MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEW GUIDE — All About You

Personal Attributes

WRITTEN BY
MEDISTUDENTS TEAM
SEPTEMBER 6, 2021

Within this section you’ll find suggestions for what to include in your answers for questions relating to your personal qualities and your suitability for medical school. Initially, the focus is on general questions you may receive regarding your skills and qualities, followed by those relating specifically to individual ones, for example communication skills or empathy. 

Skill and qualities

Assessing an applicant’s skills and qualities which make them suitable for medical school is a significant aspect of the interview process. Many medical schools outline what skills and qualities candidates need to demonstrate within their interview information; you can find out more about the different interview processes within the ‘Individual Medical Schools’ section. It is also recommended that you read the Medical Schools Council’s ‘Statement on the core values and attributes needed to study medicine’ for guidance on the ‘key skills and attributes needed’. 

Understanding the essential skills– and qualities required for a career in medicine will support you to answer questions relating to your attributes and why you’re a suitable candidate for medical school. You may be asked to give examples from your work experience or extracurricular activities of when you’ve demonstrated these skills and qualities, which allows you the opportunity to highlight attributes of your choosing, which make you a good candidate. Alternatively, the question may be framed to identify when you’ve demonstrated particular skills which the interviewers wish to focus on. 

You may also receive questions relating to why you should be given a place to study medicine, what your main strengths are, or how you or others would describe you; these types of questions are still looking for you to demonstrate your qualities which make you a suitable candidate for medicine. 

What to include in your answers

These types of questions are an opportunity to sell yourself, so make sure that you do. To prepare, compare your skills and qualities against those needed for a career in medicine, as outlined in the Medical Schools Council’s ‘Statement on the core values and attributes needed to study medicine’. If you’re answering questions related to your greatest strength or how to describe yourself, focus on something which is a core quality for medical school; for example, do you have effective communication or team working skills? 

Include examples from your extracurricular activities or work experience to support your answers, even if the question does not directly ask for these. When you provide an example to demonstrate a particular skill or quality, remember to link back to why this is important within medicine and how it will support you within your training and future career.

No doubt you’ll use much of the skills needed for medical school within your extracurricular activities, so these are valuable to draw upon for providing examples. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll be able to demonstrate a wide range of skills through these experiences; however, when answering these types of questions, it isn’t necessary to list every single skill or quality needed for medical school. Rather, it’s more effective to focus on covering a few skills and values well, providing solid examples and linking back to why they’re important for medicine. Do focus on different types of skills though, rather than closely linked or repeated ones, to highlight you have a variety of skills which make you a suitable candidate. 

Within your answers you may highlight the following skills and qualities which you possess:

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Empathy
  • Organisation and time management
  • Academia

You may also be asked direct questions about these skills and attributes; each of these are explored in more detail below, to support you to answer these.

Communication skills

Communication skills are a vital tool which you will use continuously throughout your training and as a doctor; therefore, you may face questions about your ability to communicate effectively. These may be specific questions, for example asking what skills you would need to communicate effectively with patients, or asking you to share examples, for example when you’ve demonstrated good communication skills or had a positive impact on a situation due to your communication. You may also be asked how you can develop communication skills and what you’ve done to develop yours.  

What to include in your answers

Be prepared for these types of questions with an example that demonstrates a situation in which you’ve communicated effectively. Remember to provide a concise overview of the situation in which it took place, i.e. what was happening and what was your role within it, and explain how you communicated and what the outcome of this was. Again, your extracurricular activities or work experience may provide useful examples that you can draw upon for these questions. 

Your work experience may also provide valuable examples that you include if you’re asked why communication skills are so important within the medical profession. Did you observe a particular interaction in which the healthcare professional’s communication skills were evident, how did they impact the situation and what did this teach you which will support you in the future? By reflecting on these experiences you can demonstrate an understanding of the importance of strong communication and the impact you can have on patients by developing yours. 

Consider how you have developed your communication skills, in the event that you’re asked about this. Have you had academic opportunities or have your extracurricular activities or work experience supported you to develop these skills? Remember the full range of communication skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening, and draw upon your experiences across the spectrum.

Teamwork

Teamwork is an essential skill within healthcare, therefore it’s likely that some aspect of your interview will focus on this, either in the form of questions about your team working skills and experience, or in the form of a scenario. You may even be asked why you believe teamwork or working effectively within a multidisciplinary team is important within medicine. 

The questions may aim to explore your teamwork experience, when you’ve contributed to a team well and what qualities you demonstrated. Alternatively, you may be asked what makes a good team member or what your experiences have taught you about what makes effective team working. 

On the flip side, interviewers may ask you to focus on your negative experiences of teamwork, perhaps when you’ve experienced failure working within a team, and what you believe are the possible disadvantages of working this way. You may also be asked how you would deal with situations where conflict arises or team members are not contributing as fully as expected. 

Finally, you may be asked how you prefer working: within a team or alone; leading the team or being a team member. 

What to include in your answers

Why is teamwork important?

There are many different positive aspects of teamwork that you can highlight in response to questions about why teamwork is important. You can discuss how working collaboratively allows individuals to bring together different skills, knowledge and experiences, to work more effectively as a team. You could also draw attention to the positive impact that working within a team can have on individuals’ feelings of motivation and responsibility, encouraging them to work harder, and also allowing a feeling of a shared workload. 

Answers to more general questions, such as ‘why is teamwork important?’, should attempt to link to how this relates to medicine; in this case emphasising the importance of different healthcare professionals working together to effectively support patients’ varying needs. You can discuss the multidisciplinary team and its collaborative working, the use of specialist roles, and bringing together different areas of expertise, to promote positive outcomes for patients. 

If you observed teamwork within a healthcare setting as part of your work experience, reflecting on what you observed, the impact on patients and the care they received, and what this taught you about teamwork within medicine, would be a positive example to include. 

Your experience and good team members

Ensure that you are prepared for questions relating to your team working skills, with an example of an occasion where you’ve worked well with others. Share a brief context of the team situation, but focus predominantly on what you did within the team that was successful and what the impact of this was. Remember to highlight your skills that you demonstrated and how this will support you in the future. 

For questions relating to what makes a good team member, consider what skills and qualities are required, and how you’ve demonstrated these. For example, when have you demonstrated strong communication skills, that you can listen to others and follow guidance, and that you’re able to compromise and work collaboratively with others? Share an example to support your answer and highlight how your skills and behaviour had a positive impact when working within a team. As with questions relating to your skills and qualities, it isn’t necessary to list every single quality needed to be a good team member; focus on a few key points and support with a good example, demonstrating that you possess these skills.

Disadvantages of teamwork

If you receive questions relating to the disadvantages of teamwork, acknowledge there can be occasions when teamwork is less effective or elements that can create difficulties within a team; for example, there may be conflicting views and difficulties reaching an agreement, individuals may feel unheard, which can negatively affect their motivation, or decisions may not be made, which can negatively affect the outcomes. However, you can create a positive spin, by offering solutions to these issues and demonstrating how you would tackle them. 

If you’re asked to provide an example of a time when you’ve experienced failure within a team situation or when a team hasn’t worked well together, ensure that you reflect on what went wrong within the team or what could have been improved, the lessons you learnt from this and how it will support you if you face challenging teamwork in the future. You could also emphasise the impact that poor teamwork did have on the outcomes and link this back to why teamwork is vital and how you would contribute towards this.

For questions relating to conflicts within a team, acknowledge the importance of resolving these effectively as a team, to avoid any negative effects, such as damaging the team’s motivation or ability to work together, and impacting the outcome of the task. If you can, give an example of a time when you’ve resolved a conflict, providing a concise context of the situation, what you did to help and the outcome as a result of this. Reflect on the positives and what you learnt from this experience: did you communicate calmly and effectively; did you listen to the views and concerns of others; did you develop a solution as a team, therefore promoting an inclusive environment and avoiding alienating team members; and did you agree a way to avoid it happening again? Emphasise what you learnt about resolving conflicts and how this will support you within a team situation in the future. 

Similarly, if you receive questions relating to a team member not contributing, acknowledge the importance of resolving this problem, in order to ensure effective teamwork and the best outcomes for the team. Offer practical solutions, for example emphasising that you would first need to understand the reason that this person isn’t contributing, before you can address the problem. Remember you don’t know what the cause is so avoid blaming the individual or suggesting confrontation; there could be many reasons, such as, they need some support or further instructions to understand their role, or even more responsibility or to be involved more to feel useful. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your empathy, by offering understanding of the difficulty your team member may be facing, showing your ability to communicate with others and to resolve problems.

How you prefer to work 

During your discussions about teamwork, you may be asked if you prefer leading a team or working as a team member; within medicine, you will need to be able to do both effectively, therefore it’s essential that you demonstrate that you’re able to within your interview. You can achieve this by providing examples of when you’ve worked well within a team, following instructions and taking guidance from others, and when you’re successfully led a team, making decisions, guiding others and delegating tasks. Both being able to lead and being able to take direction are important for a career in medicine; this allows you to demonstrate that you’re equipped for both. 

Similarly, if the question of working individually or as part of a team is raised, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re confident and happy to do both. Again, you can use examples to demonstrate this, highlighting the positives of each way of working.

Leadership

As highlighted in the previous section, the ability to lead a team is an important skill for a doctor. Within your interview, you may be asked what makes a good leader or what skills must they possess to successfully lead a team. You may also be asked about your own ability to lead a team or to share an example of when you’ve demonstrated leadership skills.

What to include in your answers

To prepare, consider what key qualities an effective leader displays. You could discuss the communication and listening skills needed to ensure that a team understands what is required of them, as well as allowing them to feel heard and that they can share any issues that they have. You could highlight the problem solving and decision making skills required to make confident final decisions, taking into account the views of others and delegating well to make the best use of the team. Or you could highlight the need to take ultimate responsibility for the team, ensuring that all team members feel supported and any goals or outcomes are being met. 

Within your answer, provide an example of when you’ve demonstrated these qualities. Again, ensure that you provide a brief context before focusing on how you lead your team, what skills and qualities were required to do so, and the positive impact this had on both your team and the outcomes which you were hoping to achieve. Can you reflect on your experiences and identify, for example, how you communicate, how you ensure that you are approachable and how you motivate others, to ensure that you lead effectively? Are there any areas which you need to develop further? If so, by reflecting on this and identifying ways to make improvements, you can demonstrate to the interviewers your personal insight and your desire to continue to learn and improve. 

As we’ve mentioned in previous sections, it isn’t necessary to include as many qualities as you can think of that an effective leader requires; focus on providing a few key qualities and supporting these with strong examples of when you’ve demonstrated them. Remember to link this to how it will support you at medical school and within your future role; even if you aren’t required to lead, many of the qualities are transferable and will support you in other ways.

Empathy

Empathy is an important attribute for a doctor; therefore, it’s likely that this will form some element of your interview. Your empathy skills may be assessed in a number of ways, through direct or indirect questioning, or scenario-type questions, to provide opportunities for you to demonstrate an empathetic approach. 

You may simply be asked why it’s important for healthcare professionals to show empathy within their role, or to give an example of when you’ve demonstrated or observed empathy within a situation. You could receive questions which aim to assess your understanding of empathy and how this differs from sympathy, or even whether you think both are needed within healthcare, or if one is more important for dealing with patients. 

Alternatively, you may be presented with a scenario in which interviewers are assessing you on your ability to demonstrate empathy. For example, you may be faced with a patient who is angry or concerned; consider how you would deal with this situation and how you would demonstrate that you understand their feelings or concerns. 

What to include in your answers

It’s important that you don’t confuse empathy with sympathy; empathy is the ability to understand how someone else is feeling, whereas sympathy is feeling pity for them. Understanding how a patient is feeling helps you to identify how best to support and interact with them, to ensure that they feel seen and listened to. In your discussions about empathy, you may highlight how this supports you to communicate with patients, demonstrate compassion and help to reduce their anxieties or concerns. To support you to answer questions relating to empathy or sympathy, consider whether you, as a patient, would prefer healthcare professionals to show you empathy or sympathy, and why. 

Ensure that you have prepared an example of when you have demonstrated empathy in the past; if you can provide an example from your work experience within a caring environment, this may provide more opportunities to link it to your future role and provide a stronger example. However, any example in which you’ve shown empathy can support your answer and demonstrate that you possess this core attribute. Ensure that you provide the interviewers with a brief explanation of the situation and most importantly how you reacted, which demonstrates your empathy, and the positive impact that this had. Finally, link this back to it being an essential skill and something which will support you in your future interactions with patients. 

For scenarios such as the one above, it's essential that you allow the patient to express their feelings and expectations, not only does this make them feel listened to and understood, it also allows you to identify their needs and therefore what you can do to help. If you understand the patient’s frustrations or concerns you’re also better placed to manage the situation and to reduce these. Making patients feel like their concerns are valid and understood can also have positive implications for the patient-doctor relationship, making patients more likely to share information with you, which in turn can further support you to treat their needs. 

Organisation and time management

Throughout medical school you’ll undertake a great deal of independent study, so it’s vital that you can organise your time effectively and meet the study demands. During your interview, you may be asked general questions about your organisational skills or why you think they‘re important for medical school. Interviewers may also enquire about your previous experience of independent study, how you’ve used organisation and time management skills to support your learning and how you think you will cope with the demands of independent learning at medical school. 

What to include in your answers

Whether you’re sharing how you’ve managed your time in the past or what you will do at medical school to meet the study demands, ensure that you provide examples of practical methods that you will use, rather than simply stating that you will organise your time effectively. Give specific examples of what you’ve used previously and reflect on how effective this has been. Discuss how you have developed your organisation and time management skills, reflecting on what has and hasn’t worked well previously, and how these experiences will support your independent learning at medical school. As well as your ability to self direct your learning, you could also emphasise how your commitment to medicine and your motivation to succeed will drive your independent study.

Academia

Within your interview, you may receive questions about your current academic studies and your expectations for medical school. You may be asked a range of questions about what you’re currently studying, what subjects you enjoy and how they have prepared you for medical school. Alternatively, the questions may relate to what you’ll study should you be offered a place at your chosen medical school; for example, what academic opportunities you think there’ll be or how you think you will cope with the demands of the curriculum. Interviewers may also want to know what you’ve done academically to prepare for studying medicine. 

What to include in your answers

Questions relating to academic study are also covered in the ‘Studying’ section of ‘Personal Insight’ and ‘Knowledge of your Chosen Medical School’, particularly within ‘Teaching methods / curriculum’; you may find it useful to refer to these sections, as there’ll be overlap in your answers and what you choose to focus on when faced with these types of questions. 

For questions relating to your current school work and what you’ve enjoyed studying, keep your answer simple; demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subjects you’re studying, highlight what you’ve learnt and, as a result, how it has helped to prepare you for medical school. Is there something which you’re looking forward to covering further at medical school? Share this with the interviewers and demonstrate your passion for learning and excitement at the prospect of continuing to deepen your understanding. 

If you’re asked how you’ve prepared academically for medical school, or if you choose to link to this, aim to include how you’ve developed key skills which are required for studying medicine; for example, your problem solving, teamwork and communication skills, remembering to focus on your reading, writing, speaking and listening, not just how you verbally communicate with others. You could also discuss specific subjects you’ve studied, or additional reading or research projects you’ve undertaken, sharing what you’ve learnt from these and how they’ve prepared you for medical school. 

Even for general questions relating to your expectations for medical school, ensure that you make specific links to your chosen university and demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for attending. For example, can you share what you’re looking forward to within the curriculum offered at your chosen medical school, the clinical experience you’ll gain or the extracurricular opportunities available; refer to the ‘Knowledge of your Chosen Medical School’ section for more information about this. Having an awareness of the curriculum and course structure will help you to address questions relating to how you will cope with the demands of the programme more effectively. Demonstrate that you’re prepared for the demands of medical school by using examples to highlight your motivation and your work ethic, your ability to study independently, and your organisation and time management skills, that will help you manage your workload.

Medical school can be a challenging and rewarding experience; demonstrate that you have the required skills and behaviours to meet the demands, using examples to support your answers. 

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