school and education so when I heard medicine was five years at university I thought: “Where do I sign up?”. I love learning so much that I’m spending an extra year at medical school doing research and I really want to do a PhD (I guess I’m just a sucker for punishment as well). Medicine is a field that is constantly evolving making new discoveries and advances. For example, what we know about the brain is just the tip of the iceberg and its things like this, the unknown and learning about the unknown, that really gets me excited. (Stop me if I get too excited.) As doctors progress in their careers they are always learning new things and building their knowledge up.
Like most medical students, I was always a high achiever at school. It’s dangerous being a high achiever at school, great if you are, but very dangerous. Why? Because being a high achiever means that you become an extremely ambitious and competitive person from a young age. Being the top dog at my secondary school made me big-headed and caused me to think that I was the best, in reality I was far from it. There is nothing wrong in being ambitious but us high achievers don’t tend to handle failure very well, in fact I can honestly say I had a serious phobia of failing, just the idea used to have me breaking out in a cold sweat. As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog (Confidence building) I received a lot of rejections. There are many reasons why the experience of being rejected was a great experience (not great at the time though). Being rejected had a dual effect on me. It humbled me a lot, forcing me to come to the realisation that I was not the best and that there will always be someone smarter or better than me. This lesson was of great benefit to me as now I work harder in an attempt to be the best that I can be and not worry about what other people are doing. The second effect that rejection had on me was to force me to confront my fear of failure so I’m not as scared of failure now. I have a healthy respect for the experience of failing and the lessons it teaches people. Failure is an important to learn from because failures are the pillars of success.
Do you know that good feeling you get when you’ve solved a difficult puzzle or maths question? That particular feeling of euphoria is what I call intellectual satisfaction. Being an extremely ambitious person meant that I wanted to study something challenging so that I could get that feeling of intellectual satisfaction.
If you have read my previous blog then you will know that I temporarily lost my motivation to study medicine. When I rediscovered my passion to study medicine during my gap year there was a significant difference in the conviction behind my motivation to study medicine. I was more determined than ever to achieve my goal of becoming a doctor. Failure tends to eat away at your motivation for doing something which is why determination is so important.
Of course I also wanted to help people, who doesn’t? How do you convey to someone the immense feeling of satisfaction you get when you know you have made a small difference to someone’s life? It’s so difficult to describe that feeling to someone who has never experienced it. I wanted to experience this feeling of satisfaction on a regular basis. I wanted to be a doctor to make myself feel good (sounds really selfish, I know). During my gap year I used to volunteer in a children’s hospital and my role was a ‘play volunteer’. This meant that I would go onto the wards and spend time with sick children doing activities with them to distract them from the fact that they were in hospital, activities could mean anything from doing arts and crafts to playing on the PlayStation. I loved that job so much, the positive feelings that I would get from a child smiling and their gratitude towards me for spending time with them was incredible. That feeling was so powerful that it would make me feel good for the rest of the day and even the next day. It’s one of the reasons why I’m interested in paediatrics (child health).
The main motivation for me wanting to be a doctor is difficult for me to talk about. I didn’t mention it in my personal statement and I didn’t talk mention it at most of my interviews. My little brother was born with a really rare illness. It’s a difficult burden to bear having a family member with a serious disability and it’s something I’ve found quite difficult to talk about in the past. Because of my brothers condition I’ve had a lot of indirect exposure to paediatricians (child doctors). One doctor in particular was very inspiring. She was a family/community paediatrician, someone who overlooked the general care of my brother. She was not just a doctor to my little brother but to my entire family. She was really integrated into our family dynamics and made sure my brother and our family had as normal an experience as possible. She has had an enormous impact on my family and that has really stuck with me. I would love to do a similar job like that and help other families in the way she has helped us.
There’s a little part of me that wants to cure my little brother. I know that is highly unlikely to happen, especially with the condition my brother has, but ultimately I want to be able to help him in any way I can. Anybody who study’s medicine and has an ill family member would probably feel this way.
Take home message of the blog: Everybody wants the world in their hands but what distinguishes the successful people from the average joe? I believe it is the passion and motivation a person has that makes them stand out. A persons motivation for doing something is often selfish. People only do what they do because it makes them feel good. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with that. When you enjoy doing something it means that you will be more passionate about it. When you are passionate about something then you will instinctively want to do well and excel at that. “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek”, (Mario Andretti).