Why do YOU want to become a doctor?

If you’re considering going into medicine as a career, chances are you’ve been asked (probably about 100 times) “Why do you want to become a doctor?” by every relative, teacher, careers counsellor, friend and checkout-counter-lady-making-small-talk. I found it perplexing, particularly when nobody seems to default to the same line of questioning for my sister, who is an artist, or any of my friends, who are undertaking a commerce degree, that people are so fascinated with my reasoning behind going into medical school. In fact, on occasion it almost sounded like a trap, by which everyone was waiting to catch me out as someone who isn’t doing it for the right reasons, or worse yet, for me to admit I’m only studying medicine because my parents gave me a choice between that or law.  

This is a theme that recurred in my life time and time again particularly around interview season, and occasionally still comes to haunt me nowadays when I meet somebody new. And still, I struggled for far too long to express myself in a coherent way or shorten my rambling story into a digestible one-sentence response. Why did I really want to become a doctor, and why did everybody care so much to ask?

To set the record straight, I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up surrounded by a medically inclined family and, despite the Asian-as-they-come grandparents on both sides I was never even encouraged, let alone pushed, into becoming a doctor (nor a lawyer for that matter). Instead of plastic stethoscopes and syringes, I passed my afternoons snipping little scraps of fabric, drawing colourful shapes I called dresses or jumping around in ballet shoes.

It wasn’t until my more senior high school years that I realized what I really wanted was a job which allowed me to work with people, rather than sit at my computer; that I was not too shabby when it came to the sciences, but was never going to be better than passable at math, nor have the patience to read and write enormous chunks of text on an everyday basis. Somewhat simultaneously, I happened to fall into, and in captivation with, the social justice program at school and quickly decided that whatever I was going to do when I graduated had to allow me to continue on that trajectory. With a little assistance from google (see search history for “job that combines science and people” and/ or “social justice in science”), oh and my school careers counsellor, eventually all the dots connected and medicine became an option to consider for the first time in my life.

Considering the only exposure I’d had to real-life doctoring at this point was whatever they showed on channel seven, I then went in search of proof that saving peoples’ lives from some insane accident every day and dramatic love triangles is the reality of a doctor’s day to day practice. Doing this the only way I knew how, I took up two weeks of work experience at a hospital, where I understood nothing of the medicine itself but had the opportunity to grasp a small snapshot of the job and the lifestyle.

The point I’m trying to make is, eventually I came to realize the gravity the question, “why do you want to become a doctor?”, and when I sat down to think about the experiences that led me to the decision, I was suddenly far better at formulating an answer. The necessity of knowing ‘why’ was not for the sake of being able to give a smooth response to whomever I was making small talk with, or to be able to speak confidently in an interview, but because I owed it to myself to be sure that medicine was what I wanted before I started jumping through the hoops to get there.

Medicine is fascinating, dynamic and the more I experience the more I understand that it’s a privilege to work with patients. Still, it’s undoubtedly difficult work, and it seeks people who are wholeheartedly committed. It demands a lifetime of study/ learning/ CV building/ extra degrees/ research projects, can be physically and emotionally taxing and is a job that doesn’t lend particularly well to a good night’s sleep or weekends off. Believe me, if you asked an intern they’d say that I don’t even know the half of it!

Of course I don’t mean to turn you away from going after the dream, if you ask me being a doctor is probably the coolest job out there! Nevertheless, I do want to encourage you to seek an opportunity to understand what the job entails for yourself, and be firm in your personal whys as well as your ultimate goals. At the end of the day, it’s those reasons that tend to serve as your motivators when you have too many exams, or you’ve barely had enough sleep, or nothing is going right and it would be easier to give up and go a different path. 

So I guess the question I’m really asking here is, why do YOU want to become a doctor?

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