Coping with controversial interview questions

August 24, 2016

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Controversial questions are controversial for a reason – there is no one answer that is 100 % right. Whether you consider abortion, stem cell research or euthanasia, there are plenty of arguments that can be put forward in favour of these practices and just as many arguments against. So how do you as a medical school applicant know which is the right answer to give when you are asked one of these controversial questions at your interview?

It’s a tough one. It can be truly scary to be asked about your stand on the issue at any time and even more so when you are the subject of intense scrutiny at the interview. There is no way to know beforehand whether your interviewer or panel of interviewers is for or against euthanasia or abortion or stem cell research. So how do you ensure that your reply will be received favourably?

Be prepared

The likelihood that you will be asked a question on medical ethics is very high so it will do you a whole lot of good to spend some time reading up and familiarising yourself with current controversies in medicine.

Read about why there are people for and against these practices. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings and your stand on the subject. Are you for or against it? Why do you feel that way? Share your ideas with others and gauge their reactions. Educate yourself on as many different sides of the issue as possible so that you are more comfortable talking about the issue and can present a more compelling argument.

Remember there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer. A correct response is one that falls within a fairly broad range. The important thing is to understand what the controversy is about, and then put your views across convincingly.

Be consistent

One of the reasons why it is so important to read, explore and familiarise yourself with the different controversies and to be honest with your replies is because most interviewers will try and test you further by asking you two seemingly different questions that essentially relate to the same issue. If you have replied honestly you are more likely to be consistent with your replies.

Never make the mistake of telling the interviewers what you think they want to hear. You could be way off the mark and you will be found out if they decide to question you further about your views.

Remember you entitled to have reasonable opinions about any topic, no matter how controversial, so simply answer the question sincerely and consistently.

Stay focused on the patient

A patient-focused reply is the key when replying to any controversial medical questions. As an aspiring doctor, your main purpose is to care for patients. The interviewers will want to know whether you will put your patient’s best interests in the forefront irrespective of your personal beliefs on any aspect of medical care. If you can convince them that you can and will do that, you will have successfully crossed that mammoth interview hurdle.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.