When you’re preparing for your medical school interview, don’t shy away from confronting the hardest medical school interview questions you can be asked. It doesn’t matter whether the interview is with Harvard Medical School, medical schools in Australia, medical schools in Canada, or anywhere else, you need to push yourself to your limits.
“Why this medical school?” is common, and you can probably anticipate others, like questions about your favorite hobbies or the interviewer asking, “Why should we choose you?” The hard questions come in two varieties: the oddball questions you never see coming, and the follow-up questions that you weren’t anticipating at all.
In this article, we provide answer strategies for some of the hardest questions you’ll encounter in a medical school interview as well as follow-up question examples to help you turn your most challenging moments in an interview into your biggest triumphs.
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The Importance of Having an Answer Strategy for the Hardest Medical School Interview Questions
You need to prepare yourself for anything in your medical school interview, but how can you possibly anticipate everything? You can start with lists of common medical school interview questions and interview tips. You can study the interview formats, such as one-on-one, panel, and MMI interviews for medical school. For the best medical school interview preparation, you can engage in mock medical school interviews and benefit from professional expertise to hone your technique. They simulate everything about the interview – right down to the smallest detail. This gives you the ability to answer questions, practice timing, get a feel for the pressure of the interview, and receive top-quality feedback directly applicable to you. This is the best way to prepare.
Want to learn the top 7 interview red flags? Watch this video:
But there is always the possibility of the curveball you didn’t see coming. How can you prepare for something you didn’t anticipate?
An effective answer strategy will get you through anything. The exact question might change, but it will be part of a category of questions asking about yourself, your career, or your school choice. Keep in mind the answer structure you practiced, and you’ll be able to formulate a great answer to any question, all on the spot.
How to Answer Medical School Interview Questions
Identify the question type: personal, ethical, knowledge-based, experiential, or miscellaneous. Your answer will depend on what kind of question is being asked.
The structure of your answer will be different, depending on the question type.
Personal questions, and many experiential questions, benefit from chronologically arranged answers. Your personal stories should be told from the start, moving to the end. If you are asked, “Why this medical school?” for instance, you would start with whatever incident led you to choose this program. Talk about researching the school and any events in your life that drew you to the institution. End by speaking of your aspirations. Experiences, like talking about a time you failed, or “What is your greatest limitation?” should start with the failure in question and end with speaking about how you moved past that hurdle in your life.
Ethical questions involve succinctly introducing the ethical dilemma you want to talk about, showing that you understand both sides of the argument well, and then describing how you would handle the dilemma. The main thing to keep in mind with ethics is that you should cover your bases, making sure to mention every consideration you can. This is especially true in scenario-based ethical questions.
Knowledge-based questions just need you to answer a factual question. If it is “how do you perform CPR?” just list the steps in order. As mentioned, if you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it. You would, with that question, say something like, “I am completing my CPR training in June, and I do not yet know how to perform CPR. However, I do know that if a person is unconscious, I should check for airway obstruction, call 911 or have someone call 911, and ask if anybody nearby does know first aid techniques like CPR.”
Miscellaneous questions should be viewed as pure opportunities. If you’re asked a quirky question like “what is your favorite animal?” feel free to have some fun with it. “I’d like to be an owl. They can fly, I’m a quiet person at home and they’re really quiet. They’re symbols of wisdom, and I am always trying to be conscientious; I love reading philosophy. Plus, I could turn my head all the way around, and that would be a good party trick!” Notice how you can highlight your desirable traits – conscientiousness and a philosophical outlook – while embracing the fun of the question.
Four of the Hardest Medical School Interview Questions
“If you were a kitchen tool, which tool would you be, and why?”
“If you were a fruit or vegetable, which would you be?”
“What color best describes your personality?”
What’s so hard about that?
These are the least-anticipated questions in the interviewer’s deck. The “oddball” questions are strange, come out of left field, and often leave interviewees baffled. They seem unrelated to medicine, and maybe even frivolous. Don’t make the mistake of treating them as if they are silly, however. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your answers with these quirky questions, but you should still use this as an opportunity to showcase some aspect of yourself that makes you the ideal candidate for the school you have selected. Remember, every question ultimately boils down to, “Why are you perfect for this school?” That’s the question the interviewers really need answered.
I’d definitely be a blender. A blender makes me think of teamwork with all the mixing, and that’s me. I love working in teams, sampling the flavors of everybody equally, and I’m very social – I love social mixers. At the same time, I am quite strong-willed. So, I’d be an industrial blender. You don’t need to worry about my blending in because I’ve definitely got you covered. And, as you can see by this answer, I’m probably set to puree, because I’m very smooth.
“Take two minutes to teach me something I didn’t know before. This could be a skill or some knowledge.”
“Can you explain how to do a basic task for me? Walk me through the steps.”
“Teach me one of your skills in one minute.”
What’s so hard about that?
People are not usually prepared to impart skills in an interview. Many people haven’t had the opportunity to teach anything, so this might be a totally alien request.
The trick is to have a skill that you are prepared to walk somebody through. This doesn’t have to be the most original skill. Even though the question says “...something I didn’t know before,” the interviewer won’t care if they know it; the question’s true purpose, after all, isn’t to learn a new skill but rather, to see how you would teach somebody who didn’t know something. The interviewer will be evaluating the following in your response:
- Are you clear?
- Are you organized in your thoughts and approach?
- Do you have patience with a person who is new to this knowledge?
- Are you a good leader, teacher, and team player?
Really be prepared for follow-up questions here, since you are playing the role of an instructor and may need to clarify a step or two – or the interviewer might just want to see how you do at clarifying. Pace yourself. Go quickly enough to get through the material but slowly enough to ensure you are clear and that your “pupil” doesn’t feel rushed.
Now, just pick a skill you have and go for it!
I’m going to show you how to fold the best paper airplane. This airplane will go far and fast, and if we do it right, really accurately as well.
First, you take a regular piece of 8.5 x 11” paper and turn it so that it’s sitting horizontally.
Fold it in half, make a firm crease, and then open it up again.
Next, fold the sides in – like this: bringing the top corners of the paper to the crease line. You should now have a paper where the top is a point. Each fold has made a right-angle triangle. Take the bottom-right and bottom-left corners of the triangles and fold those to the crease as well.
Now you’re going to fold it in half again – right along the crease. Fold the top third of the paper down on each side to make the wings. Always crease firmly. The finishing touch: fold up the tips of your wings. That will keep your plane flying straight. If you want it to turn right or left, just fold one wing – the wing opposite to the direction you want it to turn.
Now you just need to fly!
Want to learn different types of medical school interview questions? Check out this infographic:
“Tell me about an ethical issue in medicine and your opinion on it.”
“What’s something that troubles you about medicine?”
“Medical science and practice are often in the news. Can you tell me about a debate in medicine and where you stand on the issue?”
What’s so hard about that?
This question will intimidate some students who are afraid of taking a strong stance on a medical issue that is contrary to the opinion of the questioner, or perhaps even the medical industry at large. While some opinions might be received poorly – pseudoscience like “vaccines cause autism” is not a dilemma, it’s just wrong – for the most part, you can choose anything, any stance, and be okay. They’re not judging your opinions, but your arguments and understanding of current ethical dilemmas.
The main thing is to demonstrate knowledge of both sides to show that you are understanding, well informed, and empathetic – not just ethical.
Medically assisted dying is a nuanced topic that requires careful thought in the medical community. Should it be banned, only allowed in certain circumstances, or available to anybody for any reason? While there are many variables, I will cover these three views quickly and give my personal views.
The case against euthanasia is given based on the Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm, as well as the moral principle that human life should never be terminated. To a person who is against medically assisted dying, the practice is inherently immoral because it is harmful and ends a life.
Many people feel that euthanasia should only be available if the patient is in great pain or distress, or if their physical condition is otherwise close to death and prolonging life would be unbearable. There is nuance and debate as to exactly what this condition should be. Proponents of this approach believe that when death is inevitable and suffering is great, doing no harm involves assisting the patient to reduce their pain. Additionally, they believe that patients are entitled to die on their own terms, with dignity.
The strongest support position for medically assisted dying involves applying the freedom of the individual to choose their own fate to medicine. If a person wants to die, that is their decision. This position is based on the principles of freedom of the individual in society.
Further complications include the feelings of family members as well as the responsibilities of the medical professionals themselves.
My personal view is that euthanasia should be legal in certain circumstances. I think that a terminal condition, a deteriorating condition, or otherwise unavoidable pain and discomfort should not be forced on patients, and if they wish to end that suffering, that should be their prerogative. I do not think euthanasia should be available to people who are in the middle of depressive episodes or similar conditions which cloud long-term judgment. Finally, while I think the operation should be legal, I do not think a medical professional should be required to perform it because I don’t believe that it is morally correct to force anyone to go against their own moral code.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Do you want to need anything from us?”
“Is there anything you’d like to know?”
What’s so hard about that?
Oftentimes, candidates spend so much time worrying about how to answer the questions that will be asked that they forget to come up with some insightful questions. It’s best to come prepared with a couple of sample questions to ask your interviewer in a med school interview, but make mental notes of questions you’d like to ask if they occur to you during the interview as well.
When asking questions, you’ll want something that’s fairly insightful and that you can’t just have learned from the school’s website or brochures.
Some Possible Questions to Ask
It’s often as hard to ask questions as to answer them, which is why, “Do you have any questions for us?” is one of the weird and intimidating medical school interview questions you will almost certainly be asked.
Formulating questions should show your interest in attending the school, but you’re also always answering the question, “Why do you want to become a doctor?” Even your questions should show eagerness and enthusiasm for your chosen profession and school.
A great question to ask is about the campus culture. What’s it really like? Most schools talk about “friendly” campuses in one way or another, but you might ask for some real insight into how people operate on campus.
You could ask about the medical specializations that you are thinking of. Medical school residency might seem a long way off, but you can ask about the specialties now, particularly as they are taught at the school you are applying to.
A bold question might be to ask, “Is there anything in my application that is making you hesitate right now?” This will give you an opportunity to address any red flags, getting medical school application help right in the room. It will also be perceived as brave and very open because you are potentially exposing yourself to criticism or doubt in an interview. Show that you aren’t afraid of this.
During the course of your interview, it’s possible that some of your follow-up questions might get answered. One of your interviewers might comment on your ideal medical specialty, for instance, or bring up worry spots on your application before you ask. In that case, you might state that some of your questions have been answered already – before asking any that haven’t, of course.
Four of the Hardest Medical School Follow-up Interview Questions
Sometimes, the hardest question doesn’t come as an initial question, but as a follow-up question. When you answer a question that you have practiced, the answer feels complete to you. Therefore, any follow-up questions might be a bit of an ambush. Try to anticipate where questions might come from, and always be prepared to go back over information.
Follow-up Question No.1
“What would the other members of your team say about that incident?”
What’s so hard about that?
This might come after you answer an experiential question, particularly one about a struggle or hardship. The answer might feel awkward if you have embellished your part in a team exercise at all.
Preempt this question by always being 100% honest, but also by having clear knowledge of what happened. Your teammates should say the same thing you did – more or less. However, you can be honest in your answer, too, even if that means telling your interviewer that, while you think your answer is accurate, your team might blame you for hardships.
We all had a really hard time in the lab during those experiments. We were short on sleep and short on tempers. I think that most of us have the clarity of hindsight now to move past it, but it was certainly tense.
My team members would give you the same steps taken to fix the lab project, in the same order, and with the same results.
I don’t know if they took away the same lessons of patience and care that I did, so they might answer differently there.
Follow-up Question No.2
“Can you elaborate on your answer?”
What’s so hard about that?
You just gave a perfectly good answer, which you felt was complete. Why is your interviewer demanding more information? This can throw you off, but don’t panic.
First, you might ask your own question, something like, “Would you like me to clarify the whole answer, or were their specific parts you would like me to speak about?” This can help you focus your answer while also giving you a breather to prepare.
Second, remember that your answers are based on real incidents, experiences, and viewpoints. Very few answers will be exhaustive. Just start from the beginning – or the point that your interviewer wants clarified – and pull out all the stops; give the interviewer every detail.
Well, I’ll open up more about my mentor, Steven, who I told you was the reason I wanted to become a doctor. I spoke to Steven’s helping me with biology as a tutor, which was very generous.
I think it was that empathy that really impressed me. Steve is a physician, so you would not think he’d take the time to tutor some kid in biology, but he was very giving. I know that not all physicians are like that, but it showed me that doctors can emphasize empathy in their practice if they choose to – and this made the profession even more appealing to me. It made me more certain of my choice to become a doctor, rather than a nurse, which I had also been considering.
Follow-up Question No.3
“You mentioned a love of sports. Can you tell us a sports story?”
What’s so hard about that?
First, this question is not really about “sports”; it might concern any element of any question and is just asking for more information about your life. Be prepared to open up and talk more.
You might be tempted to give a quick answer, such as, “Oh, well, I really like playing basketball and soccer,” but remember that that’s not what the interviewers want to know. They’re getting to know your qualities, not just a list of facts.
Absolutely! I love talking about games. I love playing sports, pushing myself, and getting better at the techniques of the games I play. My favorite sport is basketball, and one Christmas break, I spent every spare second trying to work on my three-pointer shot. I was in the freezing cold on the driveway, practicing. I was brilliant at the three-pointer by the time we got back to school. I bragged about it to everybody in earshot.
I then discovered how pride goes before a fall because wouldn’t you know it: in practice, I couldn’t hit one three-pointer. I was terrible. I couldn’t make a single basket. I was red-faced and frustrated until I realized my mistake: I had been on the driveway in winter. I perfected my three-pointer shot wearing gloves. My bare hands had such different friction that my perfect shot was completely broken, and I had to start from scratch. I laugh about it now, but I’ve learned not to boast – a quality my peers may appreciate more than showboating.
Guidance for Follow-up Questions
Did you know you can anticipate your follow-up questions? When formulating answers, you can leave little details in that might prompt a follow-up question.
For example, you might be answering the “Tell me about yourself,” question, which will include a broad overview of your life, interests, and journey to medical school. With a two- or three-minute answer, there’s only so much information you can pack in, but you’d love to talk more about a particular hobby to open up more about qualities in yourself that you think will showcase your abilities well. If you talk briefly about your hobby, particularly if mentioned toward the end of your answer, you might “prompt” a follow-up question that benefits you.
There is no way to anticipate every possible question or follow-up. You can’t be 100% prepared if your goal is to know everything. Your goal needs to be to internalize your story and knowledge base to be flexible and confident.
Remember to practice, particularly with mock interviews, and you should be ready for any sidewinder questions or awkward follow-ups.
1. How long do I have to answer a question?
Most questions can be answered in 2 minutes or less and almost all can be answered in under 3 minutes.
2. Do they really ask quirky questions?
Absolutely. Interviewers use quirky questions to see what you do with a curveball question, as well as to have a little fun in an interview.
3. Should I ever refuse to answer?
You should always answer unless the question is inappropriate. Even if you don’t know the answer, you must at least say you don’t know. You can also show what you do know and your thought processes – how you think is more important in an interview than how much you know.
4. How long is the average interview?
The exact length really varies from school to school.
5. How long should I study for an interview?
About 2 or 3 weeks, if possible. You should set aside some time each day for this practice.
6. Do I memorize my answers?
No, that won’t work. You’ll just sound stiff and awkward. Plus, if you think anticipating every question is hard, imagine anticipating every possible question and memorizing an answer for each – it’s impossible.
7. What do I do before an interview?
It’s best to take part of the day before your interview to plan your route so that you won’t be late – if you are meeting in person – or to check your computer equipment if you are meeting online.
8. What do I wear to an interview?
Business casual is perfect; this dress style is comfortable but makes you look totally professional.
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