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 that you get when you join a Medical School Interview Course. It’s over 220 pages long and has everything you need to ace your interview.
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 would struggle with or might find harder to cope with than your peers.
Your response will depend entirely on you as a person. Some people might find it hard to witness a patient suffering or to break bad news to someone, as they tend to get too emotionally involved. Others might find it difficult to cope with being on call, as they function best with a regular work schedule. These are just a couple of examples that someone might give.
Explain how you intend to overcome this challenge 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 would be likely to become too emotionally invested.
Medical school applicants tend to be very competent individuals and are therefore used to succeeding wherever they apply themselves. This means that they often 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 but you should use this question as an opportunity to explain how you 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 did not 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 inevitable and your answer should demonstrate that you will be able to overcome instances when you are not successful as you progress in your medical career.
This is quite 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 large breadth of your qualities — this is your chance to show what you have to offer. You know the kind of thing that makes a good Doctor by now, so those are the ones to use, e.g. determined, creative, empathetic, team player, driven.
For every quality you give, also say why you think your peers would say that about you, using evidence to support your supposed strengths.
Example answer: My sports coach always describes me as one of the most driven and determined players on our team, because of the way I balance academics and other extra-curriculars, such as my volunteering, alongside my sport.
Many people never think about this. But you should!
It is something that requires careful consideration. It’s important that you choose something which isn’t debilitating (e.g. fear of blood) and which you have worked on to counter.
Example answer: I was not very confident with public speaking and found it intimidating. While it is still quite difficult for me, I have joined the debating society so that I can get better in this area and my peers say they have noticed a great improvement.
Give a strength that is one of the core traits required to make a great Doctor – and one that you can back up with compelling evidence. Common examples include being a good leader or listener, having excellent communication skills, or being a real team player.
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.
Refer to examples from your work experience which show how this trait translates into a medical environment.
Being a medical student and then a Doctor is extremely stressful. You have to show that you know this, referring to work experience and people you’ve spoken to.
Example answer: From my work experience and talking to many medical students here at your university, I understand that a career in Medicine will be very stressful.
You don’t want to imply that you have the secret formula to nullify stress, but you should suggest some things you do to manage it. You can start by giving some of the general activities that help you to feel less stressed.
Example answer: Whenever I start to feel stressed, I find that what helps me deal with it best is doing yoga/going for a walk/making a plan of action.
Then explain how this has helped you in a real-life situation.
Example answer: This really helped me during exam season and even throughout the year when I’ve had to juggle and balance academics with extracurricular activities.
You might also want to think about how you would manage stress in a confined environment, like an operating theatre (e.g. deep breaths, asking for help).
Explain that stress management is something you want to continue working on throughout Medical School and your career.
Feel free to make clear that you are really determined to use your own hard work to achieve any goals. Having said this, it is crucial that you also recognise that it is important to know your limits and understand when you may need help.
Going to Medical School is about learning, so knowing when to seek the counsel of others is important. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to be aware of this.
Example answer: When I was in charge of organising a major school charity event, there was no way it would have been as successful as it was if I didn’t have the help of my team.
Example answer: From my work experience, I understand that as a Doctor, it is impossible to expect to be able to do everything yourself. There will be times where you will need to ask for help, whether that’s from the nurses on the ward or other colleagues.
Remember that teamwork is an essential part of succeeding in Medicine.
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: ability to self-study, ability to work in teams, ability to communicate effectively, willingness to support your peers, willingness to contribute to university life.
Think about what being a Doctor requires of students and how you live up to those qualities: academic ability, desire to continually develop knowledge, ability to practically apply knowledge, ability to think creatively and rationally, ability to recognise your shortcomings and learn from mistakes.
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 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?
The STARR Framework provides a structurally sound framework around which to construct an answer.
This framework can be used in most questions relating to ‘a situation when…’, but the reflection section allows you to inject some introspective thought.
This question could potentially lead into further questioning regarding what you believe your weaknesses to be and/or how you are working on improving them.
You need to be honest and provide a genuinely negative answer. Obviously, this should not be catastrophic, 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 candidates should remember that no one is perfect, and interviewers would rather have candidates who reflect and work on improving areas of weakness rather than those who consider themselves flawless.
It’s vital you demonstrate 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. You want to demonstrate to the interviewer that you possess the skill of reflective practice. So you need to also talk about how you are addressing/are planning to address the weakness.
It should be a genuine weakness. Working too hard, for example, is not a weakness. After all, the candidate is applying for a profession where if one does not work hard enough, patient care and safety can be compromised.
Be focused and concise, and avoid spending prolonged time talking about the weakness when you could be focusing on what you’re doing/going to do to improve it.
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