Don't be afraid of hard medical school interview questions

by Giulia Bankov February 05, 2020 5 min read

Medical school interviews can be equal parts exciting and dreaded for a lot of applicants, due to the significance an invitation to one carries. While receiving an interview invitation clearly indicates that you have ticked all the boxes your medical school of choice requires and strengthens your position of a worthy candidate, at the same time it is the final hurdle standing between you and and that coveted spot at medical school, an all-or-nothing moment. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that the lead-up to an interview can be incredibly nerve-racking.

Medical schools often like to ask recurrent questions that show your motivation and dedication to pursue this career, but even though we can often expect what we might be asked at an interview, that does not necessarily make the anticipated questions less difficult or feared. Don’t worry, as we will be exploring three typical questions asked at med school interviews that students often find very challenging, and break them down for you for that final boost of confidence you need!

What are your weaknesses?


“What are your weaknesses?” is a very frequently asked question not only at medical school interviews, but at a wide range of other academic or job positions. The answer a candidate gives to this question gives the interviewers great insight into who they are as a person, their level of insight and introspection, and their ability to reflect and improve on their personal development. A common trap students tend to fall in when they answer this type of question is to give false weaknesses that in fact are masked strengths, out of fear to portray themselves in a bad light to someone they are desperately trying to impress. 

While the desire to show the best sides of yourself is natural at such an important point in your career, doing this runs a very real risk of giving the opposite impression, as it might cause the admissions committee to deduce that at best, you lack reflection, and at worst, you are being dishonest. So stay away from examples such as “I am too punctual” or “I am too caring” and really try to consider what your true weaknesses are. Are you perhaps struggling with time management and organisation? Do you tend to procrastinate with deadlines? 

Try to really reflect into who you are as a person and just like identifying the strengths you possess that have helped shape you into a strong candidate that has managed to reach the interview stage, also consider any traits that might have had a negative impact on your development. 

Your ability to do this and your honesty towards yourself and your interviewers is the first step towards acing this question. This is only half the battle though - make sure you spend some time discussing how you realised that this is a weakness and what have you done since to improve on this. If you can show some tangible results which you can quantify that you have obtained since making this realisation and implementing a change, this will raise your answer even higher and really make you stand out. 

Lastly, consider why the interviewers might want to know this - even good doctors have weaknesses or make mistakes at one point or another. While they are not interested in hiring perfect flawless individuals, they are looking for those students who are able to reflect on their shortcomings and strive to do better. Another question with a similar undertone would be “Give me an example of a time you made a mistake”.

Why do you want to be a doctor?


It is almost impossible that this question doesn’t come up at least once during your interview cycle and is arguably one of the most important questions you need to be able to answer smoothly and confidently. 

While most candidates will have thought about this question for a long time and will probably have an answer prepared, its challenge comes from the fact that students often only give half an answer and fail to consider all of its dimensions. 

What do we mean by this? When asked “Why do you want to study medicine?” or “Why do you want to be a doctor?”, students often focus largely on the personal aspect of this question, namely, why dothey want to be a doctor, what motivates them in particular, what aspects of the medical career appeal to them or what strengths they possess that qualify them for this future. And rightfully so, as the question is literally asking them exactly that - but only on the surface. 

Another layer to consider when structuring your answer is shifting the focus towards the medical field as well - what is the state of the current healthcare system? Are there any negative aspects or problems that it is facing currently? How has this informed your desire to pursue this career? Even though this might seem counter-intuitive at first, if you really think about it, you are still showing some incredibly valuable personal traits in here by taking your answer this further step.

Namely, you are showing great insight into the state and structure of the medical system in the UK and reflection into how this has affected you and your decision to pursue this career. And as we’re sure you are aware of this by now - reflection is a key skill you want to portray at your medical school interview whenever possible, and this question is no exception. 

Why not nursing?


This is yet another frequently asked question at medical school interviews that can either be presented as a standalone question or as a quick snapback to an answer you might have just given to the question “Why do you want to be a doctor?”. Having given a good answer to the former, this follow-up is less likely to come up.

However, the difficulty answering this comes if your initial answer to why you want to be a doctor has been vague and hasn’t dealt with particular responsibilities that a doctor carries or traits they should possess. It can often feel like you have been put into a corner after giving an answer you felt confident in, only to get this rebuttal and realise that in fact, that is a good point, and you can’t answer it, because you hadn’t thought of this before. 

The previous section dealt in a lot more detail with how to tackle this successfully, so let’s imagine that this comes as a standalone question. Consider the different tasks that a nurse and a doctor has in their day-to-day life. First of all, where would you have gotten this knowledge from? Have you done any work experience or shadowing that has given you more insight into the different healthcare roles? Have you talked to a nurse or a doctor of 20 years who has really shed some light into their routine and its pros and cons to you? Make sure you mention this.

Furthermore, don’t make the mistake to try and explain why medicine is so much better than nursing, but be able to appreciate their differences with respect and show why your character is better suited for one over the other. Lastly, remember that this question can get very creative and insert any professional qualification instead of nursing. Therefore, make sure you have really thought through in detail not only why you want to be a doctor, but also how does this differ from any other scientific or healthcare profession. 

We hope this information was useful and you now feel comfortable with even the hardest of interview questions. Good luck in your preparation and if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us

Additional resources for your interview preparation: