Below is a selection of Medical School interview questions on the theme of ‘Teamwork’.
The answer guides have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools.
Remember, though, that an interview is about an individual, so there are no hard and fast rules. The answer guides are only examples and are not exhaustive. They should be used to stimulate your thinking — not repeated verbatim at your interview.
Give an example of a time you worked in a team and it was successful.
- Briefly set the scene: what type of team, what were you doing, what was the goal and what was the outcome?
- After this has been established, talk about your role. They want to find out what you contributed so be specific. You need to say not just what you did, but how you did it
- Example: if you contributed to the smooth communication within the team, maybe it was because you set up a group chat, you addressed each member directly and checked up on each member’s individual progress, encouraging everyone to post their progress and striving to keep everyone in the loop
- Have a set example of a time you have shown good teamwork. Ideally, it should have a resolution to showcase your problem-solving skills
- Then conclude by stating what you learnt about the qualities of a successful team. This shows that you are reflective. You can go a step further by relating it to Medicine and how the learning points can be applied in future, at medical school and beyond
- Taking too long describing the example. Everything you say should be made relevant by either reflecting your individual good qualities or by showing your understanding of the important factors of team work
- Not focusing on right things. Your gold Duke of Edinburgh award is less important than the skills/qualities you’ve learnt that can translate to Medicine
Give an example of a time you worked in a team and you failed?
- Again, start with the basics
- Briefly set the scene: what type of team, what were you doing, what was the goal and what was the outcome?
- Then talk about your role specifically. Though the team did not reach its objective, they want to find out what you contributed. There will still be positives to take from it
- Show that you are able to reflect, learn and improve. Say what went wrong and why. However, don’t be over-critical of team mates or blame people
- Say what you would change next time in order to achieve a more desirable outcome
- Translate these lessons into something applicable to your future career as a medical student and a doctor
- Being too self-deprecating. This is not a pity party. You need to show introspection i.e. that you’ve learnt from past mistakes, and that you are confident of correcting them in future
- Placing blame. Constructively criticise the failings of the team instead. You need to be able see the fault in others but also be able to appreciate that the failure of a team is collective
What are the attributes of a good team leader?
- Think of this in advance. Draw on examples from those who have inspired you as a leader – be it a teacher, a sports captain or a doctor you saw lead a team on work experience
- When going through the points that you feel make a great leader, bring them to life by saying why they are so important and by using examples of times you have personally shown, or at least seen, these traits in action
- Useful sources of examples that can be applied to the below checklist are Multi-disciplinary Teams (MDTs) in a hospital setting, sports teams or group activities, like Duke of Edinburgh. But you should have plenty of others as well
- Great leaders are usually effective communicators. They get across the team’s objectives to its members in a clear way that gives people a sense of purpose
- An effective leader reaches out to all members of the team and makes clear that he/she cares about the progress of all members of the team. They are inclusive
- Organisation is essential, since managing a team requires being on top of exactly what needs to be done, when and by whom
- Delegation is important. A strong leader knows his/her team members, what are their strengths and their weaknesses, and is able to delegate fairly
- Ultimately, a strong leader takes responsibility. They will not place blame on their team or its members in tough times
- Remember: use an example of a time you were a team leader or a time you witnessed good leadership to make your answer stand out
- Just listing qualities without reasons or examples. For every trait, make sure that you say why it is important and when you’ve seen / done it
- Focusing too much on the individual leader. The sign of a really good leader is actually the ability to maximise the output of their team
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What are the attributes of a good team member?
- Again, you will need to think about this in advance so you can arm yourself not only with key traits but also reasons and examples
- In advance of the interview, make a list of all the times you were a member of a team and tease out the things you did well – and you could have done better
- It is very important that a good team member can take guidance. This is also an essential trait of being a medical student. Think of times, perhaps from work experience, where you were given feedback and took it on-board to improve your performance
- A good team member understands their role as part of a larger team. You will often be working in a team (like an MDT), which is in turn a small part of a much bigger team: the NHS. Show that you can work for the greater good and believe in doing so
- Dedication should be a given. This is also a chance to showcase a crucial quality. When working a week of nights, are you the one who pulls the team through or holds them back?
- A key to being able to work well with others is compromise. You can tie this to lots of other desirable traits, like empathy
- Believing that being a team member is less desirable than being a leader. You need to be both, but it is important to note that as a medical student and starting out as a junior doctor, you will be part of a team more often than you will be leading one
- Thinking that being told to do something different is a sign of weakness. Use examples of times when you were told to do something differently, took it on board and really improved your performance as a result
Are you a leader or a follower?
- You should tell them that you are both — and this should also be true
- To be a great medical student, who need to have leadership quality but also be able to take instruction and contribute to the greater good
- Provide personal examples of times when you have been a leader and a follower to demonstrate that this is true, offering an outline of the situation, the rationale and the ultimate outcome
- Leadership example: I took a leadership role within my school’s medical society. Attendance was low and people were not inspired to come any more. So I looked into some exciting topics and group activities online and worked with the teacher in charge to implement them. This led to numbers at society meetings doubling
- Teamwork example: when I was playing football for my school in the cup semi-final, our captain asked me to play out of position in the second half so we could protect a narrow lead. I knew this would limit my personal impact in the game but saw that the captain had the best interests of the team at heart and that he was right. I played more defensively and we progressed to the final
- Insisting that you are a leader, thinking this shows more strength. It is excellent if you have leadership qualities but you also need to be able to take instruction over the next six years of medical school and beyond
- Not having leadership examples. Some people have lots of teamwork examples but are shy and don’t consider themselves leaders. Think about times you really took the initiative. If there aren’t enough, work to develop these skills prior to interview
Is teamwork important in Medicine? Why?
- This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase all of the preparation and work experience that you have done during the application process. You should bring in examples from work experience, any relevant reading you have done and even personal experiences as a patient or relative.
- First of all, answer the first half of the question. Yes, teamwork is essential in Medicine because it is essential in delivering high-quality care.
- Consider the following reasons why: doctors specialise in a particular area so the ability to work in a multi-disciplinary team is essential for patients with multiple morbidities; healthcare is not just delivered by doctors, it is also delivered by nurses and allied health professionals; teamwork increases the speed of intervention, which is essential in trauma cases; teamwork is essential to the training and development of future staff.
- Consider instances where a breakdown in teamwork has negatively affected an outcome.
- Has your reading discussed the importance of teamwork and collaboration? For instance, have you read the first page of Good Medical Practice? (Hint: If not, do so!)
- For bonus points, consider the role of the patient as a team member. Is the patient part of the team? In what way?
- Generalising by saying that it is important, without concrete or specific reasons for why.
- Discussing reasons in the abstract and not using work experience, reading or personal examples to illustrate how teamwork manifests itself in the real world.
How do you resolve conflict within a group?
- Your answer for this type of question should be multifaceted; involving a short, generic answer explaining what you would do as well as a more specific, detailed anecdote and a summary
- One of the most important traits of a good team member is the ability to deal with conflicts quickly and sensibly whilst not affecting the group dynamic or ability to complete the task
- An example of a personal anecdote: During my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze, two members of my group thought that we needed to go in the opposite direction to the rest of the group. Before the discussion escalated further, I thought it important to get everyone together and hear what people have to say – we have a task to complete and it must be done as a team. I knew we could deal with this ourselves as a group, so we looked at the map and decided, as a group, the best route to take.
- After giving this anecdote, it may be worth mentioning any plan you implemented to prevent conflict arising in the future and dealing with issues quickly
- You don’t need to go into unpleasant details of the argument, just a brief overview and a summary of the resolution
- Getting ‘tied down’ in the minutiae of the conflict can lead to you losing the interviewer and you may lose valuable time
- Not having an example. Examples of conflicts can be as big or small as you like; the key to answering this question well is about demonstrating that you can deal with any situation appropriately and seek assistance if necessary.
What would you do if you were working on a group project and noticed than one member of the team was not contributing?
- Medical students are often required to work in groups for the purpose of PBL (at certain universities) or to produce a piece of work such as an academic poster. This means that teamwork is very important and you want your answer demonstrate that you have the ability to work well with others and resolve issues within a team.
- Where possible, it is important for students to be able to deal with problems within a team independently without having to involve a member of staff. You might mention speaking to a tutor as an option if the team was unable to resolve the issue but this would probably not be your first resort.
- When working as a team, is it important for all members of the group to contribute so simply having other students make up for the lack of contributions on one person’s part is not a good solution to the problem described in this scenario.
- Explain how you would approach the individual in question. As you are not yet sure why they are failing to contribute, you might want to do this sensitively and without being confrontational. There are a number of reasons why a team member might struggle with a group project such as personal issues, confusion about their role, or reluctance to ask questions in a group setting.
- Suggest how you might encourage your team member to begin contributing more. For example, holding a group meeting to clarify each person’s role and give people to opportunity to ask questions or providing some constructive feedback on what they have been doing so far.
- Saying that you would go directly to a member of staff. Although this might be a good option if your team has tried and failed to solve a problem or is dealing with a more serious situation, it is important for students to try and resolve issues like this amongst themselves when possible.
- Being overly confrontational in your answer. Empathy is an important quality for medical students and you should consider why the student might be having trouble with the project. You would also want to avoid generating friction within your team as this would further disrupt your work.
Why is it important for a team leader to be able to allocate?
- This question is an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the role of a team leader and the importance of drawing on the strengths of each team member. You may want to use a personal example of when you acted as a leader and had to deal with allocating tasks.
- A good leader is essential for the success of a team and it is up to them to ensure that each team member is contributing effectively. Whilst very competent individuals (like the majority of medical students) often feel tempted to deal with tasks personally, it is important to be able to allocate work so as to make the most of each team member’s unique skill set.
- It is also important for a leader to be aware of their limits and to know when it is in the team’s best interest to trust in someone else’s opinions/abilities. For example, another team member might have the experience or expertise required for a specific task.
- Give an example of when you took on a leadership role and explain how you chose to divide work amongst your team. If you failed to allocate roles well, reflect on the result that this had on your team’s outcomes.
- You may want to consider relating your answer back to medicine – Multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) are made up of individuals from different healthcare professions who work together for the purpose of improving patient care. These teams are a perfect example of why allocation is so important as each member has their own specialised field and should therefore take on a leading role when the team is focussing on an issue related to their area of expertise.
- Failing to take into account the skills of different team members. Simply splitting work equally across a group is not the most effective use of human resources; more can be achieved when people are given tasks that are appropriate given their unique skill set.
- Failing to give a personal example. Although this is not technically required for a question like this, it is recommended. Interviewers will appreciate you giving an example of how you dealt with allocating tasks as a leader and reflecting on why your approach was or was not successful.
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LAST WEDNESDAY, WE anticipated a busy day in the Students’ Union, as thousands of students across the country opened up the flimsy brown envelopes representing two years of toil.
Leaving Cert results are a spectator sport in Ireland – the whole country stops to reminisce and joke about that tense day we all endured, and an unlucky few are forced to pose, results in hand, for awkward stock photos that will haunt them for years.
On results day we fielded calls mostly from parents – proud parents, whose children were in the “safe zone” and were likely on a path to Trinity, and the more anxious ones who wanted to know if we had an indicator of the CAO points yet. We couldn’t say for sure, we told them, and parents and students alike faced a long five days’ wait to today’s CAO offers.
Today’s offers confirmed what we all suspected – points rose in several courses in Trinity, as they have annually for the past five years. In particular, law and courses in the engineering, maths and science faculty have gradually climbed. The fight for college places has only grown tougher each year. More and more people are calling for a reform or overhaul of the CAO system, with personal statements mooted as an option, as in the UK.
Trinity recently developed its own alternative admissions scheme along these lines. 25 places were offered to students based on their Leaving Cert points, a personal statement, and their relative performance ranking in their school. This particular scheme offers better opportunities to those in disadvantaged or rural schools, where the overall performance might not be as high as in a typical Dublin private school. Similarly, access programmes and the DARE scheme provide places for lower-point students from disadvantaged areas or with learning difficulties. Perhaps a broad approach such as this, accounting for socioeconomic and personal factors could be a fair complement to the CAO system.
Students receiving their Leaving Cert results at Stratford College, Rathgar, Co Dublin last Wednesday Source: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie
However, the rise and fall of points isn’t just due to the system itself. It’s down to a constant increase in demand each year. Colleges, already overcrowded and tight on cash, simply can’t accommodate all of the students seeking admission. Courses across the board are cutting modules and academic staff. In the National College of Art and Design, student numbers have sharply increased, as have fees for “materials” and postgraduate courses.
Controversially, the college introduced a €15 fee for the college health centre, a decision criticised by students and the college doctor. Colleges can’t afford to offer their students the services they deserve, and the situation is only getting worse. State funding in higher education has dropped by a devastating 32% in the last six years, and it’s the most vulnerable students who are paying the price. Whether they’re dodging the doctor because they can’t afford to pay or dropping out due to repeat exam fees, even the smallest charges can have catastrophic effects on their education.
First choice is never your only choice
All this being said, the CAO isn’t the end of the world. Your first choice is never, ever your only choice. Within universities, there’s plenty of scope to change course or develop your skills outside academia. Didn’t get the points for business? Why not get involved with the college entertainments crew, promoting nights and selling tickets to develop the skills that will make you stand out to employers in three years’ time? Didn’t make it into film school? Get involved with your campus TV station or film society, and learn the skills yourself.
If you’ve always had a passion for law, but didn’t get the points, head into the library and dig out the books yourself, or take an extracurricular course. College is about so very much more than the time you spend in the lecture hall or library. You may never work in the area you studied, but the friends you make and the experiences you have will stand to you in ways you never thought possible. So be proud and celebrate today, whatever your options are – you’ve worked hard and you’ll never have to listen to the voices on the Irish aural again.
Aifric Ní Chríodáin is a graduate of French and Film Studies at TCD, and is currently the Communications and Marketing Officer for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union.