9 Common Medical School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Candidate being interviewed by several people

Squaredpixels / Getty Images 

In a medical school interview, your interviewers will assess (1) whether you are a good fit for their institution, and (2) whether you will be a good physician. Some questions will be similar to what you’d answer in any other interview (i.e., "tell us about yourself"). Other questions will be more intense and industry-specific, covering topics like medical ethics and challenges faced by today's doctors.

The process can be nerve-wracking, but with solid preparation, you’ll be able to show the committee why you’re worthy of admission. Get started by reviewing our list of common medical school interview questions and how to answer them.

Why do you want to be a doctor?

This is one of the most important questions in any medical school interview. It’s also a question that the vast majority of applicants answer poorly. Depending on how the rest of your interview goes, a bad answer to this question could tank your entire medical school application. 

When interviewers ask this question, they're looking for an honest and personal response—not a boilerplate answer that could apply to any applicant. Remember, medical school interviewers have already heard every generic answer under the sun, so your response must be unique to you.

Your answer should also demonstrate true commitment. Medical school isn't easy, and your answer must show that you are dedicated enough to push through the difficult days. (After all, medical schools aren't interested in accepting students who aren’t fully committed.)

To prepare for this question, think about your specific reasons for pursuing this career. For example, perhaps a meaningful interaction with a doctor influenced you to learn about medicine in high school, or a personal health scare motivated you to pay it forward by becoming a doctor. Start with a personal experience, then build upon it: what happened after that initial interaction? What actions have you taken since that time? Dig deep and tell a story that means something to you.

Answers to Avoid

  • "To help people." This answer is too vague. You can help people in countless other professions. If you give this nonspecific answer, the committee may bring up other careers that help people, like nursing.
  • "To make money/have a good career." Many doctors are paid quite well, but money should not be your biggest motivator. And again, the committee may point out the many other career paths in health and elsewhere that pay well too.
  • "My family is full of doctors." The committee will wonder if you’re following in your family’s footsteps because that’s what you feel you are supposed to do. Your motivation shouldn’t be derived from the choices of others.
  • "Because I love science." Many people love science. That’s why there are scientists. The committee wants to know why you’re interested in this path specifically.

Why would you be a good doctor?

Before you can answer this question, you need to know what makes a good doctor. Think beyond your personal experience. Research the philosophies of top physicians throughout the centuries. Read what they wrote about their interactions with patients, and notice the characteristics that come up more than once. Jot down the most frequent characteristics as well as any other characteristics that feel important to you.

Once you've created a list, come up with specific ways that you embody each characteristic, drawing upon personal experiences and life events to strengthen your response. For instance, let's say your list of traits includes compassion, humility, curiosity, and communication. In your response, you could describe a time when you showed compassion, explain how your personal history proves that you are a curious and active learner, and share how you have become an effective communicator.

Answers to Avoid

  • "I work hard." Working hard is important, but being a good doctor requires many more specific traits. Overly general statements like this one suggest that you don't know much about what it takes to be a doctor.
  • "I know more about medicine than most of my peers." How much you know about medicine right now, before you even go to medical school, doesn't have much of a bearing on how good of a doctor you'll be.

What do you think will be the greatest challenge of being a doctor?

With this question, the admissions committee is assessing your awareness of yourself and of the realities of the medical profession. To ace this question, you'll need to be genuine and realistic.

Your answer should demonstrate honesty, personal insight, and a good understanding of the challenges doctors face. Pick a particular issue that you feel would be genuinely challenging for you. Describe the challenge and what you think you would struggle with, but don't stop there. You must also present a potential solution to the issue. 

For instance, if you think the greatest challenge is the mental and emotional drain, talk about solutions for keeping your home and work life separate. If you can foresee struggling with the unpredictable schedule, discuss realistic ways you hope to preserve your physical and mental energy.

By acknowledging real issues in the profession and talking about how you’d handle them, you’ll demonstrate the maturity and introspection the admissions committee is looking for.

Answers to Avoid

  • "Talking to patients." Engaging with patients is a big part of the job, and the admissions committee might ask you to reconsider your career choice if you present it as your greatest challenge.
  • "Remembering my training." If you foresee yourself forgetting your training on the job, your interviewers may express concern about your ability to work under pressure.
  • "Caring too much." This vague answer just won't cut it. If you want to discuss the profession's emotional and psychological toll, give a more specific answer, such as "mental health" or "work-life balance."

In your view, what is the most pressing problem in medicine today?

The admissions committee wants to know that you can speak clearly and competently about a major issue. This question requires you to be informed about current events in the world of health and medicine. Don’t try to wing this one—the admissions panel won’t be impressed with a generic answer. 

Pick an issue that you truly care about and start researching. Make sure that you understand all the major angles of the issue, including common arguments on either side of the issue, ethical considerations, potential future impacts, and relevant legislation.

In your response, explain why this issue is the most pressing problem and how you see it affecting the healthcare system in the future. Discuss how lawmakers' actions are affecting the issue, and explain which solutions you believe have the most potential. You will need to show that you have derived your own position from your knowledge. You should also draw a personal connection to the issue. The issue you choose may be pressing in a large-scale sense, but don't forget to explain why it resonates with you personally, too.

Answers to Avoid

  • Very controversial issues. There is a time and place in your interview to discuss controversial topics, but that’s not necessarily what the committee is looking for here.
  • Hyperlocal issues. It's important to be aware of city and state health issues (particularly those that relate to the medical school where you are interviewing), but for this question, you should choose an issue that affects the medical system as a whole.
  • Issues that are too broad. You should be able to give a succinct, concise answer to this question, so don't try to take on too much in just one question.

If multiple schools accept you, how will you make a decision?

It won’t come as a surprise to the committee that you’ve applied to multiple schools, so don’t worry about disclosing that information. This question isn't a ploy to figure out whether their school is your number one choice or not. The committee wants to find out what qualities you value most when assessing medical school options. Be honest about your decision-making process, and keep the answer relatively short.

Start your answer by talking about what you’re looking for in a medical school. Be specific about which opportunities, resources, or values are most important to you.

Then, explain what you like about the program you're currently interviewing with. Talk about why you feel the program is a good fit for you, giving specific examples to demonstrate your point. Be genuine and positive, but avoid being excessively effusive, as it may come off as phony.

You should also talk briefly about the other schools on your list. Your interviewers know their competition well, so they won't be surprised that other programs have positive qualities. Again, speak to the realities of other programs and why they interest you without excessively praising (or criticizing) them.

Answers to Avoid

  • "I would pick your school, no question." A complimentary but unsubstantiated response won't win the committee over. They don't need baseless praise; your answer should be substantive and personal.
  • "I'm just hoping to get into one–I'll go wherever I'm accepted." Yes, getting into med school is hard, but the interviewers are asking you to envision a scenario in which you're admitted to more than one school. By rejecting their hypothetical, you forfeit an opportunity to demonstrate your insightful decision-making process.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Interviewers ask this question in order to learn about your long-term goals. Prepare for this question by mapping out potential “days in the life” of your future self. When you picture yourself as a working doctor, what do you see yourself doing? Will you be practicing in your field all day? What about research and teaching?

You don't necessarily have to talk about a particular specialty—figuring out your specialty is the whole point of med school rotations. However, you should be able to tell the interviewers if you see yourself practicing family medicine in a rural area or performing clinical research in a highly populated urban center.

Answers to Avoid

  • "Married with children." Avoid answers that revolve around your private life. This question is by nature quite personal, but your answer should be professional and focused on your medical career.
  • "Working as a successful doctor." You're applying to medical school, so your desire to become a doctor is obvious. Your answer should be more specific.

Tell us about a time you made a poor professional decision.

We’ve all made mistakes, and the best way to answer this question is to face them head-on. However, you still want to make a good impression, and you should approach the question carefully.

The committee will imagine whatever behavior you describe in your answer taking place in a medical context, so you shouldn't describe a behavior that would be dangerous or harmful in a medical setting. Your answer should focus on a genuinely unprofessional decision without calling your ethics into question.

For most people, poor professional actions include coming in late, “forgetting” to cover a coworker’s shift, overlooking cultural issues in the workplace, or choosing your own comfort/gain over a customer's. The committee, who is made up of real humans, knows nobody is perfect. They want you to reflect on the behavior, describe the changes you’ve made since then, and explain you will take this knowledge into the future.

Answers to Avoid

  • A serious ethical violation. Ethical values are essential for doctors. If your answer calls your ethics into question, the interviewers may question your fitness for the medical field. Examples to avoid include embezzling money, stealing, lying about a serious issue, getting into a physical altercation, and violating HIPAA.
  • A non-issue that makes you look good. "Working too hard" doesn't count as a poor professional decision, and giving this type of non-answer suggests a lack of honesty.

Share your thoughts about [ethical issue in health care].

Ethical questions are challenging to answer, simply because there is usually no right or wrong answer. 

If you are asked to share your view about an ethical issue like euthanasia or cloning, keep in mind the four principles of medical ethics: justice, non-maleficence, beneficence, and autonomy. These tenets should be the backbone of your response.

When preparing for your interview, read a few studies and opinion pieces so that you can present a full picture of all sides of the issue. Your answer should show that you are informed about the issue. You don't have to know everything about every ethical question, but you should have foundational knowledge about the most well-known issues and be able to discuss them intelligently.

In your answer, be thoughtful and measured. Evaluate all angles of the issue and discuss what makes the issue so ethically tricky. Express your own opinion and take a stance, but only after exploring all the angles; don't come down hard on one side of the issue right away.

Answers to Avoid

  • Being judgmental. Don't condemn or judge people who disagree with you on this ethical issue. As a doctor, you will have to treat all kinds of people—many of whom you will disagree with on various issues—but these differences cannot impact your care in any way. It's important to show the interviewers that you are tolerant and fair-minded.
  • Starting with a strong opinion. The committee is looking for a well-reasoned answer that goes beyond personal biases. You may feel strongly about the issue, and you should state your personal stance, but you have to show that you can see both sides first.

Tell me about yourself.

Interviewees often dread this big, broad question, and for good reason: it isn't easy to sum up your entire identity on the spot. That's why it's so important to prepare an answer.

Most of the interview will be about your educational and professional background and goals. This question, on the other hand, is an opportunity to tell the committee who you really are: your strengths, your personality, and what makes you unique.

Did you have a fascinating career before pursuing medical school? Did you grow up in a remote community? Have you traveled to over 100 countries? If there's something about you that always fascinates people, include it in your answer. However, your answer doesn't have to be shocking to be good. Talk about your passion for knitting, your goal of climbing Mount Everest, or your unique family traditions. Pull back the curtain on your inner world so the committee can see you as a fully fleshed-out individual—not just someone who prepared a bunch of great interview answers.

Answers to Avoid

  • Reciting your resume. There's no need to run through your entire professional history out loud—the committee can read it in your resume.
  • Focusing on a single anecdote. You might have an amazing story to share, but don't let it dominate your entire answer. If you want the story to be the backbone of your answer, use the circle-back method: tell the story, move on to other topics, then connect the other topics back to the original story.
  • Giving just the basics. Your life is an interesting fabric of experiences and people. It’s not very interesting to only talk about your hometown and the number of siblings you have. 

Additional Questions

Ready for more interview prep? Practice answering these 25 additional medical school interview questions.

  1. What will you do if you aren't accepted to medical school?
  2. What makes you special?
  3. Identify two of your biggest strengths.
  4. Identify two of your biggest weaknesses. How will you overcome them?
  5. How will you pay for medical school?
  6. If you could change anything about your education, what would it be?
  7. Where else are you applying to medical school?
  8. Have you been accepted anywhere?
  9. What is your first-choice medical school?
  10. What do you do in your spare time?
  11. What are your hobbies?
  12. Are you a leader or a follower? Why?
  13. What exposure have you had to the medical profession?
  14. Discuss your clinical experiences.
  15. Discuss your volunteer work.
  16. What do you think you will like most/least about practicing medicine?
  17. How are you a good match for our medical school?
  18. What are three things you want to change about yourself?
  19. What is your favorite subject? Why?
  20. How would you describe the relationship between science and medicine?
  21. Why do you think you will be successful in coping with the pressure of medical school?
  22. Who has most influenced your life so far and why?
  23. Why should we choose you?
  24. Some say that doctors make too much money. What do you think?
  25. Share your thoughts about [insert policy issue, such as managed care and changes in the US healthcare system].