The ability to think on your feet is important for any future doctor, but with a little planning you can make sure you don’t have to use this skill too much in your interview!
Whatever format the interview takes, certain questions are almost guaranteed to appear and you can ensure your answers are structured and thoughtful by preparing in advance. Here are 7 common questions which every aspiring medic should expect to answer:
Tip: Do be careful not to over-prepare; memorised sentences can sound insincere. Identify a few key points for each question but bulk out your answer with natural speech on the day.
1. Why do you want to be a doctor?
(Variations could be “How has your work experience inspired you to study to be a doctor?” or “Why don’t you want to be a doctor?”)
This is a classic question that makes every hopeful medic groan! Everyone “loves science” and “enjoys helping people” so you need to think of an answer which is a little more original. If you veer more towards “I love science”, be prepared to explain why you don’t want to be a scientist; similarly, if you “enjoy helping people”, you may be asked why nursing doesn’t appeal. Be careful what you say to this – you don’t want to offend anyone!
Tip: In order to give an answer which sounds original, try to make it personal. Why do you love science? Which topics do you enjoy? Have you read around the subject? Has your work experience motivated you? Maybe there was a particular health professional or patient who inspired you?
Instead of: “I want to be a doctor because I love helping people”
Try: “While I was volunteering at my local nursing home, I saw the incredible positive impact that care workers and medical professionals can make on people’s lives. I want to help people in the same way.”
2. Why do you want to study here?
(Variations could be “Why does X style of medical training suit you?” or “What can you bring to this university?”)
This is another question which will require some self-reflection. What appealed to you when you applied? Perhaps the style of teaching – PBL (problem-based learning) or traditional; or the approach to clinical medicine – integrated from the start or separated into preclinical and clinical years? Maybe a particular group, club, or sports team caught your eye, or the brand new facilities look amazing. Even if this medical school is your fourth choice, you should be able to explain why it is perfect for you.
Tip: Mentioning specific clubs or societies within the university is a great way to show you’re a well-rounded person. It also demonstrates that you’re excited about attending this institution in particular.
When answering this kind of question, try to keep linking your answer back to yourself. The interviewer already knows about the university’s facilities and teaching methods; you need to make sure that you give a concrete reason why these will suit you in particular.
Instead of: “I liked the emphasis on PBL in this course.”
Try: “I like the emphasis on PBL. This will really suit me because I have experience of group discussion and debate through my work with my school’s debating society.”
3. Tell me about your work experience
(Variations could be “How have you gained insight into the medical profession?” or “Tell me about a difficult situation you encountered on work experience. What did you learn from it?”)
To prepare for this, read through any notes you made during your work experience or volunteering and then try to think of ways you could reflect on it further. How do all your experiences compare? What suited you best and why?
Interviewers want to check that you’ve done more than just sit in the corner and passively observe so don’t just talk about what you saw – reflect on how it made you feel. If you did any follow up work (such as reading or discussing the experience with someone) then make sure you mention this; it will show that you were fully engaged with the experience.
As with all your answers, you need to draw out specific examples from your experiences. Talking in detail about one small moment that had an impact on you is much more effective than reeling off a list of hospitals you worked at.
Instead of: “It was really interesting to see how a doctor communicates complicated medical concepts with the public.”
Try: “There was a moment where the doctor I was shadowing had to explain to a teenager the ACL reconstruction surgery he was about to receive. I was struck by how she adjusted her tone of voice and vocabulary to explain this complicated procedure and it got me thinking about the responsibility that doctors have to inform their patients, without overwhelming or confusing them…”
4. You mentioned [x] in your Personal Statement. Could you tell me more about that?
(Variations could be “Why did you feel X on your Personal Statement was relevant to your application?” or “How do you think Y scenario would differ from X mentioned in your Personal Statement?”)
Anything you mention in your Personal Statement can be brought up at interview, so make sure you can talk confidently and in detail about everything you have mentioned, from work experience to extracurricular activities.
Avoid simply repeating what you’ve already said in your Personal Statement. This is your chance to develop and explain all your experiences so for every example you’ve written about, try to think of at least one way you could take it further. For example, if you had an interesting discussion with a contact at your work experience, have you read around this topic any further since writing the Personal Statement? If you mentioned a news story, think about how the issue has evolved since then.
Be wary that any of the extra reading mentioned in your Personal Statement will likely be discussed here. Don’t ever risk ruining an interview by claiming to have read something that you haven’t. Of course, it’s great to bring up reading if you have actually done it - linking reading with something you saw in work experience or while volunteering is a great way to demonstrate insight.
65. Tell me about something you saw in the news about recently.
(Variations could be “What did you think of X news story?” “Why do you think X issue is so divisive?” or “Have you read anything about the NHS / junior doctors / medication recently?”)
Sometimes you might be asked about a specific high profile topic (the Charlie Gard case, for example), or interviewers might ask you to discuss something you found yourself. It’s essential that you stay up to date with Health news – most online newspapers have a dedicated page for this. Try to think critically about what you read; you’ll have to debate this issue and give an opinion on it, rather than just explain it.
If there is a debate around the topic, discuss both sides of the argument before concluding with your opinion, as you would with an ethical question (see the worked question below for how to do this).
Tip: If there are other hopeful medical students at your school or neighbouring schools, it’s a good idea to set up a discussion group. You can debate topical issues, discuss books, and go over difficult BMAT or UCAT questions.
6. What makes a good doctor?
(Variations could be “What would make you a good doctor?” or “Why do you think X type of people would make good/bad doctors?”)
There are hundreds of potential answers to this question. A good starting point is The Duties of a Doctor, published by the GMC. You don’t have to read the full document, but reading the short version can help you to structure an answer to this question. If you use this document as a framework, remember to add some personality – the interviewers can read the guidelines for themselves! Emphasize attributes you feel are most important, from the perspective of a patient and a colleague.
Tip: Link in what you have seen in work experience. Who was a good doctor, and why? Why were some doctors less successful?
7. The ethical conundrum
Most interviews will include at least one ethical question – including Oxbridge interviews. This could be a moral dilemma (such as choosing a transplant recipient from a list) a financial issue (such as the ethics of funding a certain procedure on the NHS) or could be something else entirely. Whatever the question, even if you are personally very strongly on one side of the argument, be very careful to discuss both sides before concluding clearly with your opinion. It is important that you appear open-minded, and never judgemental.
You must always come to a clear and justified conclusion and the end of your answer. If it’s very difficult to decide then you can acknowledge this and explain why, but make sure you’re not sitting on the fence.
Often, interviewers will present you with new information after you have answered. It’s up to you whether you change your opinion or stand your ground, but make sure you acknowledge that you have taken this new information into consideration, rather than just ignoring it entirely.
An example question is worked through below. Questions asked by the interviewer are in bold and the candidate’s answers are in “quotation marks”.
Worked ethical conundrum
Should all women be entitled to a Caesarean section on the NHS?
Tip: If you’re not sure where to start, explain terms within the question. You can also talk about why there might be a debate around this topic, which might give you ideas about further discussion.
“Caesarean sections are a surgical alternative to a vaginal birth, where the baby is delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdomen.
I believe that currently they are offered to women in an emergency, where she or the baby might die or be seriously harmed. In a non-emergency situation, some women might prefer to have a C section rather than delivering vaginally because birth can be very painful and can lead to long term health problems like incontinence and chronic pain.
However, I think that C sections would be more expensive to perform in terms of equipment, personnel, and space required. The NHS has limited money available for procedures, as well as limited staff and space. Because of this, I believe that women should only be offered NHS C sections in emergencies.”
Tip: Having made a conclusion, you might be offered more information or asked another question designed to make you think.
Not all C sections performed on the NHS are for emergencies. Can you think of any reasons why a pregnant woman might need a planned C section?
“Some women might have physical disabilities that prevent them from giving birth vaginally. They might have a malformed or very small pelvis, or might have lost the nerve supply to their pelvic floor. I do agree that these women should be offered C sections on the NHS as they might be severely injured or the baby might die if they try to give birth vaginally.”
What about women with psychological conditions?
Tip: It’s always important to consider non-physical conditions in ethical conundrums such as this. Mental health conditions or learning disabilities can be as restricting as physical illnesses.
“I read that some women get PTSD because of the trauma of a difficult vaginal birth, and I think that a previous mental health condition or learning disability can be a risk factor for this. A traumatic birth can also be a risk factor for developing post-natal depression and failing to bond with the baby, which can have severe consequences for the child.
For women with such conditions, a Caesarean section might be more beneficial for them and the baby. However, it can be difficult to define these conditions, and I do not think every women with a history of mental health problems or a learning disability will suffer this trauma. Perhaps a solution to this might be to have an assessment of each woman, her physical and mental health, and her outlook on the birth to decide if she should be recommended for an NHS C section.”
Tip: Remember to come to a conclusion.
“I believe that women should be offered a C section on the NHS in an emergency situation. I also believe that a planned C section could be paid for by the NHS if an assessment of a woman’s physical and mental health has determined that the benefit to both mother and child would outweigh the cost of the operation. If a woman is determined to be healthy enough to give birth vaginally but wants a C section, she can be referred to the private doctors.”
- Remember that this is not an exhaustive list of questions – no matter how hard you practise, the questions won’t all be exactly what you had prepared.
- It’s okay to take a few seconds to breathe and organize what you want to say in your head after a question is asked. A calm and ordered response is better than losing your train of thought mid-sentence!
- Don’t forget that there are many variations of common questions, and you must make sure you listen closely to what you are asked before diving into your answer.
- Interviews for medical school are explained in more detail in Medicine interviews: overview.