How to tackle tricky medical school interview questions

by Giulia Bankov February 07, 2020 4 min read

Med school interview season is upon us and so is the time to think about all those challenging questions you will be expected to answer. Whether you’re about to go through a panel interview or a multiple-mini interview (MMI), there are certain types of medical school interview questions that can be a little tricky and often get misconstrued by candidates, thus losing them points. To make sure you don’t fall into their trap and feel confident you know what you are getting into, we have picked the three most common medical school interview questions deemed tricky and deconstructed them for you to help you prepare!

What qualities make a good doctor?


While we’re sure you would agree that just simply giving a long monotonous list of fifteen qualities, that may or may not have been picked out to be specific to a career in medicine, is not the best approach to answer this question and runs the risk of getting your admissions interviewer to doze off, you might still be wondering - how is this a tricky question? Well, first things first, as already alluded to earlier, think quality over quantity. Picking out two or three highly relevant qualities, accompanied by specific examples, is a much better bet than giving a superficial list of fifteen qualities that lacks reflection.

That, however, is not all, as this question has a second layer to it. Once you have decided on your short, but comprehensive list, consider how do you know this? Where did you get your information from? Did you do some work experience on the wards over summer, during which you witnessed a doctor exhibit exceptional communication skills with their patients or colleagues? Did you shadow a healthcare professional in primary care who showed you the importance of being empathetic?

This is a highly important point to raise in your answer, not only as it gives you credibility, but also because it strengthens your motivation, as it shows you have spent some valuable time learning firsthand about the field of medicine.

Give me an example in which you showed teamwork


The reason why we picked this type of question to discuss is because students largely don’t read into it enough and answer it literally. This in itself is not a problem, as you are expected to provide a concrete example in which you showed this quality, but it becomes tricky if you stop there. There is an underlying second question awaiting to be answered and you need to be able to pick that up in order to score the maximum number of points for this question. Consider your settings - you are at a medical school interview, so how is that related to their interest in your teamwork abilities? It suddenly becomes clear that, as this is an essential skill to have for a career in medicine, they are expecting you to link your example to its relevance to medical practice and reflect on how possessing this quality would help make you a good doctor. 

Do you see how this can be a potentially tricky question? Make sure you always read between the lines and if a question doesn’t seem particularly oriented to or directly enquiring about your suitability for a medical career, you need to take the initiative and steer your answer that way. The medical school admissions team has to sit through a ton of interviews with hundreds of candidates and you only have limited time to make yourself stand out and make an impression. So make the most out of it and always consider how anything you’re being asked about can show you are passionate about studying medicine and/or are a great fit for the medical school of choice.

Lastly, don’t let the heading fool you - while we picked teamwork as the quality in our example, this can be a potentially tricky question regardless of the trait they choose to ask you about. Whatever that may be, remember our tips and consider the implications of such an example when giving an answer to this question.

Discuss some challenges to our current healthcare system


This type of question can be as vague as this, or it could also point you in a particular direction, asking you to discuss a particular problem facing the NHS, e.g. current winter pressures on A&E, or an even more large scale relevant topic, such as privatisation. To answer this type of question well, having some knowledge on current hot topics is crucial, so make sure you have looked these up and feel confident in your understanding of challenges our healthcare is currently experiencing. The key to acing these questions is once again, showing some reflection and insight into your answer.

If you’re asked to discuss A&E winter pressures, don’t just sum up all the ways in which A&E departments are experiencing stress. While no one is expecting of you to solve a national problem that keeps occurring every winter, make sure you have researched what has been done to alleviate the situation and have some ideas of possible solutions to discuss. On the other hand, you might instead be asked to weigh the strengths and weaknesses for and against a decision, such as privatisation, for example. In that case, you can show the admissions committee reflection and maturity in your answer by being unbiased and able to present a balanced argument that shows you have considered the question from each side, before giving your opinion. 

We hope this information was useful and you now feel comfortable interpreting these tricky 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: