Return to blog

Student interviewing to get into medical school

Interview question and Model Answer Bank Scenarios

If you've found your way to this article, chances are you're on the exciting journey of applying to medical school. Congratulations on reaching this crucial stage! Now, let's delve into a vital aspect of the application process: the medical school interview. In particular, we'll be exploring a variety of scenarios that interviewers may present to you during your interview.

The interview is a pivotal opportunity for you to showcase your passion, knowledge, and suitability for a career in medicine. While traditional questions may cover your academic achievements and personal qualities, scenario-based questions take things a step further. They immerse you in realistic situations, allowing interviewers to assess your ability to handle challenges you may encounter as a medical student or future doctor. These scenarios may also delve into ethical dilemmas, testing your moral judgment and decision-making skills.

Preparing for your medical school interview is absolutely essential. By familiarising yourself with a range of scenarios, you'll gain confidence and be better equipped to provide thoughtful and well-structured responses. If you're looking for in-depth guidance on the interview process, check out Future Doc's comprehensive guide on medical school interviews. It offers a detailed breakdown of the interview types you may encounter and provides valuable insights into how to excel in each format. You can find the guide here.

In this article, we've compiled a bank of scenario-based questions commonly asked in medical school interviews. We'll not only provide you with the questions themselves but also offer model answers to help you understand the mindset and approach required to tackle these questions effectively. Why not try practicing these examples by yourself or within a group before reading the example answers. Remember - practice makes perfect!

So why do interviews include “scenarios”?

Scenario-based questions go beyond evaluating your academic knowledge and personal qualities; they aim to assess your ability to apply your skills and judgment in real-life situations. As a future medical professional, you'll encounter a wide range of challenges, from complex medical cases to ethical dilemmas. Interviewers want to gauge your thought process, problem-solving skills, and your ability to remain calm and composed when faced with difficult scenarios. By presenting you with these scenarios during the interview, they can gain valuable insights into your aptitude for critical thinking, adaptability, empathy, and your overall suitability for a career in medicine. Ultimately, interviewers are looking for candidates who can think on their feet, make sound decisions, and provide the best possible care to their patients. So, by testing you with scenarios, they can determine if you have what it takes to thrive as a medical student and, eventually, as a doctor.

What kind of “scenarios” are commonly tested?

The most common types tested include:

  1. Clinical Scenarios: These simulate real-life medical situations to assess your clinical reasoning and thought process to solve real-life problems.
  2. Ethical Dilemmas: These present challenging scenarios to evaluate moral judgment and understanding of ethical principles.
  3. Communication and Teamwork Scenarios: These look to assess your interpersonal and teamwork skills which are crucial for collaborative healthcare.
  4. Critical Thinking Scenarios: These challenge your problem-solving abilities and decision-making in complex situations.

Whilst most questions fall into the above four categories, there may be some that appear “random”. For these, it's best to remain calm and think in a logical manner. The overall aim of scenario questions is to assess your suitability for a career in medicine beyond academic knowledge and to evaluate your ability to handle the complexities and uncertainties that come with patient care. Maintaining a patient-first focus whilst showing an understanding of the ethical underpinnings are a good way to tackle these in general.

How should I prepare for scenario-based questions?

Whilst these questions can often appear challenging, there are five key steps that can set you up for success:

  1. Research common medical scenarios and ethical dilemmas: Make sure you study the ethical frameworks and guidelines to build a solid foundation of knowledge. Understand the principles behind clinical decision-making and ethical considerations in healthcare practice.
  2. Develop a Framework: Create a mental framework to approach scenario-based questions. Key framework aspects include A focus on the patient, communication with the team, ethical evaluate possible solutions, and communicate your thought process clearly. Developing a structured approach will help you stay organized and demonstrate your ability to think systematically.
  3. Reflect on your personal experiences: Reflect on your exposure to the healthcare field and on situations that required you to problem-solve, make ethical decisions, and think critically. How did you approach these scenarios and what were the lessons you learned?
  4. Practice: Get experience through mock interviews with peers, mentors, or tutors. Simulated scenario-based questions will help you formulate well-structured, thoughtful responses. Seek feedback on your communication structure, critical thinking abilities, and ethical reasoning.
  5. Stay Updated: Make sure you are aware of current medical advancements, ethical debates, and relevant healthcare news. This will enable you to apply up-to-date knowledge and perspectives to scenario-based questions, showcasing your commitment to lifelong learning.

Worked Example 1: “As a first-year medical student, you are assigned to shadow a doctor in a busy clinic. You notice that the physician appears dismissive and uninterested in the current patient's concerns. The patient is visibly upset and feels unheard. What actions would you take in this situation?”

Student 1's answer: “When I observe the physician's dismissive behaviour towards the patient, I would assume that the doctor knows best and has a valid reason for their actions. As a first-year medical student, it's not my place to question or intervene in the physician's approach. I would simply continue observing and learning from the situation.”

Student 2's answer: “When I observe the physician being dismissive towards the patient, I would immediately stop the consultation in front of the patient and express my disapproval. It is important to stand up for the patient and ensure that they are treated with respect. Whilst this may create a potentially uncomfortable situation for the physician, advocating for the patient's rights is the correct thing to do”.

Student 3's answer: “As a first-year medical student, I would take appropriate action in response to the dismissive behaviour exhibited by the doctor towards the patient. Firstly, I would approach the situation with empathy and respect for the doctor-patient relationship. Privately, I would consider discussing my observations with the doctor, expressing my concerns about the patient feeling unheard and upset. By approaching the doctor respectfully, I hope to foster open communication and create an opportunity for reflection and improvement.

I would also seek guidance from a trusted supervisor or faculty member regarding the appropriate steps to take in such situations. They can provide valuable insights, support, and advice on how to address the issue effectively while maintaining professionalism. It is essential to remember that patient-centred care is a cornerstone of medicine, and addressing concerns about the patient's experience is crucial to their overall well-being.”

Out of three different approaches to answering the example question, Student 3 clearly has a better grasp of the situation. They start by emphasising their juniority in this scenario whilst clearly showcasing respect for the senior physician. However, they also take an active role in managing the situation through speaking to the Doctor privately and then seeking senior advice. In contrast, Student 2's approach appears confrontational and may create further tension, thereby harming the doctor-patient relationship further. Whilst it is an active measure, student 2's answer disregards the need for professionalism and the importance of open communication channels to address concerns appropriately. Student 1 opts for a passive approach which fails to recognise the importance of advocating for patient-centred care. Their answer also lacks critical thinking and fails to address the patient's concerns or consider the potential impact of the doctor's behaviour on the patient's well-being. It also neglects the student's responsibility to contribute to a positive learning environment and uphold professional standards in healthcare.

KEY TIP: A patient-centred approach is key within scenarios and should be the focus of your answer. Equally, any scenarios in which patient safety is threatened should require immediate management. Never be afraid to seek senior advice when managing difficult scenarios - especially as a junior member of the profession.

Worked Example 2: “You are part of the team caring for a 15-year-old girl who has come in after a road traffic accident. She requires a blood transfusion; however, her parents refuse on the basis that they are Jehovah's Witnesses. How would you manage this scenario?”

Student 1's answer: “In this scenario, I would respect the parents' decision as they have the right to refuse the blood transfusion based on their religious beliefs. However, it is important to consider the four ethical pillars of medical ethics, namely autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. While autonomy refers to respecting the parents' right to make decisions for their child based on their religious beliefs, we must also consider the principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice that focus on promoting the patient's well-being and ensuring fairness in healthcare. Therefore, it is crucial to explore potential options for balancing these ethical considerations and protecting the patient's health.”

Student 2's answer: “This is a challenging ethical scenario to manage, however it is crucial to address this situation with care and sensitivity, considering the four ethical pillars of medical ethics.

Firstly, I would communicate with the patient's parents to understand their concerns and reasons behind their refusal, respecting the principle of autonomy. Active listening and empathy are essential in building trust and establishing a respectful dialogue.

Next, considering the principle of beneficence, I would discuss the situation with the healthcare team, including physicians, nurses, and ethicists, to gather different perspectives and explore potential options. This collaborative approach ensures that we are considering what is in the best interest of the patient's well-being.

In collaboration with the team, I would ensure that we provide clear and accurate information to the parents about the medical necessity and potential risks of not proceeding with the blood transfusion, addressing the principle of non-maleficence. This information would help the parents make a fully informed decision.

If the parents remain firm in their refusal, recognizing the principle of justice, I will involve an ethics committee or seek legal guidance to navigate this complex situation. It may also be important to assess if the girl has capacity utilising the Fraser Guidelines. The seniors and the hospital ethics board could provide valuable insights, mediate discussions, and help determine the best course of action that upholds the patient's best interests while respecting the parents' autonomy.”

Student 2 provides a model answer through clearly incorporating the four ethical pillars and justifying how each influences the management plan. Importantly, they also manage both sides - offering mediation to improve the doctor-patient relationship. They also refer to involving seniors and ethics specialist to help navigate complex legal territories. Whilst Student 1 does mention the four pillars, their insight is limited as they may ultimately harm the patient through outrightly respecting the parents' decision. Whilst they reference the other pillars, they do not show how they influence their decision making.

KEY TIP: For any ethical question, start by outlining your knowledge of the four pillars of ethics (autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, justice) and describe how you will use them to influence your decision making. Remember to stay balanced in your views and to always keep the patient at the centre of any decisions. Involving specialists (seniors/ethics specialists) in decision making can be a great addition to your answer.

Worked Example 3: “You are a first-year medical student participating in a team-based learning activity with your peers. During the discussion, you notice that some team members are dominating the conversation, while others struggle to contribute their ideas. This is hindering the progress of the activity. How would you address this situation?

Student 1's answer: “In this scenario, I would take an active role by voicing my agreement with the dominant team members and supporting their decisions. However, I realize that this approach may overlook the valuable input of quieter team members and hinder the collaborative nature of the discussion. To address this, I would try to encourage quieter team members to contribute their thoughts and ideas by asking them specific questions related to the case. By actively seeking their input, we can ensure that everyone's perspectives are considered and create a more inclusive environment for discussion.”

Student 2's answer: “Firstly, I would take the initiative to actively involve quieter team members by specifically asking for their input and thoughts on the case. This ensures that everyone's ideas are valued and heard, allowing for a more inclusive discussion. By actively seeking their perspectives, we can tap into a wealth of diverse knowledge and contribute to a comprehensive treatment plan.

Furthermore, I would suggest implementing a rotating leadership role within the team. This approach ensures that each team member has an opportunity to guide the discussion and make decisions, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and equal contribution. By promoting a collaborative leadership approach, we can prevent dominant individuals from monopolizing the conversation and encourage everyone to actively engage.

Additionally, I would emphasize the importance of active listening and respectful communication among team members. Encouraging individuals to summarise and validate each other's ideas can foster a culture of mutual respect and open dialogue. This creates a safe environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and exchanging feedback.”

Student 1 offers some insight into managing the situation; however, their answer fails to address the communication and teamwork challenge effectively. It passively allows dominant team members to continue leading the discussion, disregarding the importance of equal participation and collaboration. In contrast, Student 2's answer demonstrates proactive and thoughtful strategies to address the situation. It recognizes the need for equal participation and encourages engagement from all team members, regardless of their level of experience. By actively involving quieter team members and implementing a rotating leadership role, the model answer promotes a collaborative dynamic that values diverse perspectives and contributions.

KEY TIP: When dealing with communication scenarios, it is important that everyone plays an active role in the discussion. Enabling all members to participate is important. Taking an active role in these scenarios is essential in showcasing your role as both a collaborator and a leader in ensuring a project can go ahead successfully.

Worked Example 4: “You are working in a hospital and a medication error has just been reported. You have been asked to investigate and determine the factors that contributed to the medication error. How would you approach the situation?”

Student 1's answer: “In response to the reported medication error, I would carefully review the incident report to gain an understanding of the situation. Trusting that the information provided in the report is comprehensive and accurate, I would determine the factors that contributed to the error. In addition, I would interview the staff members involved to find our more. I believe that this process will address the issue and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

Student 2's answer: “Upon receiving the report of the medication error, I would carefully review the incident report to grasp the specific details of the error, such as the medication involved, dosage, and administration route. I would then conduct interviews with the individuals directly involved in the error, including the healthcare professional responsible for administering the medication, the prescriber, and the pharmacist. Additionally, I would evaluate the patient's medical records to identify any contraindications or drug interactions that might have contributed to the error. Engaging in collaborative discussions with the healthcare team would allow me to gather different perspectives and uncover system-level issues. Finally, I would implement preventive measures based on the identified contributing factors to minimise the likelihood of similar errors in the future.

Importantly, I would also check the impact this has had on the patient. Should the patient have taken the medication, this may require input from senior medical staff. Medical staff also have a duty of candour and so, the patient should be informed of the error.”

The answer provided by Student 2 emphasises the importance of a systematic investigation by reviewing the incident report, conducting interviews, reviewing patient records, engaging with the healthcare team, and implementing preventive measures. By following these steps, it ensures a comprehensive understanding of the contributing factors and enables effective strategies to prevent similar errors from occurring. In comparison to Student 1, Student 2 also includes the impact a medication error could have had on the patient. Remember - patient safety is a priority! Whilst both answers are non-judgmental, Student 2 additionally recognises that the mistake was a “team” effort, and that no particular person is responsible. Both answers would benefit from some further wider reading. There are various methods used for investigating errors. These can include: Five-why's, Root Cause Analysis and a Fishbone Diagram (read up more about these!).

KEY TIP: Remember that errors are not just a single person's fault! The Swiss-cheese model is a fantastic way of visualising this. Imagine multiple slices of Swiss cheese (the cheese with the holes in it) all lined up. Each layer has its flaws or holes, symbolising potential errors or vulnerabilities. Mistakes happen when these flaws align, allowing an error to pass through the layers and result in a patient safety incident. The model highlights the importance of strengthening each layer of defence to prevent errors and enhance patient safety.


We hope this article has provided you with valuable insights into scenario-based questions and their significance in the medical school interview process. By understanding the purpose of these scenarios and how to approach them effectively, you can demonstrate your ability to handle challenging situations.

Remember that scenarios in interviews offer a unique opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills, ethical reasoning, and communication abilities. Preparation is key, so take the time to familiarize yourself with different types of scenarios you may encounter, practice your responses, and reflect on the underlying ethical principles. Looking for a comprehensive guide on answering interview questions? Make sure you check out FutureDoc's exceptional in-depth interview course.

We wish you the best of luck on your journey towards a career in medicine. Stay motivated, stay dedicated, and let your passion for helping others shine through in every step of the application process!

Written by Rohan Mehra