Looking for more advice? Check our tips on how to show your motivation at interview.
The answer guides to these background and motivation questions have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools. They’re included in our Mastering the Medical School Interview Guide that you get when you join a Medical School Interview Course. It’s over 220 pages long and has everything you need to ace your interview.
This is a common Background and Motivation question, so reflect carefully on the answer prior to the interview. In order to answer it properly, you will need to first understand what exactly being a medical student and a Doctor entails. This comes from research, work experience and talking to people ahead of you on the pathway.
When you answer this question, aim to strike a good balance between passion and pragmatism — many people come across disproportionately one way or the other. You should provide enough detail to be persuasive, but avoid waffling. More than three points are usually too much, and the impact will be lost.
Try to get across your desire to interact with – and ultimately help — people, because this is what being a Doctor is all about. Try to capture why the combination of scientific drive and human engagement involved in Medicine appeals to you. And use examples from work experience and your personal life throughout to personalise and strengthen your answer.
It’s a good idea to say you would apply again next year, and perhaps try to get a job or volunteering post in a related area in the meantime, because this shows commitment. Stressing that you would remain committed to the pathway in the face of a setback is a good demonstration of your desire to study Medicine.
This is an opportunity to show that you can turn misfortune to your advantage by outlining how you would make the most of the time – to gain more experience in healthcare, for example. Perhaps suggest that you could try nursing or a related healthcare degree because they also involve patient care and that is ultimately what you’re interested in.
Hopefully, you find it rewarding to help people who need it and make a difference in peoples’ lives. So say so – and don’t be too afraid of sounding cheesy! Remember that as a Doctor, you have the chance to make a real difference to peoples’ lives every day that you go to work. You
Patient care and disease management, alongside the medical research that takes place, is intellectually stimulating, it is a multi-faceted job that presents you with many exciting challenges. If you enjoy teamwork and problem-solving that will also be a big draw! You should also consider the diversity of opportunities available to healthcare professionals. Use work experience and other first-hand experiences to support the things that you say — make the answer personal to you. Consider mentioning that you are also aware that it is extremely challenging and stressful but that you believe the positives outweigh the negatives
It’s important to show that you understand, from research and work experience, that being a Doctor comes with a lot of challenges. Without belittling these challenges, also keep a positive outlook and demonstrate that you are up for the challenge. For example. being a Doctor can be very stressful and requires a huge commitment, which might restrict your personal or family life. However, there might also be good ways of finding a work-life balance that work for you.
Another example is that the death of patients is an inevitable part of being a Doctor — show that you recognise that this will be an incredibly difficult thing to deal with. You can also refer to the support available for Doctors experiencing difficulties with this. Remember, there is a huge range of opportunities available to a Doctor. You will develop more of a sense of what you are best suited to as you move through Medical School
Medicine isn’t just a scientific career! It is people-based and therefore requires Doctors to be well-rounded people who can relate to others. Non-scientific interests can help Doctors achieve this, and relate to patients who don’t have a deep scientific understanding of their situation. Some universities, like Imperial, focus a lot on extracurricular as a sign of well-rounded candidates; find out each university’s stance beforehand. If you play music/sport/paint/do comedy/other, tell them about it and try to articulate why this might make you are stronger candidate.
Extracurricular activities can demonstrate skills relevant to Medicine; sportspeople often show teamwork and leadership, for instance. Use extracurricular achievements to signpost Doctor-worthy traits. For example, “I love playing the guitar, and have played in bands in my town for several years. It is a great way of meeting new people, and playing music together is one of the most enjoyable things I do. I would like to continue playing guitar alongside my medical studies, as I feel it could provide catharsis during stressful times. Patients or colleagues might also enjoy listening or playing music together!”
While this question appears to be asking you to talk in detail about scientific topics you have studied and find interesting, what it is really doing is providing you with an opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of your engagement with Medicine. Structure your answer to avoid being incoherent or going into too much detail about one particular topic – and running out of time!
Start by discussing a particular scientific aspect of Medicine that you have studied or read about and found interesting – such as the special structure of the epithelial cells in the myocardium that allows the heart to act as such an effective and reliable pump. Connect this to any relevant clinical work experience you have had – for example, did you see any patients with heart conditions or did you see an echocardiogram? What are the real-world manifestations of the Medicine that interests you? If you don’t have any relevant work experience, think about the reading you have done.
You might then move on to the practical side of Medicine. This lets the interviewer know that you appreciate that Medicine is a practical science – and often the practise of Medicine is less about scientific knowledge and more about soft skills, pattern recognition and logic. You could then combine both the practical and scientific topics you have discussed to talk about research or self-directed learning that you might want to do at Medical School. Is there an Intercalated Degree that you have your eye on? Remember to demonstrate that you have thought about this question from multiple aspects! Not just the scientific one!
You need to have a basic understanding of what a typical medical career may involve. Aim to cover your interests in the areas of clinical training, academia, general skills development and social activities. Take why you wish to study medicine and translate that into something tangible that you would like to achieve.
For example, this may be an idea to train as a Consultant then travel the world to engage in humanitarian work. What they want to see is if you have an idea of how a medical career could satisfy your interests and how you can contribute to society as a Doctor.
Although this question might seem tricky at first glance, it really is just an opportunity for candidates to further demonstrate their understanding of what being a Doctor entails, along with showing they’ve considered and explored other healthcare-related careers. The best candidates highlight the similarities and differences of Doctors and nurses (or other healthcare professionals) in an objective and professional manner. They also incorporate their own personal experiences or examples to illustrate why they are more drawn to and or better suited to the career of a Doctor compared to that of a nurse.
Illustrate the above similarities and differences with explicit examples, either from what you have learnt from academic sources or personal experiences. Conclude by highlighting why you are a better fit for the career of a Doctor, with respect of interests, strengths, priorities (i.e. what you look for in a career), and/or qualities.
Be respectful and understanding of all healthcare professionals, as they are all crucial in the care of patients.
Although somewhat similar to other questions such as “Why medicine?”, this question, in particular, focuses on the career aspect of a Doctor. The best candidates provide the interviewer with a clear demonstration of their understanding of what being a Doctor entails and their motivation for the profession.
You should show strong evidence of steps taken to find out more about what a career in medicine is like. This may include work and shadowing experiences, lectures or seminars, as well as discussions with Doctors and medical students.
Explain how these experiences allowed you to learn about this career and more importantly why this excites you. It may be helpful to feature different types of experiences which may showcase different interesting aspects of a medical career. For example, work and shadowing experience is unique in that you may be able to observe patient contact, which might be something that you highly value. Seminars and discussions highlight potential opportunities for Doctors to further their research in new, innovative advancements in medicine, which may be something that you are interested in.
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