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"What's Your Biggest Weakness?" Medicine Interview Guide

“What’s Your Biggest Weakness?” Medicine Interview Guide

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.

As a medical school applicant, you’ll very likely face the common interview question, “What’s your biggest weakness?”

This question can seem daunting, but with proper preparation and a thoughtful response, you can turn it into an opportunity to highlight your strengths and dedication to personal growth.

In this article, I’m going to explore the strategies for answering this question effectively, forming a well-structured and thoughtful response that demonstrates your self-awareness and commitment to self-improvement.

Key Takeaways

  • This question allows you to demonstrate self-awareness and a commitment to personal growth
  • Consider weaknesses that are genuine but not detrimental to your medical school candidacy
  • Be prepared to discuss the steps taken or planned to address and improve upon your weaknesses

How To Answer The Question In Brief

Medical schools are looking for candidates who are not only academically skilled but also possess the personal qualities needed to succeed in the demanding field of medicine.

By asking about your biggest weakness, they are trying to gauge your self-awareness and your ability to acknowledge and work on areas that need improvement.

Emphasising a sincere weakness and showcasing your ongoing efforts to overcome it can speak to your resilience and ultimately make you a more attractive candidate.

In order to succeed in answering this question, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of your weaknesses and how they pertain to a medical school environment.

Reflect on your experiences, identify weaknesses that are genuine but not detrimental to your candidacy, and be prepared to articulate the steps you have taken or plan to take in order to address and improve upon them.

With this strategy in place, you’ll almost certainly be marked well by your interviewers.

Why Medical Schools Ask This Question

Medical schools pose the question “What’s your biggest weakness?” during interviews for several reasons.

Firstly, they want to gauge your ability to reflect on your own shortcomings.

As a prospective medical professional, it is crucial to be aware of your weaknesses and proactively work on them to improve your skills and the care you provide to patients.

Another reason behind this question is to assess your level of self-awareness.

Medical schools value candidates who are open to learning, receptive to feedback, and capable of handling criticism.

A young man sat in a medicine panel interview
An applicant in their medical school interview

By discussing your weakness, you demonstrate your willingness to grow personally and professionally.

Lastly, interviewers want to determine how well you can handle challenging situations, which are common in the medical field.

Your response to this question is an opportunity to display your problem-solving and resilience skills, which will be fundamental in managing the rigorous demands and stresses of a medical career.

Identifying Your Weaknesses

The first step to answering the question is to identify one or more suitable weaknesses you’re going to talk about in your answer… which can often turn out to be harder than you might expect.

Understanding Personal Weaknesses

Start by reflecting on your experiences in academics, extracurricular activities, and general social interactions.

Consider the areas where you have struggled or felt less confident.

Remember, it’s alright to admit imperfections; identifying them demonstrates self-awareness and enables growth. Some examples of personal weaknesses include:

  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Struggling with time management

Understanding Professional Weaknesses

Beyond personal weaknesses, it’s essential to review professional weaknesses relevant to a medical career.

These might include abilities required for teamwork, effective communication, clinical skills, or leadership roles.

Being aware of these areas will help you address them and improve as a medical professional. Here are a few examples of professional weaknesses:

  • Fear of public speaking
  • Difficulty delegating tasks
  • Struggling with receiving constructive criticism

Tips For Selecting A Weakness

It’s crucial to select an appropriate weakness ahead of time to discuss at your interview if the topic is brought up.

Look for weaknesses that are honest, relevant to the medical field, and show potential for growth. Here are a few guidelines to help you make the right choice:

  1. Choose a genuine weakness: Pick a weakness that is authentic and not overly clichéd, such as perfectionism. Be honest about an area where you face challenges and avoid going for a disguised strength.
  2. Avoid crucial skills: While selecting your weakness, ensure it isn’t a core skill required for the medical profession. For example, do not mention that you have poor communication skills or struggle with empathy, as these are essential for a successful medical career.
  3. Pick a manageable weakness: Your chosen weakness should be something that can be improved upon with time and effort. This demonstrates your willingness to learn, grow, and better yourself in your profession.
  4. Have examples: Offer specific examples of how your weakness has impacted your past experiences and what steps you have taken to address it. This will show that you are proactive in identifying and addressing your weaknesses.

How To Structure Your Answer

Although there’s no mandate saying you have to stick to this structure, I personally found it helpful to work through these four steps when preparing an answer to this interview question.

Medicine Interview Biggest Weakness Pixel Infographic

1. Clearly State Your Weakness

I’d recommend beginning your answer by mentioning your weakness in a clear and concise manner.

You might say something like, “One area where I’ve faced challenges is in time management” or “A weakness that I recognise in myself is occasional difficulty in prioritising tasks.”

This makes it immediately clear to the interviewer what you’re talking about and avoids the risk of beating around the bush for too long out of nervousness on the day.

2. Why Is It A Weakness?

Explain why this particular weakness has been an issue for you.

For instance, you could mention that time management has affected your ability to meet deadlines or efficiently complete tasks.

Make sure you also address how this weakness might relate to your medical education, as well as your future career as a doctor.

An example here to show how it impacts you in day-to-day life can be really valuable here.

3. What Are You Doing To Improve It?

Next, discuss the steps you’re taking to overcome your weakness.

Talk about specific actions or strategies you’ve implemented to strengthen this area.

For example, you might have started using a planner or calendar to schedule your tasks or attended an online workshop on time management.

Or, if your weakness is communication, explain how you have joined public speaking clubs or engaged in peer review sessions to enhance your communication skills.

Ideally, you’ll want to incorporate both ongoing methods and future plans to demonstrate your commitment to continuous growth and self-awareness.

What have you done so far to address your weakness and what are your plans going forward?

4. What Have You Learnt From This Challenge So Far?

Finally, reflect on the insights you have gained through addressing your weakness.

Highlight how the process has made you a better student, professional, or overall individual.

Be honest about your progress, but also express optimism and confidence in your ability to continue growing and improving in this area.

You in no way have to round off your answer by showcasing that you’ve fully dealt with your weakness and that it’s now a great strength of yours.

But, your interviewers will be interested to hear what you’ve taken away from this small cycle of self-improvement.

Example Answers To “What Is Your Biggest Weakness?”

Here are a couple of example answers to “What is your biggest weakness?”

I’ve included them more to demonstrate what I’ve been talking about so far, rather than for you to go away and learn the ‘good’ response word for word.

Bad Response

“I think my biggest weakness is that I’m too dedicated to my studies. I often find myself studying late into the night because I’m so determined to excel in every aspect of my coursework. Sometimes I worry that this could lead to burnout, but I know that my strong work ethic will ultimately help me succeed in medical school and beyond.”

Remember, it’s important to be genuine when discussing your weaknesses and ensure your answer is relevant to the context of medical school.

Avoid providing an answer that is insincere or doesn’t demonstrate any self-awareness. Additionally, avoid using a strength disguised as a weakness.

You might be interested to read about some other things you shouldn’t say in a medicine interview here.

Good Response

“I believe that one of my biggest weaknesses is my tendency to be overly self-critical. While this trait drives me to constantly strive for excellence and work hard, it can also lead to unnecessary stress and self-doubt. I’ve realised that I can sometimes become so focused on my desire to do my best that I may overlook the progress I’ve made and the positive impact I’ve had.

To address this weakness, I’ve been working on developing a healthier perspective on self-assessment. I’ve learned to recognise and appreciate small victories and milestones along the way, which has helped me maintain a more balanced and positive mindset. I also actively seek feedback from peers and mentors to gain a more objective view of my performance. I believe that embracing a growth mindset and learning from both successes and setbacks will not only benefit my own well-being but also contribute to my ability to continuously improve as a university student.”

This response demonstrates self-awareness, a commitment to personal growth, and the ability to relate the weakness to the demands of studying medicine.

Tips To Stand Out As An Excellent Candidate

Following the four steps outlined above, you should be able to develop a pretty solid answer to this common interview question.

However, keep these tips in mind to help you stand out as a truly excellent candidate:

  1. Demonstrate Humility: Approach the question with humility and sincerity. Avoid clichés or overly rehearsed answers. Instead, be genuine and honest about your weaknesses.
  2. Highlight Growth and Improvement: Emphasise the steps you’ve taken or are taking to address your weakness. Discuss specific actions, strategies, or experiences that showcase your commitment to personal and professional development.
  3. Connect to Patient Care: Tie your weakness to patient care and the qualities that make a successful medical professional. Explain how working on this weakness will ultimately benefit the patients you’ll be serving.
  4. Provide Examples: Use specific anecdotes or examples from your experiences to illustrate your weakness and the progress you’ve made. Real-life situations help make your response more genuine and relatable.
  5. Keep it professional: You should ensure that the weakness you discuss relates to your prospective career in medicine. Focus on areas like communication skills, teamwork, or time management, rather than personal or unrelated weaknesses.
  6. Demonstrate resilience: Show the interviewer that, despite your weakness, you have the ability to adapt and overcome challenges. Describe specific examples where you’ve successfully tackled your weakness and how it has made you a stronger candidate for medical school.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

When answering the question “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?”, it’s crucial to avoid several common mistakes.

Not Being Able To Think Of A Weakness

Your first job is to reflect on your weaknesses before the interview. Don’t leave it till the day!

If you’re unable to provide an answer, it might appear as if you lack self-awareness or haven’t put in the necessary preparation to reflect on your areas for improvement.

Take the time to consider your past experiences and identify a legitimate weakness you can discuss.

Trying To Turn A Weakness Into A Strength

While it’s essential to present yourself positively, avoid the temptation to turn a weakness into a strength, such as saying, “I work too hard.”

Instead, honestly discuss a genuine weakness and focus on how you’ve been taking steps to improve it.

This approach will illustrate your commitment to personal growth while maintaining authenticity.

Describing A Weakness Incompatible With Working In Medicine

Steer clear of admitting to a weakness that would be a significant obstacle to working effectively as a doctor.

A career in medicine requires qualities such as empathy, attention to detail, and effective communication.

Ensure the weakness you discuss doesn’t directly oppose these essential traits, but instead, focus on an area you’re genuinely working on to improve.

Giving Too Generic An Answer

Finally, avoid providing a generic, cliché answer such as being a perfectionist without any real detail.

While it’s important to be concise, your response should demonstrate thoughtfulness and introspection.

Personalise your answer, ensuring it’s specific and relevant to your experiences. This exactly what you also want to do if asked “Tell me about yourself.”

I’m not saying you can’t give an excellent answer centring on the theme of being a perfectionist, it’s just you need to include genuine personal detail to do that.

This will create a more meaningful and memorable response for the interviewer while showcasing your unique character.

Final Thoughts

To ace this question, remember to be honest, confident, and clear in your response.

Choose a genuine weakness that does not undermine your capabilities as a medical professional.

Explain the steps you are taking to address that weakness and reinforce how overcoming it will positively contribute to your medical career.

By doing all of the above, when asked “What is your biggest weakness?” At a medical school interview, you’ll be able to showcase your dedication and commitment to becoming the best doctor you can be.

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.