Why medicine?

It’s the question every applicant dreads. Whether it’s an essay topic or an interview ice breaker, if you apply to med school you are going to have to come up with an answer to this one. It comes in many forms (e.g., ‘What inspired you to pursue a medical career?’ or the more blunt ‘Why are you here?’). Some people can condense their ambition into one or two sentences. Others struggle to articulate it in less than 500 words.

To be honest, I’ve never given a straight answer to this question. I’ve always given the noble, beneficent, soft-sell version of my desire. I want to save babies. I “picture myself in a white coat with a stethoscope slung around my neck making my rounds in the NICU, listening to tiny hearts, letting tiny fists squeeze my index finger.” Yes, I could happily spend the rest of my life doing just that. I can’t think of a profession that would be more fulfilling or more satisfying. However, these reasons are not the root of my passion.

The reason I want to study medicine is my fascination, morbid curiosity really, with the human body. Bodies are amazing, in design and function. Bodies, however, are extremely fragile. Paper can cut skin, bullets can sever spines, lack of oxygen disrupts the electron transport chain and then, it’s just a bag of meat, not a person. That such small things can disrupt such a complex, sophisticated system is awesome in the truest, purest sense of the word.

However, this is not the sort of thing to say when someone asks why you want to be a doctor. Over dinner with a friend this past weekend, I was talking about organ function and capacity until I noticed the almost gleeful fervor in my voice and brought the conversation back to more mundane topics. To me, it is thrilling to think of mechanisms of injury and etiology but to normal people, it is a bit disturbing. Perhaps this is the dark side of my inspiration. Within the gentle person who wants to help and to heal exists a slightly geeky, slightly eerie obsession with how bodies work and what makes them stop working.

There’s my truth. Part Patch Adams, part Dr. Frankenstein, I’ve chosen medicine because of a freaky fascination with bodies and a soft spot for babies. While I did stick with the safer side of my motivation (and thus did not rhapsodize about pathophysiology in any of my essays), I think I was able to convey my passion because it runs deep and is true. That’s the entire purpose of the question ‘Why medicine?’ Even if it isn’t the one you choose to share with the admissions committee, you have to know what the motivation behind your pursuit of a medical career is. There doesn’t have to be a specific experience or a significant moment after which it suddenly dawned on you that medicine was your calling. There is no correct answer, only a true one.  








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