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Why Medicine?

The one question everyone has to answer during med school interviews

By Pamela Habib

During the admissions process, a common question may be about your long-term goals.  Why do you want to practice medicine?  Where do you see yourself in 20 years?  Whatever your goals may be, it is important to be able to articulate your answer in a clear manner, so that the admissions committee understands exactly why you would like to attend medical school, and how you plan to use your degree.

One concern candidates sometimes have is whether it is ok to talk about non-clinical aspirations.  For example, many aspiring and current physicians are interested in a role in healthcare administration.  When articulating this to a member of the admissions committee it is important to be able to describe why a medical degree is important for you to achieve your goals.  Are you looking to pursue a combined clinical and administrative role, and therefore medical training is important?  Are you planning to complete your degree and then pursue business training?  While both paths are common, it is important be clear about what your goals are.  Not every physician who receives his or her medical degree practices medicine.  However the schools will want to know that the degree fits into your long-term goals and that you are passionate about completing their program.

It is also important to practice articulating your answer to the “what are your long-term goals” question.  You could tell your story in front of a mirror.  You could sit down and tell a friend or family member and ask them to give you feedback.  Or, you could video record yourself and watch it afterward.  Key elements to observe include: 1. Is my message clear?  2. Do I sound confident?, and 3. Have I given examples to help tell my story?

In terms of the actual content in your answer, you will want to make sure it  is clear and easy to follow.  Did you answer the question?  Did you give concrete examples that can support your assertion that this is your passion?

In addition, the delivery of your response is also very important to observe.  If you are presenting to your friend or family member, ask them if you made appropriate eye contact.  If you are observing a video of yourself, check whether you are smiling and engaging during your response.

If your goal is to pursue a healthcare administrative role and this comes up during the interview, it is important to be able to clearly state what your plan is.  There are many paths for a physician to pursue a healthcare administrative role.  Hospitals are looking more and more toward physician leaders.  This not only gives clinicians a direct voice in the executive decisions made by a healthcare organization, but also creates more trust amongst physicians that their voices are being heard.  Medical staff often have concerns that initiatives that are generated in the administrative department are purely business focused, without giving enough consideration to impact on the way physicians care for their patients.  With physicians on the executive team, there is representation from both the clinical and business side of the organization.

When hospitals looks to identify physician leaders, they look for a combination of clinical experience and a business foundation.  One way to get this experience includes pursuing an M.B.A.  This can be done jointly during a medical degree program.  You can research various programs and see which offer a combined medical degree/M.B.A. program.  Alternatively an M.B.A. can be pursued after one has started clinical practice.

Another way to gain business experience is to join a consulting firm to gain experience in the business side of healthcare.  Some do this for a few years after graduating medical school but before pursuing residency.  Others join after medical school and choose not to pursue a residency.  And yet others pursue consulting after completing residency.

Whatever your reason is for wanting to pursue a combined clinical and administrative career, it is important to ensure that you are able to present a well thought-out plan in your answer so that the interviewer truly understands what your career aspirations are, and why a medical degree is critical for you to achieve this.

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