During your Medical School interview, you’ll be asked some personal insight questions that are designed to help the interviewers understand you better. These interview questions often require you to discuss your strengths and weaknesses, and link your personal qualities to those of a good Doctor.

The answer guides to these personal insight questions have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools. They’re included in our Mastering the Medical School Interview Guide which you’ll get when you join a Medical School Interview Course. It’s over 220 pages long and has everything you need to ace your interview.

What Do You Think You Would Find Most Challenging About Being a Doctor?

Your answer to a question like this should show that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses. It takes personal insight to recognise the aspects of a career in Medicine that you might find harder to cope with.

Your response will depend entirely on you as a person. Some people might find it difficult to witness patients suffering or break bad news. Others might find it difficult to cope with being on call and not having a regular work schedule. These are just a couple of examples.

Whatever your challenge is, explain how you intend to overcome it and prevent it from having an impact on your performance. For example, trying not to dwell on your patients’ cases outside of the workplace if you think you might become too emotionally invested.

Common mistakes:

  • Saying that you would struggle with something that is absolutely essential for Doctors to be comfortable with. For example, don’t say that you would find it difficult communicating with patients or working with other people.
  • Claiming that you would not struggle with any aspect of being a Doctor. You need to show that you’re aware of the challenges you’ll face as a Doctor and are prepared to overcome them.

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How Do You Cope With Failure?

Medical School applicants tend to be high achievers and are therefore used to succeeding wherever they apply themselves. This can mean that they struggle to come to terms with failure when they do experience it.

If you are someone who finds it difficult to accept failure, it is okay to be open about this at your interview. However, you should use this question as an opportunity to explain how you would overcome the challenge of failure and prevent it from having a negative impact on your work ethic and motivation.

When you experience failure, you might want to reflect on why you didn’t succeed in that particular situation. Was your performance lacking? If you were applying for a position of some kind, were you not suited to the role?

For some people, asking these kinds of questions can help them to cope with failure because it allows them to use the situation as a learning experience. If they feel their performance could be improved, they would strive to do better next time. If they feel that the position they were applying for wasn’t actually right for them, they would consider what type of role might be a better fit and pursue that instead.

Mechanisms for coping in the face of failure are completely personal, so answers to a question like this will depend entirely on the person. However, it is important to remember that failure is sometimes inevitable and your answer should demonstrate that you will be able to overcome it as you progress in your medical career.

Common mistakes:

  • Demonstrating a defeatist attitude towards failure. For medical students and Doctors alike, failure will sometimes occur and it should be seen as an opportunity to grow, learn and improve.
  • Using an example where you did not learn any useful lessons from your experience. Your reflection should include what you have done since to improve yourself and be less likely to fail in the future.
  • Some candidates can become flustered answering this type of question, because it may feel strange to talk about failure when you’re trying to impress at an interview. However, you need to remember that learning from mistakes is a key skill for Doctors.
  • Giving an example that isn’t really a failure. For example, “I failed to become top of my Chemistry class.” Interviewers are looking for genuine examples with learning points and reflection, so make sure your example is suitable.

If Your Peers Were To Describe You In Three Words, What Would They Be?

This is a nice question because it gives you a chance to show off without looking too boastful, since you are technically speaking about other people’s opinions of you.

Use three different words that demonstrate a wide range of your qualities and show what you have to offer. Think about the key qualities of a Doctor, e.g. determined, resilient, empathetic, team player, driven, etc.

For every quality you give, make sure you can justify why your peers would say that about you, using evidence to support your claims.

Common Mistakes:

  • Missing the opportunity to highlight relevant strengths. This is an opportunity to showcase qualities that would specifically make you a good Doctor.
  • Saying that you don’t know, which would demonstrate a lack of self-awareness.

What Is Your Biggest Weakness?

This is something that requires careful consideration. It’s important that you choose something which isn’t debilitating for a Doctor (e.g. a fear of blood) and which you have worked on to counter.

Example answer: “I am not the most confident public speaker and I used to find it very intimidating. While it is still quite difficult for me, I joined my school’s debating society to improve in this area and my peers have told me that they’ve noticed a great improvement.”

Common Mistakes:

  • Not thinking about this in advance, and therefore struggling to think of a weakness on the spot.
  • Naming something that isn’t really a weakness, like working too hard.

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What Would Be Your Greatest Strength And Why?

To answer this question, think of a strength that is required to make a great Doctor – and that that you can back up with compelling evidence. Common examples include being a good leader, team player, listener or communicator.

Example answer: “I’m a great team player. This is something that has helped me excel in a lot of different situations, from helping our sports team win important matches to organising a major school charity event.”

Try to refer to examples from your work experience which show how this strength translates into a medical environment.

Common mistakes:

  • Naming a strength that is irrelevant to Medicine, e.g. being a good cook.
  • Saying too little for fear of sounding arrogant. You need to tell them about your strengths, so get used to this by practising with friends and family.

How Do You Deal With Stress?

Both studying Medicine and working as a Doctor can be very stressful. You need to show that you’re aware of this, perhaps referring to what you learned from work experience and from other sources.

Don’t imply that you have a secret formula to beat stress, but you should mention some things you do to manage it.

Example answer: “Whenever I start to feel stressed, I find that what helps me deal with it best is going for a walk/listening to music to clear my head, and then making a plan of action to move forward.”

Then explain how this method has helped you in a real-life situation. For example: “This really helped me during exam season, and even throughout the rest of the school year when I needed to balance academics with extracurricular activities.”

Explain that stress management is something you want to continue working on throughout Medical School and your career.

Common mistakes:

  • Underestimating the amount of stress involved in being a Doctor and therefore showing a lack of awareness about the career.
  • Acknowledging that Medicine is stressful but implying that you will be able to deal with that very easily.

Do You Know When To Seek Help?

In answer to this question, you can discuss some of your stress management techniques, but it’s also important to recognise that you need to know your limits and understand when you need help from others. There is no way you can do everything yourself.

Example answer: “When I was in charge of organising a major school charity event, it certainly wouldn’t have been a success without the help of my team.”

Example answer: “From my work experience, I understand that as a Doctor, it’s impossible to expect to be able to do everything yourself. There will be times where it’s essential to ask for help, whether that’s from nurses or other colleagues.”

Remember that teamwork is an essential part of succeeding in Medicine.

Common mistakes:

  • Seeing asking for help as a sign of weakness. In fact, it is often the opposite. Knowing when to get help is seen as a strength.
  • If you are too insular and unwilling to ask for help, you may struggle at Medical School and – worse still – make mistakes as a Doctor.

Why Do You Deserve A Place At This Medical School Over The Other Candidates?

Never compare yourself to the other candidates! You can only speak to the qualities you possess that will make you (A) a strong candidate for Medicine and (B) a valuable member of the university.

Take a moment to step back from the question and think about your answer. You should structure your answer in a series of points (e.g. reason 1, 2, 3, etc.).

Think about what Medical School requires of students and how you live up to those qualities: e.g. ability to self-study, ability to work well as part of a team, willingness to support your peers, eagerness to contribute to university life, etc.

Also consider what being a Doctor requires and how you live up to those qualities: e.g. academic ability, desire to continually learn, ability to apply knowledge practically, ability to recognise your shortcomings and learn from mistakes, etc.

Then structure your answer with these points in mind. For instance, you might say: “There are several reasons why I believe I would be a valuable addition to the Medical School here. First of all, I have demonstrated… Second, I believe that I have…”

Illustrate your answers with examples. For instance, have you won any awards at school? Did you go above and beyond during work experience? Do you participate in activities outside of school?

Common mistakes:

  • Falling into the trap of comparing yourself directly to other candidates or coming across as boastful. This question is a test of your self-awareness and characteristics.
  • Focusing on just one area (e.g. academic ability) to the detriment of the wider aspects of life at Medical School and being a Doctor.

Give An Example Of A Time When You Were Unsatisfied With Your Performance.

The STARR Framework provides a structurally sound framework around which to construct an answer.

  • Situation: What is the context and setting?
  • Task: What was the task at hand and what was the end goal?
  • Action: This is the largest section and revolves around your direct involvement in completing the task. What did you do personally? And why?
  • Result: What happened as a result of your actions?
  • Reflection: This is the most important and the most personal. Given time to think and reflect on events, why were you unsatisfied with your actions/the result?

This framework can be used to answer most questions asking you to discuss ‘a situation/time when…’, but the reflection section allows you to inject some introspective thought.

Common mistakes:

  • Much like when you’re describing weaknesses, it can be very easy to self-deprecate. However, it is important to turn a weakness into a positive and show that you’re always trying to self-improve
  • Try not to overly share additional weaknesses, and make sure you end your answer on a positive note.

What Would You Change About Yourself?

You need to be honest and provide a genuinely negative answer. Obviously, this should not be something that’s detrimental to working in Medicine, but good medical students and Doctors need to be able to identify their areas for improvement. This is the perfect time for you to show that you can be honest about what you need to improve and demonstrate reflection.

It might seem scary, but you need to remember that no one is perfect. Interviewers would rather have candidates who can reflect and work on improving areas of weakness, rather than candidates who consider themselves flawless.

It’s vital that you talk about not just what the negative is, but how you identified it as a negative. You can base your example around an event, and follow the STARR acronym to provide structure.

The key to any negative question is turning it into a positive and showing that you possess the skill of reflective practice. So you need to also talk about how you are addressing, or are planning to address, the weakness. It should also be a genuine weakness. Working too hard, for example, is not really a weakness.

Be focused and concise, and avoid spending prolonged time talking about the weakness when you could be focusing on what you’re doing to improve it.

Common mistakes:

  • Saying your weakness is that you’re a perfectionist or you work too hard.
  • Becoming flustered and listing multiple negatives, instead of focusing on just one. If they’ve asked for one, only offer one! Your marks will come from demonstrating reflection, learning and development – not from listing many weaknesses.
  • Giving a weakness that you resolved a long time ago. It should ideally be something more current.

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