HealthFebruary 03, 2020

"Why do I want to be a doctor?": The power of reflecting on your Journey

By: Heidi Moawad, MD

As you fulfill the many requirements necessary for achieving a career in medicine, it can be easy to forget the central question you pondered years ago when writing your personal statement: "Why do I want to be a doctor?" Reflecting on what motivated (and motivates) you to practice medicine can help keep you on the path that matches your physician philosophy. Here's how to stay in touch with your priorities so that you can achieve what you want in your life and in your profession.

Keep your eyes open

Throughout your medical career, don't overlook the areas of medicine that you're less familiar with. As you gain experience and competence as a physician, you may begin to feel that something is missing or that you want to take a different direction. Keep in mind that you might not have the same objectives as a physician as the years progress. You can feed a number of different needs in your physician philosophy as you mature.

If you start to feel that some of your goals aren't being met, you can build skills and pursue the paths to achieve those goals. For example, you may want to change your practice setting. Hospital Pediatrics describes the motives that drive pediatricians to work as hospitalists, which include community involvement, job availability and professional impact. While none of these issues necessarily alters a pediatrician's satisfaction with the specialty of pediatrics, these concerns can drive the search to pursue a way to pivot in the practice setting.

Find allies

Building connections with physicians who are sincere and honest allows you to exchange ideas about your career and your feelings about the big picture of medicine. Colleagues and senior-level mentors can be great resources as you examine your outlook about your future professional path. You can listen to their dreams about their own careers, too. Even colleagues who aren't more experienced than you can help you better understand your doubts and aspirations.

Over the past several years, the number of books, websites and social media groups chatting about physician careers has exploded. While many can be helpful for you, you can't really expect any single resource to provide you with all the insight you need. But you can certainly gather bits and pieces of opinions and information from diverse sources that resonate with you.

5 Answers to "Why do I want to be a doctor?"

As you examine your own physician philosophy, you may be reminded of your objectives when you first imagined becoming a doctor. Reevaluating this question every once in a while can help you continue to flourish as a physician. More specifically, consider which of the following components of medicine are most important to you, and learn how to lean in to them.

1. Serving the underserved

Of course, you need to make a living. But helping the undeserved motivates many physicians to go into medicine. If donating your time to care for patients who do not have access to medical care is something you want to explore, ask colleagues or search for groups in your community or on physician social media to learn more about the experiences of others. You can find out about the logistics and talk to doctors about the pros and cons of mission trips and medical volunteering as you decide what's right for you.

2. Conducting research

You may have embarked on a medical career to work on solving health problems that currently have no solutions. If you've been yearning to engage in research, begin by finding a mentor who does the same type of research that you want to do or by looking for a post-doctorate position that will prepare you for a career in medical research.

3. Teaching

Teaching can be a joy for physicians. But even doctors who are gifted educators can gain valuable skills by attending workshops designed to help experienced physicians connect with emerging healthcare professionals. A project described in Family Medicine included skill-based classes for physician medical educators. The faculty who took the classes reported that they grew as educators and learned how to manage commitments.

4. Being a healthcare leader

You may be a natural leader. Or you might want to use your experience to guide the healthcare system. An article in Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery explains that there is a need for more physicians in healthcare administration to help direct effective healthcare delivery and payment. If you decide that healthcare leadership is right for you, there are a number of ways you can learn about the business of healthcare, including enrolling in business courses or joining the core finance committees in your hospital.

5. Cultivating an academic career

If you want to embark on an academic path in medicine, it will take a great deal of dedication and work. It helps to know the milestones you need to achieve in order to progress in the ranks in an academic career, as detailed by Family Medicine. Examine the guidelines in your institution and search for tips that may be available online or through your specialty organization as you decide if this route would be a good fit for you.

Getting back in touch with your personal answer to the question "Why do I want to be a doctor?" isn't guaranteed to be easy — nor will it automatically banish any doubts or dissatisfaction you may be feeling. But self-reflection is a necessary first step for any successful journey, so take your task seriously.


Heidi Moawad, MD
Lippincott® Medicine
Lippincott is a leading international medical publisher of professional health information for practitioners, faculty, residents, students, and healthcare institutions with a full suite of essential medical products, from books and journals to digital solutions.
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