How to Answer Ethical Questions in the Med School Interview

How should you answer moral and ethical questions in the medical school interview? These questions typically broach such topics as euthanasia and abortion. How should you approach these sensitive and controversial topics?

If you want to learn more about interview tips, check out my book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. For more premed advice and med school motivation, check out all our podcasts on MedEd Media.

[00:33] Remember the Goal

When it comes to moral and ethical questions, a lot of it is going to revolve around your thoughts and ideas around these highly sensitive or potentially highly sensitive topics.

Now, many students freak out about moral questions in the interview for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the concern, “What if I land on the other side of the issue from the interviewer? Do I tell them what I think they want to hear or do I just play down the middle, and not really tell them anything?”

Students think they have to prove they care about everyone and that everyone is equal. 

“The goal of the medical school interview is all about having a conversation.”Click To Tweet

[02:19] Speak with Empathy

Whether or not you’re talking about the president, or politics or abortion, or physician-assisted suicide, or legalization of drugs, you are coming at it from your point of view. They’re coming from your experiences, how you grew up, and the people around you who raised you.

“However you answer ethical questions in the medical school interview, you're coming at it from YOUR perspective.”Click To Tweet

One of the key things you need to be able to do is to speak with respect and empathy for other people who disagree with you.

We have these bubbles in this country where we get into these silos of what is bad and what is good. And if you approach your medical school interview in a way that you are conveying your thoughts and beliefs where everything outside of that circle is bad, then that will not be good in an interview.

Remember that when patients come to see you, they are going to have different opinions, beliefs, political views, and religious views than you. And if you give that impression to the interviewer that you’re not okay with that, and that you will judge your patients in some way because of that, that will show the interviewer that you probably aren’t mature enough yet to be a physician.

So you want to demonstrate that you will be able to work with coworkers and patients who have different beliefs from you. You need to be able to respect others—while also expressing what you believe and who you are.

[03:55] Don’t Give Generic Answers

And so let’s take an example of abortion. Many students would say, “Well, my personal beliefs or personal thoughts on abortion don’t really matter. I know that if a patient comes to me that, that if they want an abortion and I don’t want to perform an abortion, that I will get them the care that they need.” Now, that is a very scripted answer that doesn’t show the interviewer who you are.

Being generic by not having an opinion will NOT help you when it comes to these ethical questions.

Drop your frameworks and don’t worry about your thoughts being different than the interviewers. Assume that the interviewer is trained and professional enough that their personal beliefs aren’t going to be affected by your beliefs if they are different.

Give your real answer, and back it up with your reasons. Everybody’s views are shaped through their experiences. And so, the interviewer wants to know what your experiences have been because that’s how they connect with you and understand who you are. But just express it in a way that is empathetic to the other side.

For example, saying you’re pro-life and that you want people who get an abortion to rot in jail is not an answer that shows empathy on the other side. Instead, you could say that you’re pro-life and that you don’t think you would perform an abortion. But you would get them the help they need.

“Understand that people come from different backgrounds and will have different thoughts and beliefs from you, and physicians should be empathetic to that.”Click To Tweet

[09:27] Ask for More Information

It’s also okay to ask for more information or background on issues that you don’t know much about. This is especially the case on current events that you may not have heard about yet.

You will not be marked off for not knowing a specific thing. Where you will get knocked down is if you start talking and pretending you know something without actually knowing it. 

In the end, if you are genuine and empathetic in how you answer moral and ethical questions, you will do just fine in your medical school interview. Come up with an answer, pick a side, and have your thoughts and your beliefs back up that discussion. Then have empathy for the other side.


MedEd Media

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview