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Demonstrating skills while Interviewing to become a doctor

Greetings, aspiring medical students! We extend a warm welcome to this article crafted specifically to aid you on your path towards the medical school application process. As you traverse the rigorous interview cycle, it is vital to arm yourself with the essential resources that will enable you to thrive in your medical school interviews. Want to know more about the interview process? Check out FutureDoc’s detailed guide here which explains the types of interviews in greater depth.

In the following sections, we will delve into skills-based questions and explore why these skills are rigorously tested. By understanding the significance of these assessments, you will be better prepared to showcase your abilities and stand out from the crowd. So, let's dive in and discover the importance of skills evaluation in the medical school interview process through worked examples. You can also use these worked examples to practice your technique by yourself or within a group. Remember - practice makes perfect!

Firstly, what are “skills” and why do interviewers test them?

Skills refer to the specific abilities, competencies, or proficiencies that individuals possess. Medical schools recognise that being a doctor requires a multifaceted skill set that extends beyond mere academic knowledge. The ability to communicate effectively, display empathy, and think critically are essential components of providing compassionate, patient-cantered care. Therefore, interviewers often include skills-based questions to assess these qualities in prospective students.

Skills-based questions also provide interviewers with insights into your aptitude for working in a demanding and ever-evolving healthcare environment. By testing your ability to think critically, problem-solve, and communicate effectively, interviewers can gauge your potential to become a competent and compassionate Doctor. Structuring your answers to skills-based questions in a thoughtful and organized manner further demonstrates your ability to articulate complex ideas, present logical arguments, and convey information clearly.

So how do I structure skills-based questions?

Broadly, interviewers typically ask three types of skills-based questions. They may ask you to:

  • Describe and explain the skills required to be an effective Doctor.
  • Describe your previous experience and how the skills you have developed will prepare you for medical school/a career in medicine.
  • Explain how a particular skill is important in a medical career and how you could develop this further.

Structuring your responses effectively to skills-based questions is crucial. It's like creating a clear roadmap for your thoughts and ideas. By organizing your answer, you demonstrate thoughtfulness and make it easier for the interviewer to follow along. A well-structured response shows that you've analysed the question, gathered your thoughts, and can present your ideas coherently. This approach engages the interviewer, showcases your critical thinking skills, and helps you communicate effectively. So, take a moment to create a structure for your response, highlighting the main points you want to cover. This way, you can confidently navigate the interview, impressing the interviewer with your clarity and ability to communicate your skills and insights.

So, what skills could I include?

Being a doctor requires a diverse range of skills, but there are key themes that are absolutely essential. Doctors aren't just knowledgeable in medicine; they possess a whole toolbox of abilities that allow them to excel in their profession. From empathy and communication to critical thinking and problem-solving, doctors need to have a combination of interpersonal, cognitive, and technical skills. These skills form the foundation of their practice and enable them to provide the best possible care to their patients. So, while there are many skills doctors possess, let's explore some of the essential ones that are crucial for success in the medical field. Here are 21 key skills you should be aware of:

EmpathyTime managementResearch skills
CommunicationAttention to detailEmotional intelligence
Critical thinkingResilienceProfessionalism
Problem-solvingEthical decision-makingContinuous learning
AdaptabilityCultural competenceStress management
TeamworkPatient advocacyIntegrity
LeadershipClinical reasoningCollaboration

Worked Example: “What three skills do you think are important for every doctor to have?"

Student 1’s answer: "I think important skills for doctors to have empathy, good communication, and clinical reasoning. Empathy helps doctors connect with patients and understand their feelings. Communication is essential to share information with patients and other healthcare professionals. Clinical reasoning is important for making accurate diagnoses and decisions."

Student 2’s answer: "From my perspective, three essential skills for every doctor are empathy, communication, and clinical reasoning. Firstly, empathy is crucial in establishing a strong doctor-patient relationship, allowing patients to feel heard, understood, and cared for. Effective communication is the foundation of providing quality healthcare, as it ensures accurate information exchange, informed decision-making, and patient education. Lastly, clinical reasoning enables doctors to assess complex situations, diagnose accurately, and develop effective treatment plans. These skills, when combined, promote patient-centred care and better health outcomes."

Using the above examples, Student 1’s answer leaves a lot to be desired for. Whilst they have clearly answered the question, their response lacks depth and explanation. The interviewer wants to know why these skills are important and how they ultimately impact our patients. Further structure and justification are required to turn this into a great answer. In contrast, Student 2’s answer offers structure, additional depth, and a clear focus on our main goal as doctors – caring for our patients.

**Worked Example: “Please provide an example of a situation where you used your problem-solving skills to overcome a challenging healthcare-related scenario?”

Whilst this can seem challenging to answer at first, it is important to focus on the aim of the question – to test your problem-solving skills! A fantastic way to answer this question involves utilising your work experience. Whilst not all work experience will be healthcare-related, the closer you can relate it to the field, the easier it will be to link it back to patients and your aim as a doctor. Structure is key for these questions. Take a look at the following two examples:

Student 1’s answer: “Well, during my summer job at a local clinic, there was a patient who came in with a persistent cough. The problem was that the usual treatments didn't seem to be working. I spoke to my supervisor, and they decided to refer the patient to a specialist. The specialist eventually diagnosed the patient with a rare lung condition and prescribed a different medication, which seemed to improve their symptoms.”

Student 2’s answer: “During my summer job at a local clinic, I encountered a challenging healthcare-related scenario that required me to utilise problem-solving skills despite my limited healthcare exposure. The situation involved a patient who presented with a persistent cough that did not respond to standard treatments. The task was to investigate further and provide appropriate guidance. In this situation, I took the following actions using a systematic approach. Firstly, I actively listened to the patient's concerns, and I contributed when the Doctor was carefully documenting their medical history. Recognising the complexity of the case, we decided to refer the patient to a respiratory specialist for further evaluation.

Although my role was limited, I actively participated in the referral process and I observed how a comprehensive referral letter, including relevant medical history and the chronology of treatments attempted, was written. The outcome of this action was that the specialist diagnosed the patient with a rare lung condition and prescribed a different medication, which resulted in a significant improvement in the patient's symptoms. Reflecting on this experience, I realized the importance of recognizing when additional expertise is needed and effectively advocating for the patient's well-being. While my exposure to healthcare has been limited, this experience has reinforced my commitment to continuous learning and the importance of collaboration in the field of medicine. It has motivated me to pursue further opportunities to expand my knowledge and develop the problem-solving skills necessary to navigate complex healthcare scenarios."

In contrast to Student 1, Student 2 has a clear has a grasp of the question and has a logical, chronological structure that makes it easy to follow their thought process. In addition to providing sufficient depth, they also recognise their limits as a work experience student and offer insight as to how they continue to develop their problem-solving skills in the future.

Student 2 also utilises the STARR structure. This key structure can help answer questions in which the student is required to utilise personal experience. Here’s what each section stands for:

  • Situation: Describe the context and background of the situation. Set the stage by providing details about the specific scenario you encountered.
  • Task: Explain the task or objective that needed to be accomplished in the given situation. Clarify what was expected of you or what goal you were working towards.
  • Action: Outline the actions you took to address the situation or task at hand. Focus on your specific contributions, decisions, and steps you took to resolve the problem.
  • Result: Discuss the outcome of your actions. Highlight the impact or results of your efforts. Emphasize any positive outcomes, achievements, or lessons learned.
  • Reflection: Reflect on the experience and what you learned from it. Share insights gained, personal growth, or any new perspectives you acquired. Reflect on how the experience shaped your skills, knowledge, or future approach.

Here’s Student 3’s answer - another example of the STARR structure being used effectively:

“During my work experience in a care home, I came across a resident who faced significant communication difficulties. Determined to help improve their quality of life, I aimed to find effective ways to understand and address their needs. Through careful observation and interaction, I honed in on their non-verbal cues and subtle behaviours, gradually understanding the patterns that communicated their desires and preferences. I also sought guidance from experienced care home staff, who generously shared their insights and recommended techniques to enhance communication with residents facing similar challenges. Inspired by their advice, I delved into research, exploring alternative communication methods, and attending training sessions offered by the care home. Armed with newfound knowledge and a greater understanding of the resident's non-verbal cues, I began implementing a variety of techniques during our interactions. These included visual cues, touch therapy and assistive devices.

Over time, I witnessed remarkable progress through these measures, and I was able to anticipate their needs and provide the necessary assistance and support. This gradual improvement brought about a profound positive change in their overall well-being, fostering a deep sense of trust and comfort between us.

Reflecting on this transformative experience, I realized the immense power of patience, empathy, and problem-solving when faced with challenges in a care setting. This encounter solidified my commitment to pursuing a medical career. It ignited a deep passion within me to further develop my skills and knowledge, ensuring that I can make a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of those in need.”

**Worked Example: “Why is it important that Doctors develop teaching skills? How do you plan on developing these throughout medical school?”

So, when faced with this question, it might seem a bit daunting at first, but don't worry! With a little preparation and understanding, you'll find that answering this question can actually be quite straightforward compared to the others. Now, here's the interesting part: the second question that follows is designed to test your commitment to lifelong learning. It gives you a chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for continuously growing and improving as a medical professional. So, let's dive in and look at some example answers.

Student 1’s answer:

“Teaching skills are crucial for doctors for several reasons. Firstly, as doctors, we often find ourselves in the role of educators, guiding patients and their families through complex medical information. By developing teaching skills, we can effectively communicate medical concepts in a way that patients can understand, empowering them to make informed decisions about their health. Additionally, teaching skills are essential in interdisciplinary collaboration, allowing us to effectively share knowledge and collaborate with other healthcare professionals.

To develop these skills throughout medical school, I plan on actively seeking opportunities to engage in teaching and mentorship activities. I aim to participate in medical student-led tutorials and workshops, where I can practice delivering information and facilitating learning. Additionally, I am keen to engage with patients during clinical rotations, taking the time to explain diagnoses, treatment plans, and answer their questions. By actively seeking feedback from patients, colleagues, and mentors, I can continuously refine my teaching skills and ensure that I am effectively conveying medical information to diverse audiences.”

Student 2’s answer:

The development of teaching skills in doctors plays a pivotal role in advancing the field of medicine. By being able to effectively teach and educate others, doctors contribute to the dissemination of knowledge and the growth of medical practice. Teaching skills also foster a culture of continuous learning within the medical community, as doctors become not just practitioners, but also educators who inspire future generations of healthcare professionals.

Throughout medical school, I intend to actively engage in teaching opportunities. I plan on participating in peer-to-peer teaching sessions, where I can collaborate with fellow students to enhance our collective understanding of medical concepts. Additionally, I aim to join the local peer-teacher society, where I can collaborate with my peers to enhance my teaching proficiency. To further develop my skills, I will seek out mentorship from faculty members who have expertise in medical education and observe their teaching styles. By immersing myself in these experiences and embracing feedback, I can continually refine my teaching abilities and contribute to the growth of medical education.”

Both of these answers highlight the importance of teaching skills in doctors and demonstrate a proactive approach to developing these skills throughout medical school. Importantly, the students emphasise the role of effective communication with patients and interdisciplinary collaboration, showcasing their understanding of the broader impact of teaching skills in healthcare. Additionally, their plans to actively engage in teaching opportunities and seek mentorship demonstrate their commitment to continuous learning and improvement.


We hope this article has provided you with valuable insights into skills-based questions and their significance in the medical school interview process. By understanding the importance of these assessments and learning how to structure your responses effectively, you can confidently showcase your abilities and stand out during your interviews. Make sure to highlight key skills such as empathy, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving, as these form the foundation of being a successful doctor. Remember - practice makes perfect! So, if you’re looking for an in-depth guide covering everything on answering interview questions, check out FutureDoc’s awesome Medicine Interview Course.

We wish you the best of luck in your medical school journey and may your skills and passion for medicine shine brightly throughout the application process!

Written by Rohan Mehra