Intrinsic and extrinsic.

Kailey Singh

CUNY School of Medicine, MS1


May 11, 2020

New York, New York

Being a doctor during this pandemic must be scary.

That’s what I think, as I hear stories of hospitals not having enough PPE, or people having to fight for hazard pay as they see hundreds of COVID-19 patients every day.

That makes me think: Could I do it?

I learned in my high school psychology class that there are 2 types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is deciding to pursue something because it is interesting to you and brings you satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation is doing something based on external factors, like wanting a reward, or avoiding other bad circumstances. As a high school student, it sounded like intrinsic motivation was obviously better. If I didn’t truly love what I was doing, how could I push myself to keep doing it?

My intrinsic motivation for being a doctor is quite personal to me, and I don’t see that motivation ever changing. However, this pandemic has made me question the validity of extrinsic motivation. Maybe basing your motivation on external factors isn’t the best thing, but we can’t deny it is necessary to consider them. People often watch the news and say, why do doctors want more money? Why do they want hazard pay? Why don’t they want to work?

The general thought is this: being a doctor is a privilege, so clearly you don’t respect the profession or want to help people if you don’t want to work.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and this is where extrinsic motivation comes in. Because for all the love we have for medicine, and for all the empathy we have for others, nothing can override the stress of dealing with a pandemic.

I spent 7 months of my first year of medical school on crutches, due to a bad knee injury. I know I’m going to have a bit of trouble with it for the next few years. When I spoke to one of my professors about my fear of rotations, she told me not to worry. “We can always figure out a way around it, the staff will make it work for you”, she had said. I’m glad I attend a school where the faculty cares about your well-being, but is this the same for healthcare workers on the front lines?

I want to work in an environment where my health and wellbeing won’t be put at risk unnecessarily, and this shouldn’t be an unreasonable request. We deserve to be protected and we have the right to want to protect ourselves, and our families. Yes, these are all factors that play into our extrinsic motivation. But extrinsic motivation plays a role just as important as intrinsic motivation in influencing what decisions are best for us. We want to be doctors because of our intrinsic motivation, and hearing people question that is disheartening. I can only hope that people will continue to empathize with all the hardworking doctors we know putting their lives at risk. We have to provide better support for those who are working tirelessly for the greater good.


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