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