The ability to think on your feet is important for any future doctor, but with a little planning you can make sure you’ve got answers for the most common questions down! Some questions are pretty likely to appear in your interviews, 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.
Question 1: Why do 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!
Try to make your answer personal - this is a great way to give and answer which sounds original. Think about the topics you enjoy, the work experience you have completed, and the people in your life that may have inspired you. For example, if you volunteered at your local nursing home over an extended period of time, seeing the positive impact that care workers and medical professionals make on people’s lives, could be some of the contributing factors which inspired you to become a doctor. When sharing this, try to avoid singling out experiences and 'lightbulb' moments to explain why this is the right pathway for you. Your reason for choosing the subject should not be rooted in one childhood or specific experience, but should be based on a more recent and mature decision that considers all your skills and interests.
Question 2. Why do you want to study here?
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 and reviews. Even if this medical school is your fourth choice, you should be able to explain why it is perfect for you.
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, and what you can bring to the university.
Question 3. Tell me about your work experience
To prepare for a question like this, you need to focus on what you learnt from the experience, as well as the experience itself. Take some time to 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. What did you find out that you did not know before? 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, and what it taught you. How did it change your perspective on becoming a doctor and pursuing Medicine? 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.
Question 4. You mentioned [x] in your Personal Statement. Could you tell me more about that?
Anything you mention in your Personal Statement can be brought up at an interview, so make sure you can talk confidently and in detail about everything you have mentioned, from work experience to extracurricular activities.
Try to avoid just repeating what you’ve already said in your Personal Statement. This is your chance to 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, how has the issue evolved since then? If you mentioned a key skill you’ve built, how are you planning on developing this further?
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. It would also help to mention if your reading sparked an interest in a new area of the topic, or if it led you on to read another book or article about it.
Question 5: Tell me about something you saw in the news about 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).
A good idea is to set up a discussion group with other aspiring medical students at your school or neighbouring schools. You can debate topical issues, discuss books, and go over difficult BMAT or UCAT questions. If you need some help connecting with other aspiring medical students, check out The Medic Blog - we’ve linked it below for you.
Question 6: What makes a good doctor?
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! Emphasise attributes you feel are most important, from the perspective of a patient and a colleague.
There are a wealth of other alternative resources you can tap into. You can draw from your own personal experiences, any other books, articles or resources you have come across, as well as any blogs or content you have seen. The most important thing is to talk about what you believe the qualities of a good doctor are, with explicit examples, and why these qualities are important.
Question 7: The ethical conundrum
Most interviews will include at least one ethical question. 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 feel 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 are susceptible to PTSD because of the trauma of a difficult vaginal birth, and 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 woman 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.
Good stuff from elsewhere
The Medic blog
Free resources for aspiring Medical students and a number of free communities to tap into