There are two main types of medical and dental school interviews, panel interviews and mini-multiple interviews (MMIs). Even with these differences, much of the content of the interviews will stay the same, with your motivations and reflections being paramount.
Here we list many of the types of interview questions and take you through some model answers.
For details on how to prepare, read our medical and dental school interview preparation guide, or drill down with our MMI article.
For a one-stop-shop, get our interview course. It gives you everything you need to know, including a detailed interview guide, insider interview techniques and model answer frameworks.
This list is by no means exhaustive:
Interviewers want candidates who can reflect on their experiences, explain what they’ve learned, and show that they have an insight into the medical profession.
Q: ‘What will you do if you aren’t accepted to study medicine?’
This question is often asked not only to assess your motivation to study medicine, but also to see that you have planned for contingencies and are prepared for failure.
‘Of course, I would be devastated if I didn’t get into medical school this year. I’ve put a lot of work into my application and so not seeing the results of that would be a shame, but I am well aware that this would not be the end of my journey.
I would learn from my mistakes and make suitable changes in the intervening year, so that I could create a much-improved application and better my chances.
I would contact the medical schools I was rejected from and ask for feedback and use these notes to focus on my preparation over the next year.
For example, if I were told that I didn’t have enough work experience, I would concentrate on organising a variety of hospital and GP placements. I would consider getting a job in a medical setting - for example as a Clinical Support Worker or porter - and use this chance to improve some of the skills I know to be crucial for medics, such as empathy and communication.
Personally, I find that being organised and staying on the ball is a great way for me to keep my goal in sight and remain motivated. As a result, I would want to carefully plan and manage my year by setting goals and targets and organising work experience opportunities to develop my insight into medicine and remind me what I’m working towards.
It goes without saying that in a situation like this it would be worth considering whether a different route into medicine - like graduate entry - might be more suitable, but ultimately I do think that I have what it takes to get into an undergraduate course. With suitable reflection and hard work I hope that I would be able to make this a reality.’
Read about Samar getting into dental school on her second attempt by massively improving her application (medicine and dentistry applications are very similar).
Q1a: ‘What is your best quality?’
Talking about your qualities is inevitable. Personal insight questions test your self-awareness and ability to reflect.
When discussing your best quality, link it back to medicine and show your insight by explaining how this will make you a better doctor.
‘I would say that my best quality is probably my empathy.
Through my time volunteering in a local care home I’ve learned not only the importance of this attribute, but that I am generally quite good at using it.
I remember a particular example when one of the residents was very distressed. She was quite confused and I think that to her she was in her room in her house, with all the other residents and nurses clattering through her private space and terrorising her children. I couldn’t see what she was seeing but I could empathise with her feelings of fear, anger and vulnerability so I sat down at eye level and chatted while I held her hand.
This had a huge effect on her state of mind, and I remember coming back later in the day and receiving a huge thank you. I learned how basic empathy can have a huge impact on people’s quality of life when they are under pressure or in a stressful situation.
This insight is essential to all aspects of medicine. Being an empathetic doctor will allow me to comfort and support my patients, building bonds that allow us to work effectively towards management or treatment.’
Q1b: ‘What is your worst quality?’
Don’t use the cliche of being a perfectionist, and don’t say you don’t have any bad qualities!
‘I believe that my worst quality is probably that I struggle to take criticism.
I remember when I wrote an article for the school blog - I was really proud of what I’d come up with but the editor came back with some harsh criticism that I took quite personally.
However, I learned to get past this by seeing it as a blessing rather than a curse - it allowed me to work on and improve areas of the article that I hadn’t noticed before and overall it resulted in a slicker final product.
I’ve tried to work on this quality recently by asking all my friends to describe to me what they think my main strength and greatest weakness are. I tried not to become offended but instead to treat this as an opportunity to improve as a friend.
I can now honestly say that I have stronger and more open relationships with many of these people as a result, and I’ve definitely learnt the value of constructive criticism in helping me to improve and identify weaknesses I might not be able to see alone. I hope to continue working on this in future.’
Q2: ‘What qualities do you have that will make you a good doctor?’
This question tests your self-awareness and insight into medicine. A good response will list some qualities you think you have, give evidence for some or all of them, and then explain why you think having these will make you a better doctor.
You could refer to the Medical Schools Council document on the core qualities of a medical student to get some ideas, as these are very similar to the qualities of a good doctor.
‘I think that one quality I have that will make me a better doctor is my communication skills.
I think that I demonstrated these when I took on a volunteering role at a local Covid-19 vaccine clinic. My job involved greeting people as they arrived, explaining how the process would work, answering any questions and directing them around the facility.
I became far more confident at communicating with members of the public and I now feel very at home having conversations with a huge variety of people that I’ve never met before. I also had to speak with many people who struggled with communication, perhaps because they were elderly, deaf, or suffered from a disease like dementia. I became better at using simpler language or speaking more loudly or slowly when required, and using verbal and written cues when necessary. It also prompted me to start learning British Sign Language.
I think that my communication skills will come in very handy in a medical setting, where I will have to talk not only with patients and their families but with other medical professionals as a part of the MDT. Having good communication skills will help me build a rapport with my patients, take better histories and relay information more effectively to my colleagues. It is also closely interlinked with empathy, another key skill for medics.’
Q1: ‘Can you tell me about any recent medical advancements that were of interest to you?’
Here, you’re trying to show your interviewers that you keep up-to-date with medical literature and news.
‘I remember an article I read recently in a medical journal about the discovery of a new salivary gland.
This interested me because it illustrated how much we just don’t know about the human body. If we’re still finding entirely new organs, there must be so much left to identify about the more complex aspects of physiology and pathophysiology!
This inspired me, as one of the things I find most exciting about a career in medicine is the seemingly endless series of opportunities for exciting research and new learning, which can then be integrated into clinical practice for the benefit of patients.
On that note, one of the things that the article discussed was how this discovery could impact patients. I didn’t think that the discovery of a salivary gland would have a massive impact on real people but the article mentioned that in radiotherapy for head and neck cancers, doctors try to avoid exposing the salivary glands to radiation. This can damage them and limit their function, meaning that the patients must endure a permanent, horribly dry mouth and throat.
I actually met a gentleman suffering from this sort of damage during my work experience and was struck by how drastically this diminished his quality of life.
The area where we now know this gland to be had previously been exposed to radiation, but now we’re aware of the new organ we can avoid irradiating that patch and hopefully keep the gland safe from harm.
I learned how some seemingly very academic discovery can have a huge effect on real people, which ultimately sums up one of the things that most excites me about medical research.’
Q2: ‘Have you thought at all about what you would like to specialise in within medicine?’
This can be a tricky question for some people, but even if you have a firm answer in mind, you might still be caught out by follow-up questions, so remember to try to anticipate and prepare for these, as well.
Remember, too, that however much work experience you have, you can’t possibly have as much insight into each individual specialty as you’ll gain during medical school.
‘This is something I’ve thought about, but what I’ve come to realise is that at the moment I don’t have enough experience to make a final decision.
Every time I read a new book or go to some work experience in a new speciality I find myself captivated and determined to specialise in that when I graduate.
I don’t want to commit to going into a certain speciality now, then further down the line find myself interested in something entirely different but too afraid to change because I feel like I’m letting myself down.
I’m really looking forward to learning much more about a variety of specialties in medical school and starting to hone my interests.
Of course, I do have some particular medical specialties which I find engaging. I was really fascinated by the huge variety of cases seen by doctors in A&E and the ICU, and I like how this entailed the need to make decisions quickly and apply a range of skills to diagnose and treat a large number of conditions.
I was also surprised to find myself engrossed in my placement in elderly care. Many of the patients have multiple comorbidities and polypharmacy leading to complex care needs. Again, doctors have to be able to deal with a range of diseases, which are often made all the more complex by the age and frailty of the patients.’
Q1: ‘How would you define empathy?’
Empathy is integral to medicine, but it can be tricky to define, so this is a question that a lot of students struggle with. In your answer, try to differentiate empathy from sympathy and consider explaining why it is important for a doctor.
‘Empathy involves an understanding of someone else’s feelings and experiences and putting yourself in their shoes to gain a better understanding of why they might feel that way.
It is similar to sympathy, but while sympathy involves pity and sorrow, empathy is far more useful and involves active understanding. With empathy, you see the situation from the other person’s perspective, whereas with sympathy you simply express sorrow from your own point of view.
Empathy is best coupled with good communication skills to express these feelings to other people. It is particularly important in medicine as patients and their families are often going through very challenging times when seeking and receiving medical attention. Empathetic staff will make them feel understood, supported and well looked after.
Empathy also helps build trust and is integral in forming strong relationships between doctors and their patients. In turn, this means that patients are more likely to engage on a deeper level with their healthcare and make sure it is suited to them.
This leads to better outcomes and a happier experience all round. It also encourages clearer and more complete communication, as doctors are more likely to be able to explain how a procedure might feel, the effects it will have on the patient and the risks of not proceeding.'
Q2: ‘Can you tell me about a time that you demonstrated empathy?
This is a classic question. Here the interviewer is testing your understanding of what it means to be empathetic and how it should be shown. They are looking for reflective answers in which the student demonstrates a suitable use of empathy and explains the impact it had on the situation.
‘I believe that I demonstrated empathy during my time volunteering in a trauma orthopaedic ward.
The ward was mainly filled with quite elderly patients who often felt lonely and scared, especially during the pandemic when they weren’t allowed to receive visitors.
On one of my shifts, I talked to an old lady who was incredibly worried about her cat. I noticed that she had a photo of him on her bedside table, and as I sat and talked with her I learned that he was the only companion she ever had around the house. Now she was in hospital, she was worried about who was going to feed and look after him.
I really empathised with her story - she seemed very lonely, and I could understand how having a cat as a companion could help in a situation like this.
I went and spoke to the nurses and asked if they could make sure that someone was going round to her house to look after her cat, which they then did.
I learned that empathy is not only important for building a relationship with patients, but can also be crucial in identifying what matters most to a patient.
The fact that I could empathise with this patient allowed me to appreciate how she was feeling, and as such I could start to understand just how important this cat was to her when to someone else it might be no more than a household pet.
This allowed me to take steps to keep her cat safe, which I hope will have put her mind at ease and thereby helped her focus on rest and recovery.’
This is only a whistle-stop tour through a few common questions, but it should help you approach your preparation for interview and is definitely enough to get you started. To make sure you’re fully prepared, buy our interview course, which includes:
Succeed in your Medical School interview
Membership will expire on 31 Mar 2024