Below is a selection of Medical School interview questions on the theme of ‘Personal Insight’.
The answer guides have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools.
Remember, though, that an interview is about an individual, so there are no hard and fast rules. The answer guides are only examples and are not exhaustive. They should be used to stimulate your thinking — not repeated verbatim at your interview.
What do you think you would find hardest about being a doctor?
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 that you 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.
Saying that you would struggle with something that is a crucial for doctors to be comfortable with. For example, you might not want to say that you would find it difficult communicating with patients or working with people.
Not appreciating that you might find certain aspects of being a doctor hard. You want to show that you’re aware of some of the challenges you’ll face as a doctor and are prepared to overcome them.
How do you cope with failure?
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 as it allows them to use the situation as a learning experience. If they feel their performance could be improved, they would strive to do so for next time. If they feel that the position they were applying for wasn’t actually right for them, they will 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 and 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.
Not understanding that you will inevitably experience failure at some point in your medical career. Your answer should demonstrate that you appreciate this and will be able to cope when it happens.
Giving a generic answer. Your response to a question like this should be relevant to you and demonstrate that you have the capacity for personal insight.
If your peers were to describe you in three words, what would they be?
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 peoples’ 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: 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
Missing the opportunity to highlight core strengths. This is an opportunity to showcase qualities that specifically make you a good doctor and should be used that way
Saying that you don’t know. This would highlight a serious lack of awareness, not to mention empathy, which is crucial to being a good doctor
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 that you have worked on to counter
Example: 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
Not thinking about this in advance. This means if you get asked, there is a chance you will either struggle to think of one, look arrogant, or under pressure come out with something that is quite debilitating
Stating something that isn’t really a weakness, like working too hard
How do you deal with stress?
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: 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 feel less stressed
Example: whenever I start to feel stressed I find that what helps me deal with it the most 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: this really helped me during exam season and even throughout the year when I’ve had to juggle and balance academics alongside my extracurricular activities
You might also want to think of 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
Underestimating the amount of stress involved in being a doctor and therefore showing a lack of awareness about the career
Acknowledging that Medicine is stressful but implying that you will be able to deal with that quite easily
Do you know when to seek help?
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 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: 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: 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: teamwork is an essential part of succeeding in Medicine
Seeing asking for help as a sign of weakness. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. Knowing when to get help and using it to improve is seen as a strength
If you are too insular and unwilling to ask for help you may struggle at Medical School and — worse still — make bad mistakes as doctor
What would be your greatest strength and why?
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: 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 you work experience which show how this trait translates into a medical environment
Saying something not relevant to Medicine. Being a good cook, for instance, is not relevant to Medicine
Saying too little for fear of sounding arrogant. You have to tell them about your strengths, so get used to this by practising with friends and family
Why do you deserve a place at this Medical School over the other candidates?
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 One; Reason Two; Reason Three; 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 short-comings 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 awards at school? Did you go above and beyond during work experience? Do you participate in activities outside of school?
Do not fall into the trap of comparing yourself with other candidates or being too boastful – this is a test of your self-awareness and characteristics.
Focusing on one area (e.g. academic ability) to the detriment of the wider aspects of life at Medical School and being a doctor.
Give an example of a time when you were unsatisfied with your performance.
The STARR Framework provides a structurally sound framework around which to construct an answer
Situation: What is the context and setting of your story?
Task: What was the task at hand and what was the end goal?
Action: This is the largest section and revolves around your direct involvement in completing the task. What did you do personally? And why?
Result: What happened as a result of your actions
Reflection: This is the most important and the most personal. Given time to think and reflect on events, why were you unsatisfied with your actions/ the result?
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 or how, in fact, you are working on improving them.
Much like when describing weaknesses, it can be very easy to self-deprecate; however, it is important to turn that into a positive and show that you’re always trying to self-improve
Try not to overly volunteer additional weaknesses, and ensure you end your answer on a positive note
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*According to an article in the Journal of Medical Regulation, A Census of Actively Licensed Physicians in the United States, 2016, vol. 103. no 2.
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