Below is a selection of Medical School interview questions on the theme of ‘Work Experience’.
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 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 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: 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 stablilise the patient
Example: 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 was able to adapt to communicate with her in a clear and empathetic way
Example: 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 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
Simply providing a checklist of placements you’ve done with no case examples or learning points. This will ultimately mean you did not make the most of the time you have 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.’
What did you learn from your work experience?
From each of your work experiences, you will have learnt many new things about Medicine. No two days, even in the same GP surgery or the same hospital ward, would 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: During my time working on the wards in the hospitals, 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: 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: throughout my work experience, I was also aware of the daily challenges doctors face. In every setting, whether it was in the GP practice or in the hospitals, the 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.
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
Sugar coating. 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: 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: I admired the way the doctor adapted his 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: this has made me value the importance of communication in the doctor-patient relationship even more. Since then, I, myself, 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.
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 that you take note not just of how the doctors operate during your placements, but how the nurses and other healthcare professionals perform 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 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 team work 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
Failing to notice any important qualities from the nurses or other healthcare professional and only focusing on the important qualities in 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 that 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: 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
But then take the learning points from the situation
Example: however, I was really inspired by the way the doctor dealt with this situation and this really opened my eyes to the importance of particular qualities which make a good doctor, such as 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 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 twenty GP surgeries to get yours, mention this as it shows commitment and resilience
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 learned 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 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 learned 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. Be careful to end by acknowledging that it is far too soon to be thinking about Specialties!
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 learned and putting that 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; 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, but also to evaluate whether students were engaged enough to learn from their placements – as placements are a core aspect of learning during your clinical years.
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.
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 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 pre-conceived ideas.
For example, witnessing the effect of administering palliative care on family and loved ones of the patient.
It’s also important not to forget 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!
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 an awareness and insight into your experience.
Telling interviewers about all 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 learned from the experience you have had.
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 quite early on as 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 synthesize 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 help 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 couple of the 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.
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 that 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.
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.
Can you recall a time during your work experience where you were able to demonstrate empathy?
This is an opportunity to show that you have been active in your engagement with patients while on work experience – and that you used this as a chance to develop skills required to be a doctor.
Whenever you are asked to recall or give an example, always pick one and talk about it in detail rather than giving lots of examples in brief. The question asks how you demonstrated empathy so this is the more important aspect of the question.
The majority of medicine applicants will have some experience of work shadowing or volunteering in various settings such as hospitals and care homes – so these are ideal to pick an example from, but you can show empathy in various different contexts. If you’ve worked in retail and looked after a customer and gone the extra mile, these are also valid examples.
This is certainly an appropriate question to use the STARR framework as this will allow you to deliver a structured answer. Within ‘A for Action’ you should expand as to how exactly you demonstrated empathy.
How did your actions impact on the person involved? What was the outcome of the situation? What did you learn about empathy?
Some candidates reel off lots of examples where they have interacted with a patient but do not clearly explain the situation and how they were able to demonstrate empathy. Remember to demonstrate the quality of your work experience instead of quantity. Pick one interaction and go into detail.
During your work experience/shadowing, what three skills did you observe and could you rank their importance?
This is a textbook question which combines some evidence of work experience and translates it into skills which you should aim to build early on 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 team work and why you think it’s important.
Communication is another skill you may want to mention. Think about any instances when you’ve observed doctors taking a diagnosis, explaining a procedure, or how a prescribed medicine works. Or, for example, have you come across a doctor on the wards teaching medical students in an engaging manner?
Ultimately there are 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.
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?
Here, it is vital that you discuss not only the positive aspects of medicine that you recognised, but also ensure that your answer demonstrates that 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 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 wish to join a field where you benefit people daily?
Balance the answer with a degree of altruism as above as well as 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.
Some candidates hear the words “work experience” and automatically give lots of examples of the work experience they have arranged. They fall into the trap of not applying the skills they have seen during their work experience and how it helped them confirm their decision to apply for medicine.
Some candidates can ramble on about skills which they have 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!
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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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