The coveted medical school interview: preparation tips

What if they don’t choose me? What if I don’t get invited? What if I do get invited, but I say something bad during the interview? 

We have all experienced this kind of monologue during the medical school application process, while frantically checking our email ten times a day. Better than any gift you could hope for, an interview invitation is your moment to shine and to demonstrate that you are the perfect candidate. Below are my best tips to help with your medical school interview preparation.


Pounding heart, breathing quickly, and sweating are few of the ways in which stress manifests itself. The most common questions I get while working in schools are “Do you ever get stressed?” and “How can I get rid of the stress?”. First of all, the fact that you do get stressed up about your interview means that you care about the outcome of it and that you would not want to miss this opportunity.

Secondly, can you think of another time when you might have had a pounding heart and when your breathing started to quicken? Perhaps when you received the invitation for the interview? Excitement, joy, and courage are usually accompanied by the same physiological responses as stress. In other words, your body is preparing you for the task you need to undertake. Your heart is beating faster to pump more blood to your brain and you breathe rapidly to receive more oxygen. It’s up to us whether we consider stress a friend or an enemy. Next time when you’re anxious, smile and think that this is just to give you enough resources and courage to cope with the challenges you are facing! You have worked hard and you deserve to be there.

First impressions matter

This may sound like common sense, but one of the best tips is to be enthusiastic and grateful for being there and for having the chance to meet these people. When you are waiting to be called in, think about the opportunity you have been given. Think how hard you have worked for it, how long you have been waiting to meet these people, and how close you are from reaching your goal. Thinking about this will undoubtedly make you smile and it will make it easier to express your burning passion. When you enter the room, show appreciation and demonstrate that it is a pleasure to be there. This will give you an advantage over students who see the interview as a daunting task or a necessity instead of an opportunity.

Why Medicine?

Why do you want to study Medicine? This is the eternal question and perhaps the most important one. Remember, your academic achievements have already been taken into consideration. The interview tries to assess your so called “emotional intelligence”. The answer to this question should come naturally. You have probably encountered this question before from family, relatives, and friends. We all love science and we all want to save people’s lives, but most importantly, what is your motivation? Why would you wake up every single morning to go to classes and later in your career to deal with patients? Vision is very important in medicine. By picturing yourself in the future, you demonstrate that you have already thought about this many times and that studying Medicine is indeed one of your biggest dreams.

Don’t forget, Medicine is also an art, not just a science. In medicine, science massively overlaps with the art of communication, the art of listening, and empathy. To give you an example, as a kid, I suffered from asthma. I still remember an awesome doctor who managed to help me perfectly understand the effects of this disease, although I was just 9 years old. For me, that’s when Medicine becomes an art – choosing the perfect words and tailoring your practice depending on the patient you deal with. Finally, look for the deeper meaning, personalise your answer, be yourself, and passionately express what is that inspires you.

Ethical Dilemmas: the four basic medical principles

Most medical schools usually ask you a series of questions based on a fictive scenario. This will most likely be an ethical dilemma. The most important thing to remember is that these things don’t usually have a right or wrong answer. Take your time to take in the scenario and don’t rush to give an answer. These questions assess how well you do under pressure and you really need to clear your mind before answering. The best thing to do is to ask for 15 seconds before answering a tough question. This will give you enough time to plan your answer. A lot of students think that you may be penalised for not answering quick enough. On the contrary, taking your time will demonstrate to the interviewers that you are considerate and that you want to think properly before speaking. A lot of people are penalised because they give a rushed and inconsistent answer.

The key to tackling ethical dilemmas is understanding the four basic medical principles. Below you find the four principles accompanied by a short definition (feel free to read more online).

1. Autonomy = respecting patient’s wishes and desires
2. Beneficence = do good and work in the interest of the patient
3. Non Maleficence = do no harm
4. Justice = treat patients equally

Most of the scenarios you will encounter will be based on a clash between these ethical principles. After reading the scenario, take some time to see whether you can spot which principles overlap and use them to create your answer.

Example Scenario

“You are a junior doctor and Jane, a 15 year old girl, had a miscarriage. She asks you not to tell her parents because they did not know she was pregnant. Her father finds out from a neighbour that his daughter is in the hospital and is requesting to see her immediately. What do you do?” (this is a very common question!) Before looking at the answer, see if you can link up the ethical principles that overlap in this case.

As you may have spotted, Autonomy is very important in this case, because your patient specifically asks you to keep the information confidential. Before moving forward, you would have to explain that you would check whether Jane is competent enough to make a decision. Can she understand and retain the information properly? If so, then you should respect her wishes.

The scenario becomes a problem when Autonomy clashes with Justice. Although you have to respect your patient’s wish, you need to treat everyone equally. Her father has the right to know what happened to his daughter. You may have noticed that Beneficence and Non-Maleficence also play a role in this scenario. You want to do good by respecting Jane’s wish, but by doing so you will cause harm to her father.

As we said before, there are no right or wrong answers to these kinds of questions. You just need to take the interviewer through your thought process and explain why and how you have reached your decision. In this case, you could probably say that you would encourage Jane to tell her parents the truth because all parents love their children and they will eventually understand her situation. You could also try to calm her father down and apologise for not being able to provide an answer yet. A good thing to do is to tell the interviewers how you would feel at the time. Try and put yourself in the doctor’s shoes and imagine you had to deal with this situation. I would certainly be frustrated because I cannot find a clear way to please both parties. Interviewers appreciate honesty and reflection!

Final impression does also matter!

When reaching the end of your interview, you want to make sure that you are still enthusiastic and passionate. Try seeing it as a beneficial experience that has brought you one step closer to achieving your goals. A lot of students sigh in the end as if a burden has been lifted of their shoulders. Although the pressure is officially over, try holding it inside at least for a few more minutes! Rather than feeling relieved, stay enthusiastic and show them that you loved being there. Give them the impression that you would do it again, just because you are confident and because you love talking about your passion. This may be hard to achieve, but it will definitely give you some extra points! As you may have noticed, passion is the key to overcoming this challenge. I hope this helps and I wish you good luck with your interviews! 

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