Critical thinking nursing interview questions feature prominently in any interview. They aren’t supposed to trip you up, but they will do just that if you aren’t ready.
This article will show you how to take that opportunity and maximally utilize it to your advantage. We will go through what exactly a critical thinking question is, why they are being asked, and what types of responses you can give. Finally, we will cover several sample answers so that you can prepare your own answers for your upcoming interview.
While critical thinking questions may relate to aspects of healthcare and nursing, including patient care, working as part of a team, and response to emergencies, they may also deal with dilemmas that have nothing to do with healthcare. For example, you may be faced with a conflict of interest scenario, or an ethical dilemma with a close friend.
Essentially, you’re being tested on your decision-making processes and how you solve problems, whether they are healthcare related or not. Your interviewer is trying to find out if you think logically, quickly, and in ways that provide good solutions in real-world scenarios.
Critical thinking is important to any job, but is of particular importance to nursing. Any healthcare professional deals with immense challenges on a daily basis. These challenges come up with little warning and require clearheaded responses.
Because the question is looking for your decision-making processes, you need to make sure that your responses put those processes in the limelight. Therefore, your answers should focus on the steps of how you made your decision and the why behind those steps: in other words, how you arrived at that response. You should show off how you evaluate situations and respond, but also how you concluded that your response was the most logical course of action.
Even if the question you are asked is hypothetical or situational, as we like to call it, you can definitely use your personal experiences to answer. Make sure to demonstrate non-judgmental attitude and objectivity when making your decision.
Let’s look at a sample critical thinking question and an expert response.
Prompt: Describe the most stressful event of your life. Why was it stressful, and how did you handle the situation?
This basic structure will allow you to stay focused on your response, remember all the important details, and leave out anything extraneous that you don’t need. In the above examples, for instance, there was no mention of the type of cancer or the days on which doctors’ visits took place – there was no need for those details.
Keep your answers shorter by avoiding unnecessary detail, keep them accurate by adhering to the basic structure above, and highlight your actions, thought processes, and the outcomes.
Nurses often have to deal with hostile patients. Can you recall a time you had to deal with hostility? What did you do and what were the results?
I was working in a supporting role at a psychiatric institution, and one of the patients was a very angry person. He had a very quick temper and would often be physically violent, in addition to uncooperative or verbally abusive. The nurses said that giving meds felt like playing Russian roulette.
So, I would always make sure that I was around for that patient’s med time, ready to call security if he became violent.
He didn’t like taking his pills, either. One day, I was speaking with him and I discovered that his anger over medication was coming from a lack of understanding; he didn’t fully know what the pills did. So, I talked to his nurse about it, and she went over the reasons for his particular drugs and their side-effects. I also let his physician know about his concerns so that the doctor could have a conversation about it at her next visit in.
Once those issues had been dealt with, medication was much easier to distribute. It didn’t solve all the problems, but it helped make his days a lot smoother.
What is the most difficult decision that you were forced to deal with at work?
I was being asked to lie.
The attending physician had made a mistake, and the medications on the patient had been ridiculously off and nobody had caught it. Ultimately, this was going to mean severe consequences for the doctor, and possible repercussions for other people in the healthcare team, including me; I was just working as a PSW, but I was still part of the team.
And, as sick as this is, I was sitting in a room with the doctor in question and my manager and they never outright said I should lie, but they were strongly hinting at it – that if I would just bend the truth a bit, nobody would have anything bad happen to them.
The worst of it was that this physician was a really good doctor and I agreed that one error shouldn’t hurt their whole career.
I was part of this team, so I wouldn’t be immune to the consequences of truth.
I am proud to say that I did not lie. When it came time to file my report and make statements to the committee investigating the incident, I kept precisely to the truth. I made sure to bring up what I said earlier about the doctor in question being a good physician.
Need some help with interview prep? Check this out:
Tell us about a time when you were required to act with only partial or incomplete information.
There was a time when I had volunteered to coordinate an event at my school. It was a performance arts festival and I had to help the student performance groups figure out where they were going to set up, perform, and how to accommodate their needs. The idea was to create a kind of street performance festival on school grounds.
Given that they were all students, I almost never knew what anybody was doing because very few people were sending me full information. Information sheets were half-filled in or they’d change what they wanted to do – it was a nightmare.
Fortunately, I was pretty organized. I already had created a list of available locations on school grounds, including things like access to electricity (in case the groups needed amplification or lighting), ceiling height, nearby lights, whether it was indoors or outdoors, and other criteria.
The few groups that I knew 100% what they wanted I put in permanent positions so I had these anchor points where I knew what was going on. For the rest, on set up day, I directed them to where I thought they would best go, one at a time.
Most of it fell into place without a hiccough. Any time I’d put some group in a place that was ill-suited to their needs, they’d go, “Hey, what about power? We need to plug in!” and I’d just say something like, “We have extension cords, and we'll get you one in a sec!”
Half of my battle was staying as organized as possible, the rest was a combination of guesswork, confidence, and adapting as new problems arose.
We often have to face situations where we do not feel confident or where we must question our abilities. Please tell us of a situation where your self-confidence and sense of assurance were challenged.
My first day bartending at a trendy club did not go as I hoped or thought it would. I know this sounds silly, but I was looking forward to it. I loved clubs and dancing, and getting to work in a fun environment was something I was going to enjoy.
But I got confused really fast. The atmosphere that seemed fun when I was dancing turned out to be loud and chaotic while trying to work. Do you think I could remember how one cocktail was made? I was slow, I kept giving incorrect change, and guess how many tips I was making?
I felt like I was going to break down, but I just took my break early. I did some breathing exercises I learned in martial arts classes. I basically just meditated and felt a lot calmer. I could come at this without a sense of failure. I took things slower and didn’t let frustration rule me. And I made sure to ask for as much help as I could. I took my ego and expectations out of it, and I did much better for the rest of the day. Not perfect, mind you, but better.
Describe a time when you had to choose one priority at the expense of another.
I had a final exam I needed to study for, but rent was very much due the same day. I’d already asked for (and received) an extension from my landlord. If I missed more shifts at work, I’d have trouble making rent. If I didn’t study, I’d have trouble with my final exam. Something had to give, but I couldn’t live without either. I definitely didn’t want to get deep into debt with some payday loan scam, and it’s not like I could just ask for the final to move for me.
The answer wasn’t easy, but I knew that my apartment was only temporary – a place I was in while I was at school – but my final exam was my future. I told my landlord I had to move out and that my owed rent would have to come out of my first month/last month deposit. He was very understanding and let me stay there while I found a cheaper place. I wound up in my car for a week or two, had to couch-surf with friends.
But I aced my final exam.
Priorities are hard sometimes, but I made the decision for my future, and I think I was very much right.
Prepping for your nursing interview?
Critical thinking questions can be daunting and difficult, but they can also show some of your best talents and establish your abilities in a very concrete way. These aren’t abstract. These are demonstrations of actual actions taken. Use these questions to show off your impressive side with a committee.
1. What’s the difference between a critical thinking question and other types of interview questions?
The focus is the main difference, and with a critical thinking question, that focus is on how you use problem-solving and decision-making in different scenarios. They are to get a sense of how you deal with challenges and obstacles on a day-to-day basis.
2. How long should my answers be?
Fairly compact; you should answer in less than a minute.
Use just enough language to set up the problem you faced, your thought processes on how to deal with those problems, the actions you took, and the outcomes that those actions produced. This can be done in a fairly swift amount of time.
That doesn’t mean you should skimp on detail. While the interviewers don’t need every small thing that happened, they shouldn’t be confused or feel like they’re missing anything. Remember to showcase your abilities – don't brush past them: highlight!
3. Should I memorize my answers?
The most important reason is that you will wind up sounding robotic and insincere.
Additionally, the critical thinking questions might be slight variants, so a memorized answer could (or will) end up not quite fitting the question.
Better to memorize scenarios than words so that you can apply those examples to any question that comes up.
4. Can I use failure in my example?
You can, and sometimes are directly asked to provide an example of failure.
If an interviewer asks you to describe a time you failed at implementing critical thinking, of course you must supply them with something, and should prepare for such questions in their own right.
Remember that they are looking for your decision-making processes and skills, so the outcome might have been bad, but if your processes were excellent, the interviewer will make note of that. Sometimes even good decisions lead to negative outcomes – sometimes that’s inevitable.
If you failed to apply good critical thinking in a situation, you can highlight what you learned from the experience and how it has improved subsequent actions and decision-making processes.
Failure is only truly failure if no lessons were learned.
5. What if I’m asked for a time when something happened and I can’t think of anything?
You can take a short pause to think, and give yourself enough time to recall an appropriate event or incident. It’s important to research the different types of nursing school interview questions and prepare a relevant story for a variety of scenarios.
6. What if I’ve never dealt with a particular situation that I’m asked about?
While it is unlikely that you will be asked about something that you can’t relate to at all (most of the questions are broad enough to allow some sort of connection) it might happen that you just haven’t had a given experience yet.
You can’t just say, “That’s never happened to me,” and leave it at that.
However, you might want to acknowledge this by saying, “That exact thing has never happened to me, but I have had a similar experience,” and speak of the closest thing you have to what was asked. Perhaps it wasn’t a work or healthcare setting, but maybe something that happened with family members or friends in a social setting, for instance – that will do.
Get as close as you can to the question, acknowledge the discrepancy, and answer to the best of your ability.
7. Can I use the same story in more than one answer?
8. Besides critical thinking questions, what else can I expect during the interview?
Expect anything, because depending on the interview, almost anything can be covered.
Even the type of interview can change, depending on the school. Some will use a traditional panel-style interview, but others will use the multiple mini-interview (MMI) format. If the latter, you might want to learn more about .
What exactly is in the interview depends on the school and panel, so be ready for anything.