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Medical Ethics Questions: How to Nail Them in Your Med School Interview

June 3, 2022
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About Ethics Questions in Medical InterviewsMedical School Interview Ethics Questions to ExpectHow To Prepare for Medical Ethics QuestionsFAQs: Medical School Ethics Questions


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/3/22

Ethics questions are often considered the most challenging of all the questions you may be asked in your medical school interviews. Unlike open-ended questions like "where do you see yourself in five years?" or "what are you most passionate about?," ethics questions are truly ones you don't want to get wrong.

Luckily, there are tried and true methods to prepare for ethics questions in your medical school interviews. If you're heading into interview season feeling a little shaky in the ethics department, we've got you covered. Here we'll go over everything you need to know about ethics questions in med school interviews, from how to prepare for them to examples and FAQs.

Let's get started!

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About Ethics Questions in Medical Interviews

Medical schools ask ethics questions during interviews to get a sense of your understanding of ethical reasoning. When asked about complex ethical dilemmas, your interviewer will not be expecting every candidate to have the same "correct" answer. Just make sure that your response can be backed by ethical reasoning. 

As you may know, the four pillars of medical ethics are:

Ethics questions are not entirely about your humanity or moral compass. When contemplating the question with your interviewer, lean on the four pillars to demonstrate professionalism and your ethics knowledge. 

It is important to note that your interviewer may not be looking for an opinion right away. Ethical dilemmas often have multiple valid courses of action. Unless they specifically ask, your interviewer is likely more interested in your understanding of ethics than your personal opinion.

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Medical School Interview Ethics Questions to Expect

Here we'll go over some medical ethics questions you may be asked during your interview and how to answer them. Keep up to date on current hot topics in the medical world, as you'll likely be asked about them in your medical school interview.

“An 86 year-old patient has been battling cancer with chemotherapy treatments for over a year. There has been little progress, and the patient is visibly suffering every day. One day the patient asks for doctor-assisted suicide. What do you do?”

Euthanasia is a major ethical dilemma likely to come up in your medical school interview. Every pillar of ethics battles one another in this debate. Beneficence tells us to do good for the patient, to end their suffering. Non-maleficence tells us not to harm the patient, which directly conflicts with beneficence and autonomy since you would not be respecting the patient's free will if you refuse.

The easiest way to start tackling this issue is with legality. Euthanasia is legal in a handful of countries and some U.S. states. Depending on your patient's whereabouts, you may be able to carry out this procedure without miscarrying justice (the fourth pillar.)

After determining legality, assessing the patient's mental capacity must be completed to determine how capable they are of making a sound decision. Remember to keep your response to the technical process and avoid inserting a personal opinion unless you are specifically asked for one.

“You’re treating a 13 year old patient. Although the patient is below the legal age of consent, they reveal to you that they are sexually active. Do you confront their parents although it would mean breaching doctor-patient confidentiality?”

In this scenario, there are two main factors to consider. On the one hand, the patient is engaging in illegal underage activities that may put their safety at risk. On the other hand, the patient trusts you with this information, and you do not want to break doctor-patient confidentiality. 

Take into account the four pillars of ethics. Beneficence means that, as a doctor, you must promote the course of action that you believe is in the patient's best interest. In this case, that would mean encouraging the underage patient to inform their legal guardians that they are sexually active as long as they feel safe in doing so. 

The mental wellbeing of the young patient is at risk since the situation suggests the patient could be taken advantage of. Doctors can offer contraception and sexual health advice without notifying the legal guardians. However, confidentiality can be breached if the patient's safety is at risk, and the guardians or authorities can be told.

How To Prepare for Medical Ethics Questions

Although you may not have access to the exact medical ethics questions you'll be asked in your interview, there are ways to prepare for them before your big day. Here are some ways to prepare for ethics questions in your medical school interview.

Focus On the Process

Formulate your answers around your thought process. No one expects you to solve a major medical issue in the short time you have to answer your question. Your interviewer is trying to understand how you'll approach an ethical dilemma. 

With that in mind, your answers should be thorough, professional, and well thought out. Ethical dilemmas take time to process, so it's alright if you take more time with this one than your previous questions. Lean on your knowledge of ethical medicine and explain your thought process while maintaining a level head. 

Know Your Material

Before you go into your interview, you should thoroughly review what you already know about medical ethics. Referencing concepts such as consequentialism, utilitarianism, and deontology in your response will show the interviewer that you've done your research.

Answer Practice Questions

The best way to prepare for these ethics questions in your medical school interview is to answer practice questions before your interview. You can do this with a peer, a tutor, or even a family member. It may also be a good idea to record your answers to be analyzed for further learning and improvement. 

During your preparation, it is critical to practice answering ethics questions verbally. Ethical questions can put a lot of pressure on applicants and make you flustered or stressed out. Answering practice questions out loud will help ease your anxiety on the day of your interview.  

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Medical Ethics Questions

Ethics questions are stressful and may catch you off guard if you are not adequately prepared. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when answering ethics questions in your medical school interview. 

Avoid Inserting Your Opinion Right Away

Some ethics questions are about controversial topics, and when answering, you may be tempted to insert your opinion right away. Remember that the interviewer is more interested in your thought process than your opinion. 

For example, if you are presented with a question about whether or not you should perform an abortion in a given situation, understand the facts. Apply ethical reasoning to both the fetus and the mother, be sure to consider the mental health impacts and the physical and maintain a neutral standpoint. Avoid stating your political opinions or personal preference.

Make Sure You Understand the Question

Before giving your answer, it is good to repeat the prompt back to your interviewer. This shows that you're making an effort to fully understand the situation before formulating your response and ensures that you know your prompt. Medical ethics questions can be complex and lengthy, so don't be afraid to ask for the prompt to be repeated. 

FAQs: Medical School Ethics Questions

Here we’ll answer some of your most asked questions about ethical questions in medical school interviews.

1. What do I say if I don’t know how to answer a medical ethics question?

Your interviewer is mainly focused on your thought process. Don’t panic if you don’t know exactly what you’d do if faced with a challenging ethical dilemma. Rely on your ethics knowledge to formulate a thoughtful response. 

2. Is there a wrong way to answer medical ethics questions? 

Yes, your answer to an ethics question can be incorrect or rub your interviewer the wrong way. Try to stick to the four pillars of ethics when explaining how you would handle the given ethical dilemma, and avoid inserting your personal opinion.

3. What is a medical ethics violation?

A medical ethics violation is an action taken by a doctor that violates the patient's right to proper care. Some examples of medical ethics violations are discrimination, negligence, treating a patient who has refused said treatment, a doctor making sexual contact with a patient, or not upholding their ethical duties as physicians.

4. What is medical law and ethics?

According to Oxford, medical law and ethics "considers the rights of patients and responsibilities of doctors with reference to complex moral debate." In other words, doing what is ethical does not always comply with the law. 

5. How can I study for medical ethics questions?

The best way to study ethics questions in a medical school interview is to review practice questions with a colleague or professional tutor

6. Can medical ethics questions make or break my medical school interview?

There are many factors that medical schools take into consideration when making their final decisions. One bad answer won’t overshadow your entire interview, but you should make sure to avoid personal opinions and stick to the four pillars of ethics. 

Final Thoughts 

Medical ethics questions deserve long, thought-out answers that thoroughly assess the problem with the four pillars of ethics. As a physician, your future will be full of ethical dilemmas just like the ones you'll be asked about in your interview. Don't worry; you're not expected to know all the answers just yet.

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