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Why Do We Do It?

Luciali72x721Lucia Li -- “I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I have no idea why I do things.”

Every medical student must reach some crisis point in their training where they ask themselves “why am I doing this?” In my case, it’s usually precipitated by either a severe lack of solvency, someone I know jetting off to warmer climes, or having to learn microbiology.

At times like these, being a student feels like very hard work, and it helps to ask myself why I chose medicine in the first place and why I’m still here.

One of my housemates is a die-hard OB/GYN. From the tender age of 3 when she chastised the OB/GYN consultant for forgetting to take her blood pressure in a make-believe consultation, to her feverish planning of an OB/GYN elective, she has always known where she wants to be.

Yet there are students in my year who switched to medicine late in the decision process, people who were going to be linguists, lawyers, mathematicians, English literature students, art students… What changed their minds? Usually something practical, like job security, a good profession etc. A couple of my friends even said that they picked medicine for want of anything else to do!

Have their reasons changed? Would they pick medicine again? Most of my friends said that their reasons were still the same, and that, reassuringly, they’re glad they picked medicine. One of my friends said something especially interesting: “I had undervalued the idea of a profession.” That sentiment seems to encapsulate a lot of what medicine means to me now.

I never applied with the altruistic attitude of “helping people” (there are easier and less bankrupting ways to do that!); I applied because I loved human biology at school and wanted to learn more. Having a doctor mother, I thought I understood what being a doctor was. But even I underestimated how much of a lifestyle choice it is; being a doctor means something more than just going in to work everyday. It means being able to put my learning of the human body into useful practice, making a contribution to society and, with research, to knowledge. It represents the trust with which complete strangers entrust their health, their families, their confidence. It means working in a busy, ever changing environment, with lots of different people in different branches of medicine, learning and working together. And this is now what keeps me going.

So, why did I apply back then? To read medicine. Why would I apply now? To be a doctor.

December 22, 2008 in Lucia Li | Permalink


As-salamu Alaykum (Peace be upon you)
Lucia Li, I love your posts..
These days I keep asking myself the same question.. "why do we do this?"
I'm only in my second year and I started forgetting why do I want to be a doctor!
May be this is why I read this and some other med blogs … reading stories about working in hospitals reminds me of "why do we do this!"
I can't wait to begin my clinical years and have my own stories!!

Posted by: alhashemiah | Dec 23, 2008 2:20:38 AM

if most people are honest with themselves i think a LARGE percentage would NOT do it again. but it is difficult to admit this because it means u have given up your youth, time, money, etc to do something that you dont want. and no one wants to admit that to themselves

Posted by: | Dec 23, 2008 2:42:25 PM

Count me out of that large percentage. For the first time in years, I've been happy. Yes, medical school is stressful, but for me it's good stress. I at times have looked at myself in the mirror and said "what were you thinking?", but then I remember all the actual fun times in the anatomy lab. Unlike my colleagues I will still have my youth when I finish medical school. I'll still be under 30, but at this time, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing than being in medical school. Lucia, I'm glad to see that you know why. People couldn't understand why I changed my major from Biology to Biophysics. It may have been more difficult, but I enjoyed it even after all the stress and work.

Posted by: | Dec 23, 2008 3:43:51 PM

"helping people" is what gets me though this!!!

I can´t imagine what an empty and life consuming profession this would be if all you were interested in is biology. Every time I get sick of the science, I go work in a clinic in an underserved area, or work overseas, and I remember how lucky we are to even have the *choice* to go into medicine, how most people are very lucky just to have their health, and how many don´t even have that...

count your blessings, and you may find it is a more fulfilling lifestyle and profession than you thought

Posted by: sh | Dec 24, 2008 12:28:22 AM

i guess i didn't think of this earlier (before joining the course)but now i have found quite a satisfactory reason......here goes...

this may sound very selfish or vain or even funny, but medicine in some small way allows me to play GOD!!!!
to think that people will be coming to me in the most dire of circumstances and actually putting their lives into my hands makes me feel "powerful".....(lawsuits be damned)!!!

Posted by: Gaurab | Dec 24, 2008 10:49:52 AM

Ehm..why am i still doing this.. that is a question i keep asking myself all this time, and i must say: i chose medicine out of nowhere, not knowing what to study back then (the other choice i had in mind was somehow going to a priest seminary, which i thought was freaky and so not me.. med school was my better pick).. right now im just happy with med. school, i can't imagine myself doing something else. sure the long hours, the patients, the limited social life, not very good salary (at least in germany we dont earn much for the job) make everything difficult, but im actually content with medicine.

and without even knowing how fast time can fly, im currently on the brink of finishing the school..around this time next year im gonna be, hopefully, a doctor =) and that with 25!

some time back then, a patient said to me: that i would be not only a good operateur but also a good doctor, wow that surely made my day ::: it helps you to stay strong to do the best for these people =))

greetings and merry christmas.


Posted by: Oscar | Dec 24, 2008 10:52:28 AM

honestly..i keep asking this question to myself too. but i can't find the right answer anymore. i'm just trying to get through it day by day. no point turning back (only 1.5 years to go)

Posted by: sarah | Dec 24, 2008 11:06:06 AM

There have been so many times during my career that I´ve thought of dropping out... Those were the times when I had forgotten why I wanted to go to med school. I have now come to realize that almost everyone that goes through med school has wanted to quit at some point...

I enrolled medical school for the same reason as you did: I wanted to know more about the human being, in its biological and physiological field, so this post made me feel like I´m not the only one ^^

This is a very good Post Lucia... I really appreciate it! :D

Merry Xmas! Happy Chanukkah! Happy Holidays ^^

Posted by: Daro-kun | Dec 24, 2008 11:07:08 AM

very good post!

i was already a student in aerospatial engineering when i chose medicine and i chose it for the biological sciences . i couldn't choose biology because i am atopic and allergic to cats and dogs and i thought that the man is the most complex organism so medicine it's better. i like the laboratory part of medicine and the clinical trials. after i will finish them both (engineering-this year and medicine-over 2 years) i will get my master in biomedical engineering. medicine also got me lots of inspiration when designing new robots.

Posted by: anca | Dec 24, 2008 12:47:44 PM

hey . i am just graduated doctor . will start my internship next march and now i always ask my self why and why. and then stoped to ask what will i be too so if anyone answer how we can know what we want now answer me. i think the main problem in our situation we never knew what we are gonna to except we see it by ourselfes

Posted by: Dr. Mahmoud zidan | Dec 24, 2008 6:19:05 PM

Hello everyone!!! i am a third year medical student and I must say that all throughout my first 2 years i kept asking myself that same question... why am i doing this to myself, why!?

but, once you get into your clinical years, everything starts paying off!!!! trust me!!! it feels great to be part of someones plan of treatment or even just being there and smiling to someone. It is a very different environment, you get to interact with residents, doctors, nurses, etc! i like it very much and i cant wait to finally have my MD on my coat!... i already feel very proud of myself, and you guys should too!

merry christmas!

Posted by: Cristine | Dec 24, 2008 9:13:32 PM

I have chosen medicine because it was the only reasonable choice to do and it some how became a habbit in my family! both parents are doctors my older brother myself and my younger sister all study medicine! I still have 2.5 years to go and I am still not satisfied. I am trying to convince myself that I like being around patients but doing so isn't intriguing, every day I go to the hospital and I feel less and less motivated. the funny thing is that I am very good at it; the patients like me and my attendant doctors think that I am brilliant! I don't feel so and I am literally stuck and being 21 years old I am not supposed to spend this time of my life feeling out of place!! yet all I can do is wait for the day when it all makes sense!


Posted by: mayse | Dec 24, 2008 10:46:21 PM

a good article.. to sit back and think... well, i just completed my undergraduate course including 1 year internship.. i feel proud to be a doctor when in the wards, patients r grateful for relief of symptoms... and in the opd when patients come for follow up and gratefully say that they r cured/relieved.. i believe no other profession can bring such satisfaction... after all, u get to interact with a variety of people.. once the stressful 'medical student'period is over, then is it not worth the painstaking????

Posted by: sajnasaeed | Dec 25, 2008 12:29:12 AM

I really don't know the feeling of the "why, oh why, did I choose to do this" and I feel so uncommonly lucky for this! It struck me the desire of studying medicine lik it happens to fall in love, and I really don't see the chiasm between research and clinical path. I grduate last july and now I am tying to follow both, the better to feel the sense of Life... I can see it in the lab just as I can see it with patients and being there is so much and so deep a part of me I would feel deprived of a part of my soul, should I stop being a medician

Posted by: cecilia condello | Dec 25, 2008 3:50:08 AM

alot of thanks for u lucia,,
actually i have this question revolving in my mind since i have started my clinical training.
why do i do this?why i am here?why should i indure the stressful exhausting life of medicine?why should i meet people in their worst conditions while being ill?

Posted by: palistinian | Dec 25, 2008 12:53:48 PM

hi Lucia..
some friends and i keep asking this question until today, our last year of med school...
we especially ask this question when we feel extremely exhausted with the job, and have done some no-medical-related thngs....
your post reminds me why...

Posted by: Ira Laurentika | Dec 29, 2008 3:26:50 AM

i'm currently in my 4th year and still wondering. =) silly me for expecting a clear cut answer in this post, but still, i enjoyed the read! =)

Posted by: shaun | Dec 30, 2008 10:49:40 PM

I am a postgraduate student in Radiology. I only started asking myself:'Why am I doing this' during my masters' programme. This is during the stressful times mainly.
I thank God I became a doctor because if I had a sick friend or relative I can prevent them from being given wrong things such as diazepam in head injury.I have also felt extremely happy in the past after treating an unconscious patient and they got out of bed and really ill babies and they start playing and laughing...you know what I mean. It is tough but worth it.

Posted by: Patricia Komuhangi | Dec 31, 2008 6:12:52 AM

"I never applied with the altruistic attitude of “helping people” (there are easier and less bankrupting ways to do that!); I applied because I loved human biology at school and wanted to learn more"

I totally agree with that, I had a crisis like 2 years ago (I'm in my 6th year) and I wanted to quit so bad, however, I decided to carry on for a lot of reasons, one of those being that I have always liked science, and if I eventually make it to get the MD title, there will be a wide range of possibilities to choose.

Now, if I could go back in time, I would still pick medschool regardless of the crisis I just mentioned. Ever since I had a memory I wanted to become a doctor to understand the human body, and I know I would have regret it if I got into something else.

Languages are my other big passion, when I wanted to quit, I wanted to pursue a career in languages... I was a little bit crazy by then, lol... I'll hopefully have time to learn many languages later on my life (if medicine let me have some free time!)

Greetins from Colombia!

Posted by: | Dec 31, 2008 8:49:35 AM

I made myself that question many, many times before.

I'm from Chile and I'm finishing my fifth year in med-school (we have to do 5 years for the Licensed in Medicine degree and 2 years as an intern for the MD degree).

All I have to say is that the only thing that keeps me going, is the feeling to BE a doctor. That person the people go to seeking for relief, for information about what's happening with them and their bodies, what you can do to help them and all that stuff. I really enjoy the "thanks Doctor" or the smile they gave you when you help them (even if I complain all day of being tired, angry patients and the annoying ones). It's incredible that even the most insignificant thing as introduce yourself, being nice and smile to others make that effect on people that ends in the "thank you" and the other things I said.

Well, I have to study now for my final exam (ObGyn) on Monday. Sorry for the shortness but I was on a short-break. Wish me luck !

PS. By the way, beautiful post. I really liked it.

Posted by: Reinaldo | Jan 3, 2009 10:40:48 AM


I am a 3rd year medical student. My friends and I question this same idea together all the time! Why do we do what we do? I was so happy to read this post and realize that we aren't the only ones who get burned out from time to time. I often wonder why I'm giving up my 20's to this stressful career, but I remind myself that it will be worth it in the end. Thanks for the post.

Posted by: Lynn | Jan 6, 2009 3:11:56 PM

Sometimes, we have to reach a certain age before we finally decide what we want in life. Though it may look awkward, it is still a positive note. Just imagine growing old without knowing what you really want in life. That would be regretful. As they say, it's better late than never.

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