Some of the many interview questions you could face during your Medical School interview will cover the topic of work experience. When you answer these, you need to focus on what you’ve learnt from your experience instead of reeling off a list of places you’ve visited. Read on for some example work experience interview questions.

The answer guides to these work experience 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.

What Medical Work Experience Have You Carried Out?

The important thing is that you have done as much work experience as possible. Medicine is such a diverse field, with so many different aspects and specialities, that you should be really eager to see and experience as much as you can.

You should have kept a reflective diary of your work experience. Before interview, you should go through this and extrapolate the key examples, reflect upon them, and come up with clear and succinct ways of getting across what you saw and what you learnt.

Outline the type of experience you did, where it was and what you learnt, using specific case-by-case examples to highlight things like communication, teamwork, etc. If you have multiple examples, give one of each.

Example answer: During my time in the hospital I worked in different departments with different specialities, including oncology, cardiology and radiology. During my time in cardiology, I witnessed an emergency situation and it amazed me how the whole team came together, under the leadership of the Doctor, to stabilise the patient.

Example answer: I organised work experience at my local GP surgery, because primary care is such a fundamental part of the NHS and I was keen to see what healthcare in the community is like. One case that struck me was that of an elderly woman who spoke little English. The Doctor adapted to communicate with her in a clear and empathetic way.

Example answer: I really enjoyed my medical work experience and working closely with patients. This motivated me to start volunteering in an elderly care home, which I’ve been doing alongside my studies. Working there once a week has allowed me to form some close relationships with patients and understand their perspective.

Make it clear that you are not ending your experience immediately after the interview. Say that because there is still so much to see, you’ve been busy organising some more work experience for the holidays.

Common mistakes:

  • Simply providing a checklist of placements you’ve done with no case examples or learning points. This will ultimately mean that you did not make the most of the time you invested doing all of these great things.
  • Being closed-minded. Saying things like “I’m only interested in becoming a cardiologist so I only organised work experience in cardiology”.

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What Did You Learn From Your Work Experience?

From each of your work experience placements, you will have learnt many new things about Medicine. No two days, even in the same GP surgery or the same hospital ward, will have been the same. The danger here is almost having too much to say. So explain that while you have learnt an incredible amount, you would like to give an example of a key learning point from each of your placements.

Example answer: During my time working on the hospital wards, I saw the concept of a ‘multi-disciplinary team’ – something I’ve heard so much about – come to life right in front of my eyes. Witnessing the Doctors, the nurses and the healthcare assistants all working together to provide a seamless healthcare service, personalised for each individual patient, was incredible.

Example answer: In the GP surgery, one of the key things that really stood out to me was the underlying importance of communication skills in the Doctor-patient relationship. Seeing the GP deal with an angry patient and calming them down in a matter of minutes really emphasised this.

Don’t be blindly positive and say that everything you saw seemed fantastic. Make sure you get across that you saw the hard side of being a Doctor, that you appreciated it, but that you are still up for the challenge.

Example answer: Throughout my work experience, I was aware of the daily challenges that Doctors face. In every setting, whether it was in the GP practice or in the hospital, Doctors worked very hard with very long days and faced many stressful situations. But speaking to the Doctors, and seeing them overcome these obstacles, really inspired me. I understand that a career in Medicine will not be easy, but after my work experience I am even more determined and motivated to pursue a career in this rewarding field.

Common mistakes:

  • Not reflecting on learning points prior to the interview and having to do this in real-time during the interview. It’s always apparent when this is the case. And, unfortunately, it means you will not make the most of your efforts. Keep a reflective diary during work experience and consult this to prepare for interview.
  • Sugarcoating. The interviewers won’t think you are being overly negative if you mention some of the harder challenges you saw. In fact, they will appreciate that you are going into Medicine with your eyes open.
  • Providing a list of unsubstantiated buzzwords as learning points. Saying “I saw the importance of teamwork, communication, empathy, etc” without giving specific examples.

From Your Work Experience, Can You Tell Me About A Difficult Situation You Observed/Had To Deal With And What You Learnt From This?

Start by acknowledging the challenges involved in being a Doctor. It is a stressful job and you need to demonstrate that you appreciate this.

From your work experience, you will have learnt that Doctors are constantly faced with difficult situations and challenges. In these situations, a Doctor’s ability to be flexible, use their initiative, and adapt their communication skills to the present situation is what makes them stand out.

You should then outline a specific example, since this is what they have asked for, which you will have hopefully thought about prior to your interview.

Example answer: One particular incident that stood out to me was during my work experience in a GP surgery, where the GP had to deal with an extremely angry and aggressive patient/ break some bad news to a patient. This was challenging because…

Then go on to outline the actions taken.

Example answer: I admired the way the Doctor adapted their communication skills to the situation to calm the patient down/ demonstrate empathy by relating to the specific set of circumstances.

Finally, extrapolate the key learning points and how you can apply them.

Example answer: This has made me value the importance of communication in the Doctor-patient relationship even more. Since then, I have also tried to be more aware of the power of my communication skills in difficult situations, and have really noticed the benefits of being flexible and adaptable with communication.

Common Mistakes:

  • Failure to be empathetic. Saying things like “the patient was being a nightmare” show that you have not seen things from their point of view.
  • Focusing on the negatives. You want to establish the challenge and how it was dealt with, but don’t say anything that makes it seem like it has put you off being a Doctor.

What Qualities Did You Learn Are Important From The Doctors And Nurses During Your Work Experience?

As with all work experience, this will come down to how well you have reflected on what you have seen and done. Make sure you take note of not just how the Doctors operate during your placements, but how the nurses and other healthcare professionals operate and how everyone comes together in a team effort.

Remember that the ultimate goal is to provide an excellent, efficient and seamless healthcare service, in the best interests of the patient. There are some key qualities that you are likely to have seen, so you can go through these, using actual examples for reinforcement.

Teamwork/Leadership example: One of the first things I noticed was the importance of inter-professional working and excellent teamwork amongst all the healthcare professionals. I admired the leadership skills of the Doctor to effectively lead the team, ensuring each team member was valued and had a clear role. In one case….

Communication example: Seeing how the Doctors and nurses were able to adapt their communication skills to a given situation really highlighted the importance of adaptability and flexibility in healthcare. In one case…

Ultimately, all of these skills are crucial in order to provide the best care for each individual patient and this should be the focus of your answer.

Common Mistakes:

  • Failing to notice any important qualities from the nurses or other healthcare professionals and only focusing on the important qualities of the Doctors.
  • Giving a shopping list of qualities, without backing them up using examples and learning points.

What Aspect Of Your Work Experience Did You Find The Most Challenging/Difficult And Why?

Make it clear that you understand a career in Medicine is not an easy one, and there are many challenges that Doctors face on a daily basis. Bring this point to life by using a personal example of a time when you saw something that seemed particularly stressful.

Example answer: For me, one of the most challenging aspects of my work experience was seeing a Doctor have to deliver some bad news to a patient.

Then take the learning points from the situation.

Example answer: However, I was really inspired by the way the Doctor dealt with this situation and it really opened my eyes to the importance of particular qualities which make a good Doctor, like communication and empathy.

Specifically mention that since your work experience, you’ve taken time to reflect on this situation and have really made an effort to use what you’ve learnt to deal with other difficult situations/challenges that you’ve come across.

Another challenge around work experience is actually getting it. If you had to ask over a hundred people or walk into 20 different GP surgeries to get yours, mention this as it shows commitment and resilience.

Common mistakes:

  • Trivialising the harder parts of work experience under the misguided impression that highlighting the challenges will make you seem less committed.
  • Leaning too far the other way, and saying that seeing the challenges Doctors face made you question your decision to study Medicine.

What Did You Like Most About The Work Experience You Undertook?

This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate what you observed and learnt from your work experience placements. As with all answers, stop for a moment and structure your response into a series of themes or areas. Do not immediately go through a list of all your placements!

This question should be structurally similar to your answer for ‘Why do you want to study Medicine?’. But the content should consist entirely of examples from your work experience. If you are struggling for structure, refer to the GMC’s Tomorrow’s Doctors.

Under this structure scheme, you would consider: the scholarly aspects of work experience (i.e. did you find radiology particularly interesting?); the scientific aspects (i.e. do you understand more about how disease presents and how that relates to cell function?); the Doctor as a practitioner (i.e. did you enjoy talking to patients or watching the Doctor-patient interaction?); the Doctor as a professional (i.e. did you enjoy the teamwork between healthcare professionals?).

Remember to illustrate what you learnt from your time in a clinical setting!

Did you learn anything about yourself during your placements?

If you undertook multiple placements in different clinical settings and had a particular affection for one of them, say so and explain your reasoning. However, end by acknowledging that it is far too soon to be thinking about specialties!

Common Mistakes:

  • Interpreting the question as an invitation to list off all the various work experience placements you have done.
  • Not demonstrating that you have reflected on what you learnt, and not putting it within a wider context of your decision to study Medicine or what life as a Doctor will be like.

Why Do You Think We Ask Candidates To Undertake Work Experience?

You may be thrown a curve-ball question such as this one. It is essentially testing whether you have thought about the rationale behind the tests you need to take to enter Medical School, or if you have simply followed instructions.

Consider the challenges of Medical School: it is stressful; it requires an enormous amount of self-determination; it is a far longer course to study than other courses; it is designed to prepare you for a life-long career.

From this, consider what the evaluators may be looking for (or worried about): a visible interest in Medicine; a strong commitment to securing experience and learning from it; a sober awareness of the downsides to Medicine; and therefore a well-informed decision to study Medicine.

Work experience not only provides an insight into how Medicine is practised and what a career as a Doctor is like. It is also an opportunity for you to reflect on whether this career is right for you and if you realistically have the skills and determination to do it. Medical Schools therefore ask candidates to undertake work experience to ensure that their decision to study is informed, and also to evaluate whether students were engaged enough to learn from their placements – as student placements are a core aspect of learning during your clinical years.

Common Mistakes:

  • Not recognising the link between work experience placements and student placements during your clinical years.
  • Suggesting that it is a ‘test’ of the student’s commitment, rather than an opportunity for students to really examine their motivations.

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Reflecting On Your Work Experience, What Event, If Any, Changed Your Views On Modern Medicine?

Your answer to this question will strongly revolve around your personal reflection on your work experience and the insight you’ve gained.

During work experience of all types, there will almost certainly have been an event or interaction which surprised you or which went against your preconceived ideas. For example, witnessing the effect of administering palliative care on family and loved ones of the patient.

It’s also important to reflect on such events and expand and link them to current roles and attributes of Doctors.

Both positive and negative experiences are as valuable as each other!

Common mistakes:

  • You don’t have to re-invent the wheel or spot a huge flaw in primary healthcare to be able to make a valid reflection. Sometimes, the more specific and personal the example, the more you demonstrate awareness and insight into your experience.
  • Telling interviewers about all of your work experience and what you’ve seen may sound like a list as opposed to a genuine reflection. It’s not about the amount of experience you’ve had, rather how much you learnt from the experience.

Give An Example Of An Interaction Between A Doctor Or Nurse And A Patient That You Observed During Your Work Experience. What Skills Did You Find To Be Important For This Type Of Communication?

Communication skills are extremely important in Medicine and students are often required to put them into practice early on, because many medical schools introduce patient contact towards the beginning of their course.

Briefly describe an example of communication with a patient that you observed during your work experience. You want to spend more time reflecting on what you learnt rather than explaining the scenario itself, so keep this concise.

Discuss the skills that you felt the doctor or nurse employed when speaking to the patient, or any other skills that you personally feel are important during this kind of interaction.

Examples of important communication skills include some obvious points such as eloquence, good body language and eye contact, as well as the ability to listen and synthesise information.

However, qualities such as empathy may also be considered important. This means that a Doctor should pick up on the patient’s concerns and react appropriately in order to reassure them.

In addition, it is important for Doctors to adapt their vocabulary and explanation to suit each patient. For example, you might need to adopt a different approach when speaking to a child or a patient with a different mother tongue. These are just a few examples of communication skills that you might give.

Consider explaining why good communication is so important in medicine. You might want to mention some of the potential repercussions of poor communication skills, such as patients failing to understand instructions with regards to their prescriptions.

Common Mistakes:

  • Focusing too much on the situation that you observed. That particular doctor or nurse may not have employed a huge range of different skills with regards to communication, but feel free to discuss other skills that you feel are important when speaking to patients, even if they were not displayed in that scenario.
  • Failing to consider the different aspects of communication. Communicating with patients is not just about being articulate, although this is important; it may also require qualities such as empathy and the ability to adapt your level of communication depending on the patient you are working with.

During Your Work Experience, Did You Learn Or See Anything That Did Not Appeal To You About Being A Doctor?

Interviewers want to know that you have a realistic view of life as a Doctor. If you have managed to get work experience in a clinical setting, it is important to demonstrate that you picked up on some of the potentially negative aspects of a career in Medicine as well as the positive.

Give an example of a scenario you witnessed or an observation you made during your work experience that helped you to appreciate some of the challenges that Doctors face. Reflect on how this example might make life as a Doctor difficult or stressful at times.

Doctors sometimes have to break bad news to patients or deal with patients that are being difficult. There are also other factors to consider, such as the record-keeping involved in treating patients which can be tedious at times.

Doctors also have a huge responsibility due to the importance of what they do, which can occasionally lead to issues such as medical practitioners being sued. These are all valid examples of why a career in medicine might not appeal to everyone.

Consider concluding with an explanation of how you would overcome the challenges you described and why you still feel that a career in Medicine is right for you.

Common Mistakes:

  • Failing to acknowledge some of the negative aspects of life as a Doctor. Every prospective medical student at interview is there because they want to be a Doctor, but it is important to demonstrate that you have thought about this decision and do not have an idealistic view of a career in Medicine.
  • Giving an extremely detailed description of what you observed during work experience. Interviewers want to see that you have actually reflected on what you observed and are less interested in hearing a list of everything you saw.

During Your Work Experience/Shadowing, What Three Skills Did You Observe And Could You Rank Their Importance?

This is a textbook question which combines evidence of work experience and translates it into skills that you should aim to build early in your medical career.

Interviewers want someone who understands the work environment in which Medicine is practised. Doctors must interact with various professionals, including Doctors of different specialities, nurses, pharmacists, radiographers and secretaries, so a good first answer might be teamwork. Explain what you observed, how it demonstrated teamwork and why you think it’s important.

Communication is another skill you may want to mention. Think about any instances when you observed Doctors taking a diagnosis, explaining a procedure, or describing how a prescribed medicine works. Or, for example, did you come across a doctor on the wards teaching medical students in a particularly engaging manner?

Ultimately, there is a multitude of skills that you may have picked up from your work experience. It is therefore important to have three skills to hand and ensure that you are able to substantiate each skill comfortably and with a certain degree of specificity.

Common Mistakes:

  • Don’t get stuck on ranking. There is no real right or wrong answer when it comes to the ranking – the real question is how you can refer to your work experience.
  • As above, don’t forget to substantiate each skill and back it up with good examples specific to your experience.

How Did Your Work Experience Help You Confirm Your Desire To Pursue A Career In Medicine?

To answer this question, it’s vital that you discuss not only the positive aspects of Medicine that you recognised, but also ensure that your answer demonstrates you have a realistic insight into the profession.

This is because you don’t want a completely scripted answer where you sing the praises of Medicine without being realistic. Keep it genuine and balanced and you will come across as a much more favourable candidate!

Was it a specific interaction with a patient which you found immensely rewarding? Was it a complicated procedure which you observed? Were you able to make a temporary impact on someone in any way and do you wish to join a field where you benefit people daily?

Balance the answer with a degree of altruism as above, as well as with some more unique answers. Medicine is always evolving with new discoveries and new therapies. It is a dynamic field which requires constant learning. Are you passionate about acquiring new knowledge?

There are many challenges that Doctors face in Medicine and these are often complex, such as ethical dilemmas. Make sure that you acknowledge these in your answer to demonstrate that work experience has given you a better awareness, and you may extend this by considering how Doctors overcome or deal with such difficulties.

Common Mistakes:

  • Some candidates hear the words “work experience” and automatically give lots of examples of the work experience they arranged. They fall into the trap of not applying the skills they saw during their work experience and how it helped them confirm their decision to apply for Medicine.
  • Some candidates ramble on about skills which they observed but forget to mention how they observed this skill during their work experience, how they then developed the skill themselves, and why it reassured them that they are making the right decision. Demonstrate your commitment!

After Your Work Experience, How Did Your View On The Medical Profession In Real Life Compare To That Depicted By The Media?

In these types of questions, giving specific examples from both sides to support your arguments would make your answer more structured and organised.

‘Media’ is a very broad term – therefore your examples could range from the news to tabloids and could include radio programmes or advertisements.

The depiction of Doctors in the media are usually categorised into two extremes. They are either pictured as superheroes who could seemingly solve any problems, or described as being incompetent and neglectful, which is usually the case in news reports about medical lawsuits. You could acknowledge both ends of the spectrum in your answer, or only choose one side to discuss due to time constraints at the interview.

This could also be a good time to bring in recent news that you have read and explore whether Doctors were depicted realistically.

Answering this is also a good opportunity to demonstrate to your interviewers that you are realistic about a career in Medicine. For example, you could mention something challenging that you witnessed during your placement and list some of the things you learnt about the realities of working in medicine.

Example answer: Watching a Doctor needing to break bad news to a patient while also being extremely busy in a stressful environment opened my eyes to the importance of particular qualities that make a good Doctor, such as communication, patience and empathy.

Common Mistakes:

  • Being overly negative when talking about the profession in real life. Avoid using strong criticisms – for example, instead of saying “Doctors have absolutely no time to rest in real life”, you could say “talking to one of the Junior Doctors, they mentioned how it could be difficult to find time to rest during very busy days, but that it was important in order to do a good job”.

Tell Me About The Roles Of The Allied Healthcare Professionals That You Met.

This question is looking at whether you are aware of the differing roles of the allied healthcare professionals involved in looking after patients. While you want to go on to study to be a Doctor, they are not the only member of the team, nor the most important. In your answer, you want to demonstrate that you are aware of this fact, giving specific examples of how you saw the whole medical team as a whole looking after a patient.

It’s your chance to demonstrate an awareness of the 14 allied healthcare professions and an understanding of the different allied healthcare professionals and their roles.

Link your answer to your work experience and times when you’ve seen different allied healthcare professionals in action.

Always be positive and stress their importance to the multidisciplinary team and how all team members are essential in providing excellent patient care. This can link to the holistic approach when providing patient care.

Common Mistakes

  • Not being aware of any roles of the allied healthcare professionals, or not appreciating the importance of the work they do.
  • Being unable to link to any cases you saw on work experience.
  • Appearing derogatory or dismissive towards non-Doctor members of the multidisciplinary teams.
  • Being unable to describe a multidisciplinary team or cite any examples from your work experience or reading.

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