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Why Medicine?

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek, in his inspiring TED talk in May 2010, explained to an audience of business leaders why the “why” is the most important component of “why, how, what”. Sinek’s basic message, which is also explained in his book Start With Why, is that we are inspired and motivated by belief. If we know why we do what we do, it will not only empower us to do anything we do well, but it will also inspire and move others to believe in your mission. Starting with “why” enables the “how” and the “what”.

So how does this concept relate to those who are prospective doctors? Why is “why medicine” so important?

The path to becoming a physician is a grueling one to say the least. It takes four years of college, then four years of medical school, and then at least 3 years of training. The entire process can be incredibly stressful and challenging. There are roughly only 850,000 doctors in the U.S. That is a less than a third of a percent of the entire population. One main reason why there are so few doctors is because it is so difficult to become one and then remaining one is not easy either. Ultimately, going into medicine is a long-term investment that many cannot make.

If you want to become a doctor, you must first have the motivation to push through the most difficult of times. That is one reason why the “why” is so important. The answer to the “why medicine?” serves as motivation, drive, perseverance. There are only a few people in this world that can accomplish incredibly difficult tasks just because they want to, most people need the proper motivation. Then as tasks become more difficult, greater incentives are needed. If you are a pre-med, you must know why you are studying, doing research, volunteering, shadowing, and anything else you do. Devoting your time to these things cannot be just “because I want to be a doctor”. You must go deeper and know why you want to become a doctor. You might even have to ask yourself why you exist on this earth. What is your purpose? If you truly believe that your purpose is to make a difference in this world by healing and caring for the sick and injured, then you will take all the necessary steps, no matter how difficult, to fulfill that purpose.

Nevertheless, just because you know why you want to become a doctor, it does not mean you will automatically become one. Your next hurdle will be to get accepted into medical school during which your job will be to once again answer the “why” question. You must communicate to each admissions committee why you would make a great doctor and why you would not only fit in, but also thrive at their school. Giving the admissions committee a list of your accomplishments is not good enough. You can’t answer the “why medicine” question with a “what”. You must show the committee what drives you. You must communicate why you partook in certain activities (obviously you need tangible accomplishments and experiences to explain in the first place) and how those activities prepared you to become a doctor. Medical schools look for stellar students who fit into the school’s vision and mission. If you do not have a vision or mission for your life, how are you supposed to become stellar? How are you going to explain how your vision aligns with theirs? Of course you need the “what” as well. You need to have good grades, a high MCAT score, extracurricular activities, etc. But if you want to get into medical school, you first must “buy” wholeheartedly why you are doing what you are doing or else you will inevitably burn out and fail. Then during the application process, you must show others the same thing. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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