The question

The question that was asked to everyone who ever applied for medical school. Every interviewee is sat down by strangers and asked – why do you want to be a doctor? Eight years later a senior doctor asked me this question, and it left me at a loss for words. Be honest, did you secretly want to be like Meredith Grey, or J.D & Turk?

The influences

For myself I was 17 years old at the time and I didn’t know much at all. I just vaguely knew I wanted to ‘help people’.

Originally, when I was very young, I had wanted to be a veterinarian. I have always loved animals, of all kinds, and sometimes feel more comfortable in their presence than with other humans. There are photos of me as a four year old playing vet, and bandaging up my plush dog toy.

As I became a teenager I was quite studious, and an overachiever (I’m sure other medical people can relate). I finally got to that age (around 15) when people ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

Why do we expect adolescents to know what they want to be at such a young age? In my opinion this period of time should be spent learning about yourself, who you are, what you like, what you dislike and what you’re passionate about.


So I wanted to be a vet, but adults around me felt that I really should not be a vet. That it was a terrible idea. I was told that I should become a doctor because no one wants to care for animals. Everyone knows that vets spend 50% of the time putting animals down and the other 50% elbow deep in a cow’s bum. Of course everyone wants to be a doctor, and if you’re remotely intelligent or good at school that is what you should do (in my family’s opinion). So at 15 I naturally made the choice, without persuasion, to be a doctor. Thinking that was the end of that.

Having said this, all life choices you make are your own. You need to take responsibility for your choices and own it. So I do not blame any well meaning adult for where I am today.

I am sure there are more than a few people out there who were gently nudged towards choosing medicine as a career by well-meaning elders.

Or maybe you just really loved Grey’s Anatomy and thought you would love the glamorous life of a doctor. Especially with all those McSteamies and McDreamies roaming around the hospital…

The choice

So, I don’t know what your reasons were to choose medicine. Everyone has their own. Some are very meaningful, others not so much. Adam Kay who wrote the hilarious This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor  likened choosing medicine to choosing a menu at a dinner party.

The decision to work in medicine is basically a version of the email you get in early October asking you to choose your menu options for the work Christmas party. No doubt you’ll choose the chicken, to be on the safe side, and it’s more than likely everything will be all right. But what if someone shares a ghastly factory farming video on Facebook the day before and you inadvertently witness a mass debeaking? What if Morrissey dies in November and, out of respect for him, you turn your back on a lifestyle thus far devoted almost exclusively to consuming meat? What if you develop a life-threatening allergy to escalopes? Ultimately, no one knows what they’ll fancy for dinner in sixty dinners’ time

Adam Kay

Kay is not far off the truth. Medicine is almost like a default option for those who do well in school, don’t mind blood, and have families with high expectations. Either that or a lawyer. So, surprisingly the choice is often one based on the flimsiest judgement with very little reasoning.

The answer to the question that started this whole post

Why do you want to be a doctor?

I used to say the weak “because I want to help people” line, that I really did believe at the time. However, you can help people in a million ways. Through a painting that transcends, through music that heals, a how-to book, or even a kind gesture.

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During the interviews people have very well rehearsed answers that usually discuss how medicine is a perfect mix of art and science. That they are passionate about research and they usually give an example from their own life for supporting evidence.

Once people are in medical school, other reasons come to light. Such as: stable job, exponential pay increase, power, privilege, status, or it was what was expected (I’m not making this up people).

So why did you want to be a doctor?

As I get further into my medical career I get more and more confused. I am currently at the point where I have no answer at all to this question. I am still here because it is what I know, I am on this well-trodden path. The work is meaningful, some days are exhilarating, but there are of course the negatives to every situation. I am honestly a bit scared to change or move into an unknown career. Feeling a little lost and confused.

So, what is your answer?

Have a great day 🙂

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash