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Motivation for Medicine

Why do you want to be a doctor?


As you consider pursuing a career as a physician, it is important that you reflect carefully upon your motivations for pursuing medicine. Medicine can be an immensely rewarding career. In fact, many physicians feel they were 'called' to medicine, that it is more than a career--it is what they were 'supposed to do' with their lives. At the same time, it is a very long and difficult road which will consume a full decade or more of your life just to get to the point of actually practicing medicine.


Those who typically enjoy and thrive in medicine are those who have found internal, personal reasons to pursue the profession--they care profoundly about the suffering and well-being of others and want to reduce suffering and improve health. They genuinely find their courses to be intellectually challenging and interesting. These are intrinsic or internal motivations. Students who possess these kinds of attributes tend do better in and enjoy medical school. To learn more about developing compassion prior to becoming a physician, we encourage you to read this article. Additional articles about physician characteristics can be found here and here.

Medicine also can provide some extrinsic motivations such as status, prestige or financial benefits. Although most physicians likely enjoy these kinds of extrinsic benefits upon completion, they are likely not sufficient to sustain a student through the rigors of years of intensive training. Those students possessing more extrinsic motivation tend to do more poorly in medical school and report greater exhaustion in medical school.

Medical schools encourage you to shadow and engage in patient contact and community service to help you determine if and demonstrate that you have the intrinsic motivation, compassion, and commitment necessary to succeed in medical school and to be an excellent physician.

As you begin your preparation for medical school, start with your motivation for pursuing medicine. Why do you want to be a doctor? What character traits, commitments and values do you hold that qualify you to be a physician? In several years when you apply for medical school, you'll be expected to clearly know and have demonstrated through your preparation your reasons for becoming a physician.