So You Want to Be a Doctor… What’s Your “Why?”

So You Want to Be a Doctor… What’s Your “Why?”

Going to medical school is a life-changing, expensive decision. You must be sure that you’re enrolling for the right reasons. Since medical school is notoriously tough on students, these reasons will be what keeps you going on even the most toxic days. So, ask yourself if this profession is what you want for the rest of your life.


Whats your Why
Bianca Villanueva


March 14, 2024

You’re probably here to decide whether you’re making the right decision before jumping into medical school. This is a great mindset to have! Many students tend to think that medical school is all there is for them. Some of these people then find themselves dropping out. As much as possible, we would like to avoid that.

That’s where this article comes in. I’m going to talk about your motivations for undergoing medical school and becoming doctors. I remember reading that medicine is a calling, not a profession.” You have to be sure that this is what you want in life. While a blog article can’t dictate that for you, I hope that it’ll point you in the right direction.

Is Medicine Right for Me?

Many students ask themselves this even when they’re already in medical school. Honestly, there will be days when you will doubt your decision. It’ll get tough, and you’ll ask yourself whether this is right for you. So, ask yourself a few things:

“Did I think this through enough?”

“Did I weigh the pros and cons?” “Did I consider the sacrifices that I and the people around me will have to make?” Some people spend years asking themselves this, and that’s fine. The more sure you are, the more likely you will persevere even on the worst days of medical school.

“Do I have the resources to pursue this profession?”

It’s expensive, but you won’t just need funds. You’ll need emotional support and the mental readiness to push toward your goals. Medical school requires you to be patient with yourself and suck up a lot of pride. You’ll need resources beyond tangible ones like money.

“Is this my passion?”

Many people find fulfillment in helping others but not making a living from it. Think about what you want. Is it fulfillment? Money? Excitement? I promise that other jobs can give you these without the problems you’ll have in medical school. While these alternatives have their own challenges, they might be a better fit. Try to consider these or exhaust all your options before deciding that you want to become a doctor.

Common Reasons Why People Enter Medical School

During medical school interviews, students are commonly asked, Why do you want to become a doctor? There are many reasons to pursue medicine. They’re all valid, and they are sometimes enough to drive a person through medical school. However, ask yourself if what you want can be best achieved through becoming a doctor.

“I want to save lives/empower patients/make a difference”

Many students give similar answers to this when asked about their motivations. These students want jobs involving compassion, trust, and service. However, this is not exclusive to doctors. Do you want compassion? Become a nurse or any healthcare worker job instead. In my experience, many nurses I know are the most compassionate and selfless people I’ve ever met. They even have better schedules than doctors. Do you want to make a difference for patients? Volunteer for charity events or become a politician.

“I want to be rich”

Medicine promises a lot of financial stability because there will always be a need for more doctors. This is not a good reason because it’s not even that true. Medical school is expensive. If you want to become rich, get a degree in business. One of the reasons why doctors are poor is because they have bad business sense. I could have been rich if I had gone to a corporate job straight out of graduation instead of medical school. Don’t go to medical school for money.

“It’s my childhood dream”

This used to be my reason, and it did not work. If I had followed my real childhood dream, I would have become a swashbuckling pirate. That’s illegal. Many people think that following their childhood dream means following their passion. It’s not. You’d be following the whims of a child. Even worse, these ideas could be dictated by what your parents wanted. Your career as an adult should be something that makes you happy with a hint of reality.

“It carries influence and prestige”

Although this is true, it’s also a harmful idea to have. Don’t become a doctor for the clout. In my experience, most people who give the profession so much prestige are outside of medicine. That MD at the end of your name may gain some admiration because of the nature of the job. However, that won’t stop patients and co-workers alike from being rude. Do you want respect and praise? Reconsider a career in healthcare. Moreover, you’re not supposed to determine your career based on the opinions of others. They won’t be the ones reading all those books, crying over exams, and dealing with patients.

“I love science and I want to further my knowledge”

Doctors are nerds, and I mean that in the best way possible. They’re people with a passion for science. They wouldn’t have survived the grueling trials of medical school if they didn’t like it. However, medicine isn’t the only postgraduate course out there. There are many master’s and doctorate programs that can suit science lovers just as well — or maybe even better — than medicine can. They’re even more specialized, so you won’t have to study the subjects in medicine you dislike.

If these are any of your reasons, and they’re enough to get you through medical school, then good for you. However, if you want to become a doctor for only one of these reasons, you’ll end up broke and disappointed. Medicine is only one path of many to achieve the things you want. Do not simply say, I want to become a doctor. Think about why it has to be medicine and nothing else.

How to find your motivation and stay motivated

“Always remember your Why.” This is a quote commonly told to us in medical school. It means that whenever things get tough, remember why you started in the first place — your Why. Why did you choose to be a doctor? However, even with a great reason, you can still lose sight of your goals. That’s understandable, given how hard medical school can be before, during, and after.

#1: Shadow a doctor or do volunteer work

There are opportunities everywhere to volunteer for healthcare-related causes. You can check your local hospital or travel abroad. As much as possible, volunteer in places that need help the most. These can be poverty-stricken areas or third-world countries. What’s important is that you get to see what healthcare looks like from different perspectives. Not everyone has access to healthcare. Some patients’ experiences will be worse than others. At some point, you’ll find something you’ll want to change in the healthcare system or do as a doctor.

#2: Set short-term goals

Obstacles will always arise when you undertake anything. In medical school, the studies will get overwhelming. So when things are tough, you can make your work more digestible by setting short-term goals. Why? Because if your goal in medical school is to become a doctor or change the healthcare system, that’ll take years. You won’t feel any sort of reward, and naturally, you’ll feel demotivated. Goals like “get a higher grade on the next exam” are great. However, it’s important to also make goals such as “exercise every day” or “start a new hobby”. ¡Self-care is even more important than academic achievements. So, always make time for yourself!

#3: Make friends

Friends are a good source of support. They’re even fun to study with! Many people enter medical school not planning to make friends; but having social support helps you stay resilient. I learned in medical school that I wouldn’t have gotten by without supportive friends.

#4: Find a subject you enjoy; be ready for those you don’t

There’s a little something for everyone in medicine. I know people who went through medical school because they wanted to become a surgeon or an internist. However, they felt demotivated when studying subjects they didn’t enjoy. During those times, they reminded themselves that once they entered their dream specialization, the fields they disliked would be someone else’s problem.

My “Why”

Going to medical school wasn’t an easy choice for me. Honestly, I wasn’t confident enough to believe that I could become a doctor — I thought that it was for people who were gifted in some way. I was none of those things. In fact, my grandmother discouraged me from pursuing medicine. I was told that it wasn’t for someone like me. Taking the entrance exam was just my way of proving her wrong. I eventually stopped caring about what my grandmother thought about me. Then, I realized proving her wrong was a terrible reason to become a doctor.

I felt demotivated. I didn’t know what I was doing in medical school. I was totally out of my league, and the classes were getting progressively more difficult each day. That is, until I started interacting with patients more often. Step by step, I learned how to take a patient’s history, do a physical exam, diagnose, then treat. I loved it.

Some of you may have expected a more altruistic reason why I stayed in medical school. You might think I’m someone who wants to further the field, provide a better quality of life for my patients, or change the healthcare system in my third-world country. All these are noble goals, and a part of me does want to make a difference. But I mostly stayed because I just loved doing what doctors do. Compared with my jobs in counseling, human resources, and psychometrics, I had never felt this fulfilled.

In those previous jobs, I would stare at the clock until it was time to go home. But when I worked in my favorite rotations, I didn’t care what time it was. My advice? Altruistic goals only get you so far. You must be in this profession for both yourself and others.

Why? Because according to Frederick Buechner, “your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need”. You may want to help others, but does this work make you happy? You might enjoy the perks of being a doctor, but can you do a service job for the rest of your life? Being a doctor has its pros and cons, like any job. Honestly, it had more cons than I thought it would. But sometimes I look back at the patients who genuinely thanked me for my help and got to go home to be with their families. I live for those moments. That’s how I know I’m exactly where I need to be.

Further Reading

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