The Complete Interview Guide: Medical Ethics
This is a new ‘Interview Guide’ blog series, where each post will be focusing on a different aspect of a medical school interview. This guide will focus on Medical Ethics.
What are Medical Ethics?
You’ll find questions on Ethical Scenarios in all medical school interviews. Many students find these the most challenging – but don’t worry, we have plenty of resources to help you prepare!
These scenarios may be on the kinds of situations you will face as a doctor, such as euthanasia or abortion, or whether to pursue treatment of a patient refusing further antibiotics. As a doctor, you’ll need to weigh up the ethical issues involved in these situations by considering a series of questions relating to the patient’s autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. Interviewers will be testing your knowledge of these, so make sure you know how to talk about the different elements before your interview!
Key resource: Ethical Scenarios
What are the four pillars of Medical Ethics?
In an interview, you’ll need to keep these four pillars in mind while answering questions on ethical scenarios. Medical Ethics, then, is based on the following four principles:
- Autonomy – is the patient capable of making their own decisions? Have they provided informed consent for treatment?
- Beneficence – will this treatment resolve the patient’s medical issue? Is this option compatible with the patient’s circumstances?
- Non-Maleficence – does it harm the patient? Are they at risk? Do I possess the required skills to perform this treatment?
- Justice – is the action legal? Does it interfere with the patient’s human rights?
Many of the ethical scenarios you’ll be given in your interview (such as patients refusing further treatment when their health is deteriorating) are incredibly difficult usually because some of the four pillars above are in conflict with one another. For example, a patient refusing further antibiotics calls autonomy into question: on one hand, you must respect a patient’s decision. However, you must consider that patient autonomy is not absolute – especially if they are not competent – and the ‘beneficence’ pillar means it is your duty to provide care in a patient’s best interests.
It’s a good idea during your interview to voice these conflicts aloud to show your interviewer you’re considering a range of possible implications. Another thing to keep in mind is legality: make sure you research what is and isn’t legal in the UK (this is key for topics like abortion and euthanasia).
Key resources: Medical Ethics Explained: Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence and Justice
What kinds of questions might I be asked on Medical Ethics in an interview?
In an interview the topics of an ethical scenario will differ – you may be asked about euthanasia, abortion, sexual health or treating patients – but you will always need to consider the four pillars of medical ethics. Three example questions are:
- A patient diagnosed with HIV reveals to their GP they have not disclosed this information to their partner. Discuss the ethical issues involved.
- Do you agree with abortion? What are the ethical implications of abortion?
- A 14 year old patient asks for the oral contraceptive pill. What are the ethical implications of this?
In these questions, it’s important to think about the patient’s right to make their own decisions, your duty of care, whether your actions will potentially harm or benefit the patient – and the legality of the action you may take. When explaining your answer, remember to vocalise the complications of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice – your interviewers want to see that you’re able to weigh these up in a logical, coherent way. A good way to practice this may be to run through some ethical scenarios with a friend to practice your communication skills and familiarise yourself with explaining your thought process aloud. Good luck!
Key resource: Medical Ethics: interview question bank
Other key Medical Ethics resources:
To prepare for Medical Ethics questions, you could try:
- MMI Circuits – practice your Medical Ethics answers (as well as Empathy, NHS Hot Topics and more) at different MMI stations and receive feedback on your performance.
- Interview Tutoring – sessions are tailored to suit you, so you could focus on Medical Ethics.
- Interview Courses – our one-day course is great preparation for interview, and we dedicate over an hour to answering Medical Ethics questions.