‘Why Medicine?’: How to answer the most common interview question | by STEMaccess | Jan, 2022


Each medical school interviews differently, with emphasis on certain qualities or asking you to discuss ethical dilemmas that you may not have even considered. The main overriding distinction people talk about is ‘Panel vs MMI’. A panel interview is very traditional, and each year more universities move away from it. Regardless of your interview format, however, you will be asked ‘Why Medicine?’ and ‘Why this medical school?’, so you need to be prepared to answer these questions as best as possible.

This one is all about you, and could actually be asked more than once. You can also use your answers for ‘Why Medicine’ to link into other experiences you’ve had in other stations if asked about leadership, teamwork or work experience too.

Now, lots of people make mistakes here that land them in the reject pile before they can say oesophagogastroduodenoscopy… and the most common ones heard are a variation of the following:

  • “Well, I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 3 years old and playing with my toy stethoscope”.
  • “Medicine is amazing [segueing into a romanticised view of what a doctor does]”.

If you have wanted to be a doctor since you were crawling around playing with blocks, then that’s absolutely fine. If you think Medicine is amazing and the job of your dreams, that’s also fine, but you need to show that you understand the difficult nature of the job and that you’ve come to a logical decision.

The truth is, working in the NHS can be physically and emotionally exhausting, extremely frustrating and upsetting. I’m not trying to put anyone off, but being a doctor is not a 9:00am-4:00pm cushy job, and the admissions tutors need to know that you understand that. So, wanting to a doctor since youth is fine, but explain how that interest from a young age developed into a decision to study medicine after exposure (through work experience, books you’ve read, personal experiences, etc.). The key here is to take them along the timeline with you, of how you grew an interest into a desire to commit 5/6 years of your life to an incredibly demanding degree course.

You can absolutely still have a passion for medicine in your speech, and you definitely should! But remember to bring a few cons of medicine into your explanation to show that you’ve considered them, weighed them up and decided that it is still the degree for you.

For this one, you need to have done your research. I talk more about this in a previous educational insight, 5 tips to Master your Medicine Interview, which can be found here. The summary point is to do your research, learn the course structure inside and out, talk to current students if you can (at open days, online, through any contacts if you have any), read about the culture, values and history of the university, and know it like the back of your hand. Then, think about your ideal medicine course; how would it be structured? Would it involve lots of research exposure, lots of clinical exposure early on, both, or neither?

Once you have an understanding of the university’s course structure and your ideal course structure, compare the two, find the similarities and there you have the basis of your answer. Some people will choose arbitrary facts about the course, for example “I wanted a medical school that uses dissection rather than prosection”; this is fair enough if you genuinely want to learn via dissection, but some people latch onto facts they think sound good even when it’s not that meaningful to them.

If you can find something about the course you genuinely love, build an answer around that and the passion will shine through on the day, making you appear more genuine and thus you’ll perform much better.

If you could benefit from 1-to-1 interview tutoring or want any further advice, get in touch and we’d be happy to help!

Rhodes Willoughby is Co-Founder and Director of STEMaccess, currently in his fifth year of his MBBS/BSc degree at Imperial College School of Medicine.

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