Interviews can be intimidating. Facing tough questions from critical individuals can be just as scary for a teenager seeking their first job as for a seasoned professional looking to advance to a leadership position. But if you’re a medical school applicant, you need to start getting used to these conversations. A strong interview performance could determine whether you earn an acceptance letter.
While there’s a lot riding on interviews, don’t let the pressure bog you down. There are quite a few things you can do to prepare. Mock sessions, whether with a friend or a pre-med advisor, can be particularly useful if you practice with the types of medical school interview questions you’ll likely face. And that’s less of a mystery than you might think.
While no two interviews will be exactly the same, most feature variations on some of the same questions. They’re often intentionally broad. Taking some time to organize your thoughts ahead of time can help you answer with a bit more confidence when the time comes.
10 common medical school interview questions
This list is meant to give you a general sense of the types of questions you’ll be asked. While some of them are intentionally tough, there’s a reason for it.
“Remember that the interview is for two reasons: to check your fit for the university and to show that you are already on your way to becoming a doctor,” explains Dr. Shane Jackson, who has more than a decade of experience advising both US and UK medical school applicants.
Start thinking about the following medical school interview questions so you are prepared to make a great impression.
1. Tell us about yourself
This is obviously a statement rather than a question, but it’s a very common way to start. Some even think it’s the hardest question to address. But it’s really an opportunity for you to take charge of the conversation. You just need to be strategic. This isn’t the time to recite your entire resume. It’s better to talk about some of the experiences you’ve had that you find most interesting.
2. Why do you want to be a doctor?
This question, while common, often trips up students. Many pre-meds say something about wanting to help people. But the Medical School Headquarters points out there are countless other careers that allow employees to offer a helping hand. Citing a family member as your driving force can also be a misstep.
"These sources of inspiration do not show the applicant understands what the core qualities of a doctor are."
“Too many students refer to the death of a loved one or comment on a family member already being in the profession,” Dr. Jackson offers. “These sources of inspiration do not show the applicant understands what the core qualities of a doctor are: a person with keen interest in the sciences, an analytic mind, and an empathy and desire to care for the wider population.”
Drawing from events in your life is certainly acceptable, just make sure you’re able to explain why those experiences shaped your career choice. It’s the same rationale you should use when writing your personal statement.
3. What was your favorite college class? Why?
Medical schools are looking for individuals who embrace learning. After all, physicians need to constantly seek education to practice medicine.
When answering, think of how the skills you gained during a given course can help make you a better physician. If it was an English class, for example, perhaps you enjoyed writing and presenting. Physicians need to build upon those communication skills to develop good bedside manner, so be sure to make that connection.
4. How do you manage stressful situations?
Medical school and residency are arguably the most intense experiences you’ll ever go through. Admissions committees want to make sure they select students who can handle the inherent pressures in a healthy way. Be honest in your answer, and make sure to explain why the particular methods you mention help you keep your cool.
5. How would you handle a scenario that requires ethical considerations?
There will inevitably come a time when you’re faced with an ethical dilemma as a doctor. This is why medical school interviews often include questions about particularly tough topics. They could be related to end-of-life care, addiction, or a number of other matters.
"Pre-meds need to be aware this is not a test of your moral standpoint."
“Pre-meds need to be aware this is not a test of your moral standpoint,” Dr. Jackson reminds. “Giving a strong, one-sided argument is not the right thing to do.” Instead, Dr. Jackson recommends considering the scenario in a balanced, thoughtful way before responding.
6. What are your greatest weaknesses?
Resist the urge to state the go-to answer that you’re “too much of a perfectionist.” Interviewers see right through these sorts of cover-ups. It’s better to try highlighting areas you’re already working to improve, which shows you’re progressing.
Also consider what parts of your application may need work. You may as well address them head-on. Interviewers often appreciate candidates who are self-aware enough to recognize their own flaws.
7. How would you propose addressing a current health issue?
As with ethics-based inquiries, questions about current events will be relatively specific. You may be asked about numerous topics or even face multiple questions on the same issue. Dr. Jackson mentions he was asked to share his thoughts on HIV prevention and treatment.
“This answer required knowledge not just of the condition and the treatment regimen, which I gave, but also of the sociopolitical background surrounding the subject,” he explains. He had to show he understood how shifting public opinion and better treatment options had positively changed the outlook for individuals with HIV.
8. What do you know about the state of the US health care system?
Health care questions certainly fall under current events, but they’re worth singling out. Any changes to the system can have huge implications for patients and providers alike. You must stay up to date on the health care industry as a physician, so you should expect to do the same as a student.
You don’t have to be an expert, but it’s a good idea to have at least have a working knowledge of the Affordable Care Act. The American Medical Association (AMA) has numerous resources that would be helpful for your research.
9. Why are you interested in our medical school?
This is another question that tends to trip up students. Every institution has its own values, and they want to make sure students are in line with them. That said, don’t ingratiate yourself.
"When commenting on a particular medical school, there should be balance to the answer."
“When commenting on a particular medical school, there should be balance to the answer,” Dr. Jackson says. “Simply showering praise is, of course, not an effective strategy.” Make sure you research every program that invites you for an interview to make sure you have a starting point.
10. Do you have any questions for us?
You should always come prepared with questions. “An engaged student who opens up a flowing dialogue rather than responding to a list of questions will stick out in the interview panel’s minds,” Dr. Jackson offers.
Also consider that asking questions during your interview is an opportunity for you to learn valuable information. Don’t ask about things you can easily find on the program’s website, though. Dr. Jackson suggests commenting on changes to the curriculum or faculty and asking about potential future developments. You might also inquire about student perceptions on available support services.
What if you don’t know how to answer a question?
Even with plenty of preparation, you could find yourself struggling with a question or two. If you’re stumped by a factual inquiry, being honest about it is better than bluffing. But you should do your best to answer opinion-based questions. Dr. Jackson suggests talking through all the ideas floating around your head.
"It is the logical process your brain goes through that the interview panel is interested in."
“It is the logical process your brain goes through that the interview panel is interested in,” he explains, “not necessarily your conclusion.”
Tackle interviews with confidence
If you’re still feeling a bit anxious about interview season, know that you’re in good company. Even the best students have butterflies during this part of the application process. The best way to ensure your success is to practice, and knowing some common medical school interview questions can certainly help.
Also remember that interviews are meant to be conversations, so treat them as opportunities to gather as much information as you can. Find out what types of queries you should add to your repertoire by reading our article “8 Questions You Should Be Asking the Medical School Admissions Team.”
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