(I think I posted this in the wrong forum: so here it is again. sorry.)
Call me a cynic, but it seems to me that even genuine motivations for studying medicine cannot help but sound cliched, no matter how sincere the applicant is. If we were really humanitarians, wouldn’t we all have an undying devotion to bringing medical care to migrant workers in third world countries for 4 dollars a week? I know why I want to study medecine, but I cannot hope to convey this to an admissions officer in an interview without it sounding totally packaged and pre-digested. I’m scared to admit an interest in the “practice” of medical care (such as surgery) without gushing forth on my love of humanity. Can’t i want to study medicine because it interests me, and because I’m engaged by the problems it presents rather than because I am a humanitarian?
Do traditional applicants get a “pass” on this? I’m under the impression that as non-traditional applicants, we have a special burden of demonstrating our motivation. Because we have changed, we are viewed with a special kind of skepticism, no? Honestly, what “legitimate” reason can I give for wanting to be a doctor rather than, say, a nurse. Arguably, they have MORE patient contact; they have MORE day to day responsibility; they are ussually MORE important in the day to day needs of thier patients than a doctor is. The only reasons I can come up with are selfish ones, not benevolent ones.
For those who have had interviews and those who have a comfortable articulated response to these questions, please–your comments are welcome.
(I think I posted this in the wrong forum: so here it is again. sorry.)
You sound like me when I am talking to myself on the way to work in the car. I always think of what I would say in an interview to those questions. Questions like “Why not a nurse?”. My answer (and I have rehearsed it many times) will be something like this. I have considered nursing, as I believe nursing is a very noble career. I would even enjoy it! Nursing, as a career, would be very rewarding on many levels, but it could not satisfy me on ALL levels. The career I seek has the humanitarian side of nursing AND it has the intellectual problem solving side of being a physician. I would go into nursing and then my hunger for problem solving, diagnosis and responsibility would eventually take me to medical school.
If you love surgery, you too could only be a nurse for a short time before you wanted “dive in” so to speak with both hands and operate. You can be both a humanitarian and doctor.
In six medical school interviews (granted this was six years ago), not one interviewer asked my why I didn’t go into nursing. It might have something to do with my vocation at the time (I was a college professor and reseacher) but I didn’t get a single question about going into nursing. Most of my interviewers asked me about my research (if the interview was not blind). The only blind interview I had was the GWU interview. In that case, the interviewer wanted to know about me and what my interests were.
It is very difficult to articulate why you want to enter a profession that you have a cursory knowledge of. For me, medicine and specifically surgery had given me more options that I could have dreamed of with a Ph.D or any other degree. It has been a total blast stepping up to the challenges that medicine has offered me. There was not a single thing that I studied in medical school that I did not find absorbing. The practice of medicine has even been more interesting. I can make a difference every day, no fooling!
While medicine is not for everyone, I can’t imagine doing anything else. No where can you see the multiple needs of humanity and meet some of them. I love working with my colleagues and I have the most dedicated bunch of attendings that I could ever wish for. There is very little unprofessionalism at UVA. You can ask Old Man Dave. When he came to visit, one of the senior anesthesia professors and one of the busiest residents took time out to meet with him and answer questions. (I am not even in the anesthesia department!) They are just a bunch of nice folks around here.
I can review slides with any of the pathology attendings after a case. I can review radiographs with the radiology attendings. One of the radiology attendings personally walked a very sick patient of mine through CT and fluoroscopy because he wanted to be sure that she got the best of care. (It made me look good too!)
On Sunday morning at the crack of dawn after I had been up all night with a new burn patient (You will read about this one in my diary), I was standing next to the floor to ceiling glass window on the sixth floor looking at the sunrise, the fog among the trees and the dots of light. I could see the snow on the mountains behind that hospital. The orange, red and indigo blue of the sky was very beautiful. I had been running around all night with trauma patients but that one minute of watching the sunrise reminded me of how priviledged I am to have the opportunity to practice my surgery well. I just couldn’t get that in nursing, respiratory therapy or anything else.
This is one of those questions that leads to insanity if taken too far or too seriously. Why would one commit to marriage, have children, or do anything of great import for one's life yet affects someone else's? You do it because you want to take on the challenge, have responsiblity and develop the very best self you can be. You do it because you are full of love and enthusiasm for the task put forth. You are going to be a positive force in the world in the position you choose to take on. Everyone has their own level at which they respond to the world. Everyone uses their gifts differently. You were born in this country at this time in history. You can beat yourself up about it or you can celebrate. I say, Go with it!!!
I would challenge the notion that working with migrant workers in third world countries for $4 a day is more humanitarian than being a top paid brain surgreon in some high powered US teaching hospital. That is a philosophical question–is it better to work at helping some needy soul in a far away place with self righteousness in our heart, or to serve each person in our immediate life(spouse, child, parent, friends, co-workers and travelers on our way to wherever) with a present and grateful heart? How you answer these types of questions will lead you to your practice. Do you work with the family of Great-Grandma on life support yet another day(terminal, Medicare dollars being racked up) or do you go out to some pit hole and do something there? Someone has to work with cancer or burn paitents, someone else needs to give little John Doe a physical so he can go to prep school. Also, in what capacity? As the dutiful humanitarian nurse or a compassionate, competant, caring physician? (Can you do that? Is that what you aspire to?)There is a place for everyone in medicine. It's finding your niche and HOW you do it that counts.
Also, non-traditionals are viewed as a prime catch in many schools. I'm not sure where you got the idea that interviewers were skeptical about them. I assure you they treat each and every candidate pretty much the same–with the balance tipped in favor of a non-trad that has their act pretty much together.
Great question. Good luck in your endeavors to do good work.