Some of the hardest questions you will face in your nursing school admissions interview are nursing school behavioral interview questions. This might seem deceptive since a behavioral question is “just” answering how you behaved in a certain situation, or how you might behave in a given situation. More than that, however, you need to frame your actions in such a way to display your positive traits, show your growth, and stand out from other candidates. Most importantly, you need to show your good judgement in any situation and under any possible circumstances.
Nursing school interview questions come in a variety of types, and you need to prepare for all of them so you can anticipate anything that might be thrown at you. Prepare for anything from “Why do you want to be a nurse,” to “Tell me about yourself.”
In this article, we will start by talking about what a behavioral question assesses, and provide a structure for how to answer it. Most importantly, we will share with you samples of behavioral interview questions and expert responses, so you can see how the response structure is applied.
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What is a Behavioral Interview Question?
Also called scenario questions, these questions most commonly will present you with a hypothetical situation and ask how you would behave in a given situation. The question is, in that regard, always the same: “What would you do next if you were in this situation?” You might receive different frames, or specific nuances that you are asked to address, but the primary concern is how to behave or react to a given scenario or situation.
These scenarios are typically ethical dilemmas, often related to nursing, but they might not be. They could ask you to reaction to a personal situation, or other aspects of healthcare.
How to Answer Nursing School Behavioral Interview Questions
Great answers to interview questions leave the best impression in the minds of the admissions committee. You need to worry a lot less about nursing school acceptance rates if you nail the interview. After having put forward a great nursing school application cover letter and nursing school application resume, a sterling interview will really put your application to the top of the list.
There are several elements to a great answer:
Answering a Behavioral Interview Question in Different Formats
So, that’s the content of your answer, but how should you present it?
In a panel interview, a one-on-one interview, or another type of interview where you are in a continuing conversation with a person or persons representing the school, you can ask your questions and answer theirs directly. In a multiple-mini interview (MMI) you might need to mix up your approach a bit.
For an MMI, it’s possible that the interviewer might not know the question you, the interviewee, have received. To compensate for this possibility, in an MMI, briefly summarize the prompt before answering or continuing with the station. In other words, open your answer by briefly repeating the prompt or scenario you were given.
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers
Scenario: A colleague of yours, a fellow nurse, has become sexually involved with a current patient who initiated or consented to the contact.
Question: What would you do if you found out that one of your colleagues was involved in such acts?
“Thank you for that question. First, I would want to make sure that I am understanding of the emotional feelings of my colleague and the patient. I will refrain from judgment, since I need to gather more information about this situation. While I will certainly take the feelings and well-being of my colleague into account, my main concern is the welfare of the patient, since they are directly under my care. I would start by talking to my colleague about the relationship. I would do this privately so they would not be embarrassed or feel ‘called out’.
If there is, indeed, a sexual relationship, I would advise them that it is unethical to continue a liaison with a patient, regardless of who initiated that contact, and that it goes against hospital policy. I would ask them to refrain from continuing the relationship.
Regulations preclude romantic relationships between patients and nurses one year after discharge, and I would remind my colleague of this rule.
I would then let my colleague know that I will report them if the relationship continues and ask that they refuse the advances of the person.
Finally, I would take steps to ensure that this particular person was no longer assigned to be the nurse for that particular patient.”
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Scenario: You have recently began working in the pediatrics department. You find out that the pediatrician refuses to continue to act as child's physician unless the child’s parents agree to fully vaccinate the child as per her recommendations.
Question: How would you react to the physician’s refusal?
“Thank you for this question. I believe in the importance of vaccinations, particularly with children and in the cases of deadly or harmful diseases, many of which can cause lifelong traumas and health problems for those who suffer from them. And while I sympathize with my colleague, my primary concern is the patient.
Legally, the Hippocratic Oath precludes a doctor from refusing to treat somebody outright, particularly given that the refusal to take a vaccine might be related to a belief or religious conviction that this person holds. Since our country allows freedom of belief, if that were the reason, we as a medical institution cannot withhold treatment.
So, first I would want to know more about the reason the family had for refusing the vaccination. If it were religious, I would encourage the physician to treat them anyway, given my previous statement. If, however, their reasons were due to misinformation or simply not understanding anything about vaccines, I would offer to help speak with the family about vaccinations to encourage them to employ vaccines to immunize their child. I would make sure to provide pamphlets, websites, and other information resources for their benefit and edification.
I would ask the physician to reconsider their position without legal intervention, and encourage them to simply require the family in question to take extra precautions against spread of disease, such as requiring mask usage or hand-washing.”
Question: What would you say when contacting the family?
“First, I would want to find out what their views are on vaccinations and why they don’t want to proceed with vaccinations. Their refusal might be based on a religious conviction or on misinformation or legitimate concern about side-effects.
Depending on what the family said about their refusal, I would speak with them or make recommendations.
If they had a religious conviction, for instance, I would respect their beliefs, and while I might gently encourage them to vaccinate their child, I would want them to know that people of all faiths or no faith are welcome and entitled to medical treatment.
If, however, they were refusing vaccinations due to misinformation, I would provide them with the correct information so that they could make an informed decision about immunizations. The child is the person who will be most affected by the outcome of this scenario, so I would want to make sure that their future wellbeing is taken care of.”
Question: What are your views about childhood vaccination?
“Thank you for this question addressing this important issue.
We have eliminated or greatly reduced the harm, spread, and existence of many dire diseases, such as scarlet fever and whooping cough, through use of vaccines.
Data indicates that, as anti-vaccination ideology becomes more pronounced in our society, some of these dormant diseases become active again and threaten lives and quality of life for people in our society.
The benefits of vaccines are a reduction or elimination of harmful diseases. The detractions include side effects associated with certain vaccines, although these are rarely severe.
I believe that vaccinations are important for our society, and that they should be encouraged for adults and children.”
Scenario: As a nurse at a local hospital, you notice that there is a man with an alcohol dependency who keeps on consuming the hand sanitizer offered at the hand sanitizer stands throughout the hospital. He is not a patient at the hospital at present but has been many times in the past. Consequently, there is often no hand sanitizer for public use.
Question: What are you thinking as the nurse in this situation?
“This situation is one where somebody is having a lot of trouble in their life and need assistance. The problem is that they cannot necessarily get it, or are caught in a cycle that brings them back to the hospital repeatedly.
In all of my actions I would want to remain non-judgmental since a chemical dependency is not something that is easy to live with, and it is something that we should be understanding of and compassionate towards.
My first concern is for the person with the severe alcohol dependency to the point that they are drinking hand sanitizer to get their fix. I would want to make sure that they are taken care of.
The fastest way to do this would be to make sure that hand sanitizing stations are affixed or have an attendant. Either they would be secured to the wall or monitored. That way the person could not take any sanitizer to consume. In that way, we would prevent them from causing themselves harm through ingestion of harmful substances.
Since this person was a former and frequent patient, I would want to find out if we had an emergency contact number for a caretaker, friend, or family member who could help this person, since they are likely to require help in the future. After stopping them from immediate harm, I would want to do my utmost to get them long-term help to prevent future harm from occurring as well.
My long-term plan would be to work with the emergency contact to help this patient get into a rehab program to help them manage their problems.”
Scenario: You work as a nurse in a private clinic. A few months into working at this clinic, you discover that the doctor who owns the clinic in which you work has set up a system of referrals with other healthcare practitioners in town who pay the doctor at your clinic a percentage of the billings for each referred patient. In short, the doctor at your clinic takes a cut for each referral made.
Question: What would you do in this situation?
“Thank you for this important question. AMA ethical guidelines ask that referrals be based in objective fact. Receiving money for referrals is illegal. More importantly, I would be concerned that referrals based in profit would not be in our patients’ best interests, and would harm them or prevent them from receiving optimal care.
I would not want to work at a clinic where this was going on. But I would need to make sure I understand the situation fully, so I would have a conversation with the physician in question and say that if the practice of accepting money for referrals continued, I would give notice and leave the job.
I would document the problem and report it. While this might be very uncomfortable and result in my termination regardless of outcome, I believe it is important in situations like these which are directly counter to ethical and legal responsibilities to make sure that all data are documented, for the protection of my patients, my own safety, and the broader safety and integrity of the healthcare community.
If the doctor refused to cease their actions, I would report their actions and find another job.”
Getting ready for your interview?
Answering a behavioral interview question is about putting yourself forward and outlining concrete actions to show your best qualities, as well as to demonstrate an understanding of your chosen profession in its complexity.
While behavioral and critical thinking nursing interview questions can be a challenge, a solid response structure we provide above will help you tackle any scenario question you may face.
1. What if they ask me for a real-life instance and I didn’t handle the situation well?
First off: don’t lie. Never lie during an interview, even if asked an uncomfortable question.
Your answer should be very close to the way you would answer “Tell us about a time you failed at work.”
You start with the honest facts of the scenario. Then you are going to say what you did to move forward. This will usually start with how you corrected your error – once you realized there was a problem – and then continue on to talk about how you have since improved your performance in that area. What steps have you taken to ensure that this never, ever happens again? What have you learned? How has this negative experience been turned into a net positive in your life?
Using this answer strategy, you will present yourself as a candidate who learns from your mistakes, admits error, and moves forward with personal and professional growth.
2. What’s the best way to practice for an interview?
In addition to going over sample questions and answers, and studying to increase how knowledgeable you are in your field, your best prep method is with a mock interview. Mock interviews simulate every aspect of the real thing, giving you the time limit, the questions, the on-the-spot answers, and even the scheduling and procedures of the day.
3. What if I can’t think of anything?
Don’t be afraid to pause and say, “That’s an interesting question. Please give me a minute o reflect.” Start with a brief summation of the question or scenario you are given. After that, it’s a logical progression to identify the most important aspects to the scenario – the most vulnerable party. This will help you decide on a course of action.
4. What should I wear to my interview?
Business-casual is best.
5. How early should I arrive for my interview?
Earlier is better. You should probably go now.
No joking, though, give yourself plenty of time beforehand; you do not want to be late. Aim to arrive at least a half an hour before the interview. It’s better to sit for a while than come late. Err on the side of caution.
6. What do I do if I say something wrong?
Correct it. If you accidentally misspeak and say something that isn’t accurate, or if you want to clarify a statement that could be ambiguous and cause you to be evaluated poorly, just say, “Sorry, I meant to say...” and offer your correction.
A small or slight error might not be a problem, but if something is preying on your mind, it’s best to clarify it to get that nagging doubt out of the way.
7. What do I say if I disagree with the broader medical community on an ethical issue and I get asked a question about it?
Your answer doesn’t need to be dishonest or contrarian. Remain objective and demonstrate that you understand both sides of the policy or issue. As long as you can present the arguments for your opinion, your position will be respected. Remember to always stay non-judgmental, so if you disagree with a current policy, do not call those who agree with it “idiots”.
8. How long should my answers be?
Try to limit your response to no longer than 2 minutes.
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