MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEW GUIDE — All About You

Personal Insight

WRITTEN BY
MEDISTUDENTS TEAM
SEPTEMBER 6, 2021

Questions relating to personal insight assess your understanding of yourself; for example, how you work, how you deal with different situations, your strengths and your weaknesses. Personal insight is an important quality for medical school, as it allows you to evaluate your skills and qualities, and identify how you can continue to learn and improve. 

Having a clear understanding of how you deal with difficult situations, including stress and failure, and being able to identify your weaknesses and what you find challenging, is key to being able to reflect on your areas for development and making improvements. Strong personal insight demonstrates to interviewers that you have the awareness and tools to support your own learning and development. 

The following are areas relating to personal insight, which you may be asked about during your interview, and suggestions for what to consider in your answers:

Studying

Understanding how you learn best helps you to be more efficient with your study and can support you to identify tools that will help you if you’re struggling with a topic; therefore, this is an area which you may be asked about during your interview. Studying medicine involves a great deal of independent learning, so medical schools aim to ensure that potential students have strategies in place to support them to learn effectively. You may be asked about how you have structured your independent study in the past or what experience you think will support you at medical school. Or you could be asked how you feel you’ll cope with the volume of independent study or even what you need to improve to help you to study more effectively at university. 

What to include in your answers

Drawing upon your experience of learning independently, consider how you usually study, what strategies you use to support your learning and how effective these are. Include examples within your answer, to demonstrate how you use these practically and most importantly reflect on the impact these have on your learning. You may also want to include how you plan your study and manage your time effectively to enable you to cover all the topics you need to. 

You may discuss how you can improve your studying techniques, either in response to a direct question about this or while reflecting on the impact your studying has on your learning. If you identify areas for improvement within your independent study ensure that you demonstrate how you will address these; what do you plan to do to make improvements to your learning? Perhaps you have previously identified elements of your independent study that you could improve and begun implementing changes; share this with interviewers and reflect on the impact this is having on your learning. This demonstrates your desire to continue to develop and your personal insight to be able to identify ways in which you can achieve this. 

Stress

There’ll be times during medical school and within your future role as a doctor when you’ll experience stress and stressful situations. Within your interview, you may be asked how you cope with stress, or to share an example of a time when you’ve felt under pressure, perhaps linked to your academic studies, or when you’ve dealt with stressful situations.

What to include in your answers

Accepting that you will experience stress at times demonstrates self awareness and suggests an ability to identify when you are stressed, making you better equipped to deal with this. Therefore, acknowledge that medical school and working in healthcare can be stressful, and this is something that you’re unlikely to avoid experiencing. If you have a useful example from your work experience, you could also share this to support your answer, but remember to reflect on what you observed. 

Share with interviewers the methods you use for dealing with stress: this could be a number of things, from reducing stress initially through careful planning and managing your time effectively, making lists and prioritising tasks when your workload is high, to tactics you use to unwind when you do become stressed. Your methods for relieving stress will be personal to you, the important point is that you can demonstrate that you have strategies for dealing with it, whether that’s methods for attacking the problem, when needed, or activities you use to relax and manage your stress; there is no right answer, how you respond is personal and will no doubt change depending on the stress you face. 

Ensure that you make links to how you’ve dealt with stressful situations previously, giving practical examples of the methods you’ve used and reflecting on what impact these had on your stress levels and ultimately your ability to deal with the situation well. You can use examples to demonstrate that you have tactics to manage stress effectively and reduce any negative impact on your work, which will support you at medical school and within your future career. 

Remember it’s not about demonstrating that you never get stressed, but rather that you are able to manage your stress effectively. 

Mistakes and failure

During medical school and within your future career, you may make mistakes and experience failures, which you’ll need to overcome. During your interview, you may be asked how you would cope with mistakes or failures, either in general terms or presented within a specific context, for instances during a scenario based station. Alternatively, you may be asked to share an example of a time when you’ve made a mistake or failed, and how you dealt with this. 

Within our ‘medical ethics’ section you’ll find guidance on doctors’ responsibilities when mistakes are made in relation to patient care, which will further support you to respond to questions and scenarios concerning mistakes. 

What to include in your answers

By acknowledging that there will be times when you make mistakes or experience failure, or by sharing an example of when you have previously, you can demonstrate to interviewers that you are mentally prepared to deal with these situations if they do arise, as opposed to expecting things to go perfectly all of the time. It also demonstrates your honesty and your ability to take responsibility, both of which are identified as core values for doctors by the Medical Schools Council

Similar to stressful situations, how you cope with mistakes or failure will be personal to you. Consider what helps you following these types of situations: is it lifting your mood with an activity that you enjoy or drawing on your support networks, for example friends and family, mentors and colleagues? Use a previous experience as an example of how you’ve dealt with your failings and been able to approach the next task in a positive way. If this is something that you’ve struggled to deal with in the past, you could share how you have developed strategies to overcome this and the impact it has had. 

Finally, demonstrate how you would evaluate the situation, identifying why mistakes were made, what you can learn from them and how you can make improvements in the future. By using failures as an opportunity to learn you can turn them into a positive experience, helping you to deal with them better and supporting your personal development. 

Weaknesses

During your interview, you may be asked to reflect on your weaknesses or identify qualities that you need to improve in preparation for becoming a doctor. The questions may be framed in many different ways, prompting you to address your areas of personal developments and providing an opportunity for you to outline how you aim to improve. 

What to include in your answers

When presented with these types of questions, remember the purpose of them: interviewers are assessing your ability to identify your own areas for development and ways to support this. So while it may seem daunting to highlight your weaknesses within an interview situation, this is exactly what the interviewer is looking for. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to avoid giving a weakness or trying to frame a positive quality as a weakness; not only will this be obvious to the interviewers, it may also be interpreted as a lack of personal insight, which would hinder your personal development. 

That being said, you should consider how interviewers will view any weaknesses or areas for improvement that you identify, and use this as a guide to support you to frame your answer appropriately. Ask yourself, is this an area of weakness that you can develop whilst still being a strong candidate for medical school? 

Most importantly, ensure that you reflect on any areas for improvement and outline what steps you will take to address your weaknesses. If you’ve already begun implementing these, evaluate what impact you’ve experienced already and what you will continue to do to improve as you progress to medical school. 

Challenges of being a doctor

As we’ve covered previously, medical schools want to ensure that applicants have a realistic understanding of the demands of studying medicine and working as a doctor. You may be asked during your interview what challenges you envision or what you predict you’ll find the hardest, either during your training or as a doctor, and how you’ll deal with the challenging aspects of working in healthcare.

What to include in your answers

If asked, it’s important that you acknowledge challenges you may encounter or an element that you may struggle with; this demonstrates self awareness and your desire to learn and develop skills which will enable you to overcome these challenges. Medicine is a challenging career, so your answers to these types of questions should demonstrate your ability to deal with this and emphasise your resilience when faced with difficulties. 

As with your weaknesses, it’s important that you give an honest account of the aspects you may find challenging within healthcare, but ensure that you consider how interviewers will view these and present them in an appropriate way. For example, you may share your concerns about delivering bad news, which is an important skill for doctors; however, it’s understandable to be anxious about this when you have limited experience of it. You can demonstrate to interviewers how you aim to improve this, through observing others, developing practical skills and gaining experience. On the other hand, if you phrase this concern as you’re worried you’ll struggle to communicate with patients, this could be seen as lacking a key skill required for medicine. Crucially, don’t forget to include how you will deal with possible challenges and develop areas of weakness, in order to support you in your future career. 

If you’re asked more generally about the challenges healthcare professionals face, draw upon your work experience to provide examples that demonstrate these, sharing not only your observations but your reflections in relation to this. You’ll find more information relating to this within the ‘work experience’ section. 

Criticism 

The medical profession is constantly under public scrutiny, meaning that criticism may be something you have to deal with during your career. Interviewers may try to establish how you would cope with criticism, either as a medical student or within your future role, and the impact this may have on you. You may be asked to share examples of when you’ve received criticism previously, or even face a role playing scenario with a patient who is challenging you, to identify how you deal with being criticised.  

What to include in your answers

Whether you’re explicitly asked to or not, sharing an example of a time when you’ve dealt with criticism positively will support your answer effectively. As with all examples, remember to reflect on the experience, considering what you managed well, how you may have improved the situation, what you learnt from it and ultimately how this will support you in a similar situation in the future. 

Receiving criticism can easily be turned into a positive situation, if you use it as a learning opportunity. You could discuss with interviewers how you would reflect on a situation and the criticism you received, to identify where you could improve. Criticism could highlight your areas of weakness, skills you need to develop further, or even how you can support someone more effectively. It can also provide an opportunity to ask for help, perhaps from a mentor or colleague, and support you to continue to develop your practice. 

Seeking help

Seeking help may come up in relation to some of the areas covered within this section, either as a related question or something you link to within your response. Interviewers may attempt to get a sense of how confident you are to ask for help if you need it or your reaction to having to seek support. You may be asked what you would do if you were struggling at medical school or to share an example of when you’ve required support and how you approached this situation. 

What to include in your answers

If you’re asked about seeking help, acknowledge that there will be stages of your training or within your future career when you’ll require some form of support; this may be a particular challenge that you’re facing, but it can be more general too, as you learn from others and draw upon their expertise and experience. Throughout medical school and working in healthcare, you’ll continually be learning and improving, and seeking support from colleagues and mentors will have a positive impact on this. This is also a good opportunity to link to the importance of multidisciplinary teamwork within healthcare, to bring together different areas of expertise, to support one another and provide the best outcomes for patients. 

If you can, support your answer with an example, either from your work experience, perhaps an observation of healthcare professionals supporting one another, or of a time when you’ve needed help. Remember to reflect on any examples, sharing the impact of seeking help and what you learnt from this which will support you in the future.

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