Written by David Sprayberry MD
Probably the most common answer in medical school interviews to why someone is interested in entering medicine is “to help people”. The reason it is such a common answer is not that it is the “right” answer. In fact, most interviewers would probably rather hear something different than “to help people”, just to relieve the monotony of the interviews.
The reason it is a common answer, though, is that you have, at a minimum, seven years of physically and intellectually demanding education and training above and beyond your undergraduate education before you begin to practice independently. By the time the training process is completed, you will have devoted 24-28 years obtaining the education necessary to enter your career.
While you are devoting upwards of 100 hours per week for at least seven years to your courses, study, and training, your friends are enjoying their twenties. They are earning a living, going out, attending sporting events, traveling, dating, marrying and starting families. They are no longer accumulating educational debt. They are beginning to pay off the debt they do have. They are advancing in their careers.
You are struggling to get enough sleep to stay awake in class the next day, or during the seemingly interminable internal medicine rounds (which involves a short time seeing patients at the bedside and a great deal of time sitting in dimly fluorescent-lit conference rooms discussing those patients and their extensive lists of problems and medicines).
You are spending your nights and weekends trying desperately to prepare for the next anxiety-producing board exam, the next presentation before your attending physicians who are ready to pick apart whatever you present, or trying to unravel the mystery of the dying patient that just doesn’t seem to respond to anything you do.
The reason “to help people” is the most common reason for wanting to pursue medicine as a career is that you must make tremendous personal sacrifices just to begin your career. Friendships must be discarded or neglected. Entertainment and other enjoyable activities must be greatly reduced for quite a long time. Marriages are strained and often fail during this period. Indeed, certain residency programs have a greater than 100% divorce rate.
You must truly believe that what you are pursuing is a worthwhile endeavor in order to make such great personal sacrifices.
Dr. Sprayberry is a practicing general pediatrician who believes there is more to medicine than shuffling patients in and out the door. Dr. Sprayberry blogs at Pediatrics Gone to the Dawgs