Three Common Interview Questions and How To Approach Them
11 months ago by Rob
Congratulations on having made it through the gruelling UCAT and your examinations and having been offered an interview for a medical program! Like the UCAT, the medical interview is a tool designed to assess your competency across various fields, and hence your suitability to be a doctor. And, just like in the UCAT, a strong understanding of the sorts of questions you might be asked, and the sorts of answers that are expected of you, can leave you much better prepared to give a very strong performance on the day.
In this blog post I’ll walk you through three example questions (similar to those you might see in a real medical interview for a medical school), explain what interviewers are looking for and give some suggestions for constructing effective responses.
Why have you decided to study medicine and not pursue another field where you can help others, such as pharmacy, education, nursing or social work?
Questions like “Why do you want to go into medicine?” are common in medical interviews. They can either be asked directly in a panel interview, or indirectly in a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). It is tempting to answer these with any one of a number of vague and generic answers: “I’m passionate about helping people,” “Seeing how doctors have helped members of my family makes me want to do the same,” “Medicine is a way to make a real difference in the world,” and so on.
While doctors do undeniably help people, responses like these are short-sighted insofar as they downplay the significant contributions made to society by people like nurses, psychologists, pharmacists, and allied health professionals, not to mention many non-healthcare jobs that are essential to society. They also suggest to the interviewer that you haven’t put all that much thought into why a medical career is appealing to you.
The question given in this example is attempting to determine why you are pursuing a medical career over and above any of these alternative careers. Having made it this far and put as much effort into medical entry as you have, this is a question you will have to ask yourself as you formulate your response. Is it a fascination with science and the human body that drives your interest in a medical career? The social aspects of patient care? The ability to be at the cutting edge of medical research and push the envelope of what is possible? It might well be some combination of these factors, or something entirely different.
Take a moment and ask yourself what your specific motivations are for medicine. If you understand what exactly is driving you towards medicine (and not nursing, for instance), and can clearly demonstrate this to the interviewer, you will be well positioned to deliver a strong response to this question that sets you apart from other candidates.
How have your extracurricular activities, jobs and volunteer experiences prepared you for the responsibilities of studying medicine and working in the field?
This question has two key components: a discussion of your past extracurricular, work, or service experience, and an examination of the nature of studying medicine and working in a medical career.
This question is fairly open-ended. Broad questions like this can be intimidating, but they provide considerable latitude to discuss and examine your past experiences. (The amount of time you have to answer varies depending on the type of interview you are sitting—a panel interview will give you more time to answer a question like this than an MMI will). Strong responses will address a number of points in sequence—for instance, you might talk about a volunteering experience you had first, then follow by discussing an extracurricular activity you took part in.
While discussing these activities, the question also asks you to reflect on the expectations that will be placed on you in the medical profession, first as a student and later as a doctor. You will need to discuss what you believe some of these expectations are, and why you think they are important for medical students and doctors. Then, you can effectively link them to the activities you have done, explaining how they have prepared you to meet and exceed those expectations. For instance:
“One important responsibility that doctors have is to communicate effectively with patients. On the one hand, doctors need to be able to explain things like treatments to patients in a way they can understand; on the other, doctors need to be able to effectively listen and ask questions to help them understand patients’ conditions and build rapport. I think that my recent volunteering experience as a receptionist at the North Hill Aged Care Home gave me a good understanding of this fact. At the clinic, I was responsible for communicating effectively between doctors and patients…”
Responsibilities that might be worth discussing in this question include communication, time management, effective teamwork, leadership, self-directed learning, and organisational skills.
What are some current problems or ethical issues within the health system?
The interviewer is assessing you as a layperson, so you won’t be expected to know extensive facts or statistics. That said, some pre-existing understanding of different issues affecting the health system in Australia is obviously important here, and demonstrates your interest in medicine in Australia. As before, this is an open-ended question, and you can take advantage of this to impress the interviewer with a detailed and extensive response.
Your discussion could address points such as: what the problem/issue is; why this is problematic, discussion of negative consequences that have arisen in the past due to this issue; different stakeholders and their perspectives; proposed solutions and interventions that have been tried; any improvement that has been made to the issue thanks to those solutions or otherwise; your analysis of the issue, and any further solutions that you propose. The interviewer is keen to assess your ability to unpack complex, multifactorial social problems and look at them from different angles.
Some issues that you could discuss here:
- Mental health awareness (for doctors/health staff and for the public more generally)
- Rural health and difficulties in effective rural health provision
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, the challenges affecting these groups
- Refugee health
- Vaccination and vaccination hesitancy/refusal (COVID-19, “No Jab, No Play”)
- Legislation of voluntary assisted dying
- Abusive working practices and institutional cultures in the healthcare sector
Having a strong answer to these key questions will stand you in good stead in your medical interview. Good luck and happy preparing!