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Published on 3rd December 2015 by Roya

Medicine interview questions

Empathy – introduction

With the rise in the application of MMI style interviews, empathy is an increasingly key area in Medicine interview questions for many medical schools. Therefore, the purpose of this blog is to help you understand and address the two main ways that the topic of ’empathy’ could crop up in your Medical School interviews.

1. Discuss the issue of empathy in healthcare

This is likely to come up in the traditional style Medicine interview questions. Make sure you’ve got answers to the following points, and are able to fully discuss them.

  • what it is
  • why it is important
  • how it is different from sympathy
  • whether it can be taught to medical students/ whether it can be learned
  • how else is empathy important in healthcare apart from showing empathy toward patients

2. Demonstrate your ability to empathise with other people

Clearly, for those Medical Schools that use the MMI style of interview, it is much better for them to see your empathy skills in action rather than to ask you about it. They would prefer to ask you Medicine interview questions that invite you to show them your empathy abilities, rather than tell them.

How do you show empathy?

Empathy is your ability to imagine what another person is feeling. An empathetic person will understand another’s emotions, and then communicate that understanding to the other person.

So, to empathise with someone, you firstly need to recognise and understand your patient’s feelings. Think about how those feelings could have arisen from your patient’s point of view.

You then need to think about how you’d go about communicating you empathy to your patient, to show that you understand where they are coming from.

For instance, let’s say you’re with a patient who is angry about something. You may have recognised that this patient is angry because you’ve observed non-verbal cues such as their facial expressions or body language. The next step is to communicate to the patient that you understand that they are angry, and the cause of their anger. This can be done through simply acknowledging their emotions: “I can see that you are very angry about this.”

How to act when empathising with patients

  • Respond to non-verbal cues
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact and open body language
  • Allow time for processing information
  • Actively listen – this can be shown through nodding
  • Adapt your tone of voice
  • Acknowledge the emotions of the patient – understand that they may be feeling angry or upset
  • Check back with the patient how much more information they would like
  • Be as nice to the patient as it is possible, whilst still coming across as genuinely caring.

Did you come across empathy during your work experience?

Try and think back to any doctor-patient interactions you observed on your work experience. Was the doctor showing empathy at any point? What were the circumstances? Remember these experiences by jotting them down. You can then bring them up in response to any Medicine interview questions on empathy.

On the other hand, have you witnessed a particularly brusque interaction? How could you avoid those types of interactions? Try to pick out any key interactions that you need to avoid if you want to show your ability to empathise with patients when answering Medicine interview questions.

Why are there Medicine interview questions on empathy? 

The admissions tutors want to see that you can interact sensitively with patients at what is often a very difficult time in their lives. This is particularly important when you are breaking bad news to a patient.

They want to see that as a doctor you would not treat the patient as a disease, or a collection of pathologies, but that you would treat them holistically. If the patient is confident you understand their point of view and emotions, this will help maintain an excellent doctor patient relationship.

Stay tuned for more insights into Medicine interview questions!

Uploaded by Beth on 3rd December, 2016


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