Background and Motivation Questions
Below is a selection of Medical School interview questions on the theme of ‘Background and Motivation to Study Medicine’.
The answer guides have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools.
Remember, though, that an interview is about an individual, so there are no hard and fast rules. The answer guides are only examples and are not exhaustive. They should be used to stimulate your thinking — not repeated verbatim at your interview.
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Background and Motivation
Why do you want to go to Medical School?
- This is a common Background and Motivation question, so reflect carefully on the answer prior to 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
- Aim to strike a good balance between passion and pragmatism — many people come across disproportionately one way or the other
- Provide enough detail to be persuasive, but avoid waffling. More than three points is usually too much and impact will be lost
- Get across your desire to interact with – and ultimately help — people. 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
- Use examples from work experience and your personal life throughout to personalise and strengthen your answer
- Knowing you want to be a doctor but not being able to articulate why. This is usually a result of a lack of reflection
- Referring to financial rewards or social status: these are not good motivators and there are other careers that offer more of both
- Saying that you come from a family of doctors. This is not a mistake in itself, but you must stress that you have done your own exploration
If you were not offered a place to study Medicine, what would you do?
- Saying you would apply again next year, and perhaps try to get a job or volunteering post in a related area in the meantime, 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
- 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
- Simply saying ‘I will get in’ shows arrogance, rather than strength — and might tempt them to prove you wrong!
- Saying straight away that you would do something unrelated suggests a lack of commitment and resolve
What aspects of the working life of a doctor appeal to you?
- 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: as a doctor, you have the chance to make a real difference to peoples’ lives every day that you go to work
- 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
- 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
- Focusing on career advancement, respect and remuneration
- Saying that the life of a doctor is entirely positive and failing to appreciate the emotional difficulty involved
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What aspects of the working life of a doctor don’t appeal to you?
- 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
- 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
- Example: 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. However, 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
- Being blindly positive. Positivity is an excellent trait but not at the expense of realism
- Saying that everything appeals and you can think of nothing that would be difficult about being a doctor shows a lack of appreciation for the realities
- Referring too much to NHS cuts and working long hours for relatively small remuneration could make you seem like you have the wrong priorities
Can non-scientific hobbies add to a person’s ability to be a good doctor, and why? Can you think of any examples in your own case?
- 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; sports people often show teamwork and leadership, for instance. Use extracurricular achievements to signpost doctor-worthy traits.
- 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!
- Focusing too much on extracurricular agendas at the expense of the Medical School. Remember, not everyone shares the same interests as you.
- Being dismissive of non-academic pursuits and saying things like ‘a doctor’s ability to diagnose illness is really the most important part’.
What do you find interesting about Medicine?
- 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!
- Not taking the time at the start to think about what you want to say and structure the answer accordingly. You run the risk of talking without any logical structure, for an extended time – leaving the interviewer none-the-wiser on your position!
- Focusing on one aspect and not demonstrating that you appreciate that Medicine is a multi-disciplinary and varied area of study and practice.
What do you wish to achieve from your medical career?
- 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.
- It may be worth reading up on training pathways for doctors. Remember these are a guide and many doctors take unconventional routes during their training to take time out for doing research, travelling or having a family.
- As a doctor, excelling in clinical practice will be a given, but try to mention things that shows appreciation of the other responsibilities of a doctor, such as teaching junior doctors and medical students.
- Use your reflection on your work experience to strengthen your answer. You may have been inspired by one or more of the doctors you interacted with.
- Try to be creative with your answer and show how you aim to make the most out of your career in medicine.
- Not being open enough. Many medical students and even doctors end up changing their minds on what they would like out of a medical career.
- Forgetting to mention that you wish to help patients in some way. After all, that’s what being a doctor is about.
- Focusing on financial rewards or social status.