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How to ace a graduate medical interview

Katherine Yates

To help you land your dream job in medicine, we’ve put together a list of interview questions you might encounter along the way.

So you’ve finished your degree—congratulations! If you’re a nurse or a medical researcher, it probably took about four years from start to finish. If you’re a doctor or dentist, it could have taken as many as seven, or even more! Whatever the case, it’s time to put your hard-earned skills to use. For most graduates, that’ll mean applying for jobs and then passing through a rigorous series of interviews and assessments.

While application procedures vary—for example, graduate doctors in some states submit paper applications only—the requirements of graduate medical interviews are largely consistent, whether you’re a nurse, an audiologist, a pharmacist, or a medical researcher. Below, we’ll cover the main types of interview questions, provide examples relevant to different fields, and suggest ways that you can prepare for success.

Technical questions

During a technical interview, employers will want to assess several things:

  • Your experience and knowledge
  • Your suitability for the role
  • Your technical competence
  • How easily you can get your head around unfamiliar scenarios
  • How well you can explain technical concepts
  • How you react under pressure
  • How capable you are of identifying the technical information that’s most relevant to a given situation (for example, knowing, as a nurse, when and how it’s appropriate to check blood oxygen levels)

Many technical interviews will start off in familiar territory, with questions about aspects of your degree that relate directly to the organisation's work. You won’t be asked to perform difficult calculations on the spot, but you should be ready to explain important concepts from your field of health.

If you’re stumped, it helps to remember this general truth about technical interviews: employers are less concerned about whether you know the right answer, and more interested in seeing whether or not you can work towards it. You can always ask for clarification, and if it would help to draw things on a sheet of paper, then, by all means, ask for one.

Technical questions for nurses

  1. What types of charting systems have you used? What do you like about them? What do you dislike?
  2. How would you respond if you found an elderly patient who had fallen over in their room? What protocols would you follow to document the incident?
  3. Which bed position would be most appropriate for a patient who required frequent assistance with feeding and oral hygiene?
  4. How would you administer medication to a patient who can’t swallow?
  5. What would you do to prepare yourself if required to assist with a surgical procedure?

Technical questions for doctors

  1. You are paged to see a patient who has been producing <10ml an hour of urine for the past 4 hours. What is your approach to this patient?
  2. Which medications would you consider prescribing to a patient diagnosed with hypercalcemia?
  3. Which interventions would you consider for a neonate born at full term to a woman with hepatitis B?
  4. What diagnostic tools would you use if evaluating a female, senior patient who presents with a chest infection and impaired attention?  
  5. Describe the relative merits of the seven main classes of antibiotics.

Technical questions for medical scientists

  1. Describe your experience conducting chemical analysis of body fluids.
  2. Tell me about the last time you monitored or reviewed information and detected a problem. How did you respond?
  3. Describe an experience in which you cultivated and/or assisted in the identification of microbial organisms. What tests have you performed on these organisms?
  4. Have you ever used your knowledge of cell cycles and culture conditions to determine the optimum time to harvest cell cultures?
  5. Can you describe a situation in which you drew upon mechanical principles to maintain a piece of medical equipment or machinery?

Behavioral questions

By asking behavioral questions, prospective employers hope to get a sense of how you’ll respond to a variety of situations that might arise in the workplace. Generally, such questions will focus on how you’ve behaved in the past, rather than how you would behave in hypothetical situations. It’s important to answer honestly – remember, you can always follow up an answer that mightn’t be encouraging with a description of what you learned from the results of past decisions.

A helpful method to use when answering behavioral questions is the ‘CAR principle’. CAR stands for context, action, and result. In other words, you will begin by providing the context for your answer – what situation did you find yourself in and how was it relevant to the employer’s question? Then, describe your actions: be as specific as possible in describing the steps you took to respond constructively to a situation. Finally, outline the results of the actions you took. What happened? Did things go as you’d been expecting them to? What did you learn from the experience?

Behavioral questions for nurses

  1. Describe a time when you were particularly proud of your healthcare team. What happened?
  2. Can you think of a time when a patient’s family was dissatisfied with the patient’s care? How did you handle the situation?
  3. Have you ever had to deal with a hostile patient? How did you manage the situation?
  4. Have you ever had a patient whose medical requirements took up a disproportionate amount of your time? How did you meet their needs while still providing other patients with quality care?
  5. How do you handle conversations with patients who might be worried or fearful about upcoming medical procedures?

Behavioral questions for doctors

  1. Tell us about a time when a patient was relying on your medical expertise with regards to a complex issue. How did you communicate with them in a way that helped them understand the situation and make an informed decision?
  2. Have you ever had to deal with a patient who was reluctant to accept your treatment recommendations? How did you proceed?
  3. Can you provide a specific example of a time when you had to comply with a policy that you didn’t approve of?
  4. Tell us about a time when you misdiagnosed a case. How did you resolve the situation?
  5. What is your approach when evaluating a patient whom you suspect might be withholding or falsifying important diagnostic information?

Behavioral questions for medical scientists

  1. What is the best result you’ve achieved while working alone? How did you monitor your progress?
  2. Can you talk about a time when you were required to master an important new software program or piece of equipment? What was your approach?
  3. Have you ever had to conduct research alongside somebody with whom you didn’t get along? How did you manage the situation?
  4. What is your approach when discussing the technical aspects of your work with somebody from a different specialist area or a non-technical background?
  5. Describe a decision you made that was unpopular. How did you implement it?

Interpersonal questions

As a graduate from a health-related discipline, the chances are that much of the work you do will take place within the context of your interactions with other people—whether they be patients (and concerned relatives of patients), fellow medical professionals, non-medical stakeholders, or other colleagues. Make no mistake—your ability to interact in a constructive and meaningful way with the people you encounter as a nurse, doctor, or other health worker, will be critical to your overall success.

As such, it’s little surprise that interviewers will often ask questions designed to evaluate how effectively you can relate to other people. In answering them, it’s critical that you’re honest but also positive. On the one hand, nobody is a saint (unless, of course, they are a saint, which would be an impressive accomplishment for a newly minted graduate). On the other, it’s hardly necessary for an interviewee to confess every interpersonal transgression they’ve ever made.

As with the behavioral questions, if answering honestly means describing a situation in which you didn’t relate to others as effectively as you could have, then focus on what you learned from the experience and how it prepared you to be more interpersonally effective in the future.