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How To Answer Any Medicine Interview Question

How To Answer Any Medicine Interview Question

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

If you’re having nightmares about being asked a question at your medical school interview and having absolutely no idea how to answer it then you’re in the right place

Knowing how to answer medical interview questions is a fear we’ve all had when preparing for an interview. Here’s the trick:

Try to respond to every question in a clear and professional manner. Always try to vocalise both sides of an argument before concluding or use the STARR technique if it’s a behavioural interview question. Be sure to articulate clearly and be decisive in your answers for maximal effect.

But as you can imagine, there’s a bit more to it than just that! In this article, I’m going to teach you a method of answering the toughest interview questions. We’re also going to cover a common pitfall to avoid and exactly how you should deliver your responses to maximise marks.

How To Answer Medical Interview Questions To Get An Offer

I don’t think anyone forgets the buzz of nervous energy they experienced on the day of their medical school interview.

My residing memories of my interview at Cardiff are extreme nerves followed by getting a giant cheeseburger in the student union with my dad..!

The day of your interview is the time you put all your hard work into practice.

You’re going to get an offer to study medicine for one simple reason:

If the interviewers in front of you can picture you as a medical student, and more importantly, a doctor. 

That’s it.

If they can’t imagine it, or it just doesn’t sit right with them, they’re not going to give you an offer.

So, let’s run over how you’re going to make it as easy as possible for them to imagine you with a stethoscope round your neck delivering world-class care to patients.

You’re going to help the interviewers along into giving you an offer through two things you do:

  1. What you say
  2. How you say it

It’s as simple as that. Let’s look at the two in turn.

What You Say In A Medicine Interview

What you say in an interview is undoubtedly an incredibly important part of how you’re going to come across to the interviewers.

They’ll be looking for intelligent, well-reasoned responses that clearly answer their questions.

A young man during his interview for medical school

A lot of this will come down to how well prepared you are for their questions. (You may want to check out my article ‘How To Prepare For A Medicine Interview.’)

But another often overlooked component of nailing an interview question is the format of your answer.

To help guide you in delivering an excellent response there’s an incredibly helpful framework you can use…

The STARR Technique For Medicine Interviews

The STARR technique gives you a way of easily answering the toughest kind of interview question:

Behavioural interview questions.

In general, behavioural interview questions will fit into our ‘personal insights & qualities’ category from my article ‘Medicine Interview Questions‘.

Beware though, they can come at you from anywhere.

They’re easy to spot as they often have tell-tale openings such as:

  • “Provide an example of when you…”
  • “Tell me about a time where you…”
  • “When was the last time you…”

In this type of question the interviewer is looking for a specific example that you demonstrated a certain behaviour or quality. 

This can easily throw candidates into an awkward two-minute silence or see them start rambling on about the first thing that came to mind.

With this technique in your bag of tricks you’ll be able to launch straight into a killer answer.

STARR stands for:

SITUATIONSuccinctly set the scene of the situation you were in. Give only the necessary details of your example to avoid fluff.
TASKDescribe what your personal responsibility was in the scenario. What were the goals you had to reach?
ACTIONWhat was the exact step-by-step process you went through to meet your objectives?
RESULTShare what your actions achieved! Don’t be modest here when it comes to the results of your hard work.
REFLECTIONHere’s where you earn the real brownie points. What went well? What could you do better? What did you learn?

STARR Technique Example

Please could you provide an example of a time you demonstrated compassion

Situation: I was working at the care home I have been volunteering at for the last six months. One of the residents was becoming increasingly distressed.

Task: I was asked by one of the carers to see if I could calm him down. This resident suffers from Alzheimer’s disease so can become easily upset.

Action: I sat with the gentleman for the hour the other residents were watching a film. We talked about his role in World War II and his past jobs.

Result: Through gentle conversation and taking him to a more secluded area of the home, this man settled down and enjoyed my company for the hour. 

Reflection: Noisy environments with lots of people can be confusing and distressing to those with Alzheimer’s disease. By recognising this I was able to show compassion by removing him from that environment and providing an alternative he much preferred- reminiscing with myself.

Using Vocalisation In Your Medical School Interview

Lots of questions you could be asked in a medical school interview won’t have just one correct answer.

This could be a medical ethics question:

“Should junior doctors be allowed to go on strike?”

This could be a professional judgement question:

“How would you deal with a colleague turning up drunk to work?”

It undoubtedly applies to motivation for medicine questions…

There’s no one correct answer for why you want to be a doctor!

What all these questions need you to do is vocalise your thought process. 

This might mean considering both sides of the argument to a medical ethics question.

Even if you were so convinced that one side is entirely correct and the other is so wrong you don’t even want to think about it… You need to voice both.

Another example of vocalisation would be using the STARR technique to answer a question as opposed to just giving a plain example with no reasoning or reflection.

You can imagine how hard it would be for interviewers to score a candidate well if they only give incredibly abrupt and one-sided responses…

Interviewer: “Should junior doctors be allowed to go on strike?” 
Candidate: “yes.”

Always vocalise your thought process and demonstrate to the interviewer how and why you reached your conclusion.

Demonstrating that you can appreciate both sides of the argument and thus reach a well-reasoned conclusion is going to put you in the top tier of applicants.

How You Say Your Interview Answer

How you answer a medicine interview question is arguably just as important as what you say.

How you answer a question is all about your tone of voice, your body language and how you’re acting.

Now how you act for the interview really can be just that: acting.

Your aim is to project a clever, confident, charismatic image of yourself across to the interviewers. 

A young lady in the middle of answering an interview question

Even if you’re feeling zero out of three of those things on the day of your interview, you still need to try.

That’s because:

  1. I know that everyone has those qualities to at least some extent so I want you to show them on interview day
  2. Please note tried and trusted technique: fake it till you make it!

Some other things you can do to improve how you come across in the interview are:

  • Sit up in a smart, confident manner
  • Avoid nervously fidgeting when answering a question
  • Maintain good eye contact throughout the interview

And if you can manage… Smile! You’ll soon have that offer in the bag.

Counter intuitively, even just by projecting this image of a super confident successful medicine applicant through your body language, you’ll actually improve your interview performance!

Don’t believe me? Here’s the science to prove it!

Articulate Well To Get Your Offer

Now I don’t mean you have to come across as if you’ve just stepped out of The Crown TV series.

What I mean is you can polish up your answers by implementing these four top tips:

1. Be Clear

Now this point is especially poignant with e-interviews. I know for one my laptop microphone is not top-of-the-range.

Aim to pronounciate all your answers clearly and at a good volume to avoid inaudible mumblings.

It could be the greatest answer in the world, but if they can’t hear it, they’re not going to mark it.

If there’s multiple people sitting on the interview panel there may be some distance between you and a couple of your interviewers.

I’d aim to project at slightly above your normal speaking volume so everyone can easily hear you (just remember to pause after each answer to allow time for the applause to die down…).

2. Be Decisive

One way to not leave a great impression is if every one of your answers tail off into obscurity before you finally finish talking. 

If you can finish your answer with a decisive final sentence each time you’ll come across as an extremely well organised, intelligent, candidate.

Even if you just start a final sentence with “To conclude…” this will signal to the interviewer you’re about to sum up.

You might be surprised with how big an improvement this can make in how your answers are evaluated.

3. Use Professional Language

In order to portray a professional image, you should avoid swearing in your interview.

(Save it for after you get out the interview room…)

This extends to slang and other shortenings too- try to remain formal. 

It’s easy to slip into using common slang that we all use day-to-day. For example, calling a friend your ‘mate.’

Although a small part of your interview technique, if possible I’d try and only use more formal language.

4.Try To Avoid Filler Words

Try to avoid filler words such as “um” and “er”. Don’t worry, we all use them when we feel stressed and are under pressure.

But all the more you can avoid excessive use, the better.

A handy way to practice is to film yourself answering a question and tally up the filler words you use.

When I first started filming for YouTube, I had edit out a horrendous amount of “ums” and “ers” from my videos!

What To Wear For A Medicine Interview

You may not have thought about it in this way before, but what you wear is in fact an integral part of ‘how you say it.’

You could have two identical answers given to an interviewer, one from an applicant who totally looks the part and one from an applicant who’s just rolled out of bed.

You can bet your bottom dollar they’ll score the candidate who looks the part far higher- it’s simply human nature.

A smartly dressed young man

So now we’ve established appearances are important, let’s keep this short and sweet:

If you really want to make it as easy as possible for your interviewer to imagine you as a doctor, you’ve got to be everything you imagine a doctor to look like:

  • Smartly dressed, appropriate to the occasion
  • Well-groomed with attention to facial hair (for guys)
  • Have an overall professional appearance, suitable for work

If you came here looking for detailed fashion advice, sadly you’re in the wrong place.

(For that you need my sister blog: Dr Ollie Wears Prada.)

Final Thoughts

Congratulations, you made it! You should now have a solid understanding of how to answer medical interview questions.

As a quick recap, it’s not just what you say but also how you say it.

You can improve what you say by working hard in your interview preparation, using frameworks such as the STARR technique and vocalising both sides of the argument.

You can improve how you say it by using clear, decisive and professional language, acting confidently, and finally looking the part.

Just by reading this article you’re already one step ahead of the competition. I’ve no doubt that when it comes to interview day you’re going to be fantastic!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.