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Medical School Interview – How to Answer Ethics Questions

by tom44 on June 11, 2014

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No Experience Necessary : In this excerpt from my online video course, I teach you how to effectively respond to some of the most d…
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24 thoughts on “Medical School Interview – How to Answer Ethics Questions

  1. ShineyM says:

    I agree with the interviewer in that you should not be afraid to give your
    opinion on the manner as long as you give context of the issue (by framing
    the question) and defend your answer. At the end of the day the question is
    asking you to give an opinion on the issue.?

  2. raghav balakrishnan says:

    Great video, but I have a question. What about in the case of Patient
    confidentiality where the patient has Aids and does not want his wife to
    know. In that case, wouldn’t you have to consider the situation to make an
    informed decision? In this case, it would be best to let his wife know to
    prevent any disease contraction but if it were any other case, patient
    confidentiality would be maintained…??

  3. Seper Ekhtiari says:

    This is such a shallow and frankly idiotic view of medical ethics. I
    certainly hope you’re not an interviewer (and if you are, I mourn for the
    future of the doctors that come out of that program – perhaps more
    importantly the patients they treat). Medicine is ALL about separating out
    the individualizing characteristics of the situation and making a decision
    on that basis. Your argument sounds much more like a religious one than a
    scientific one. The interviewers aren’t out to get you. They may challenge
    you on what you say, but as long as you have considered the basic ethical
    principles and both positions, it is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes
    actually the correct thing to do) to make exceptions based on the case.
    Then again maybe it’s because I’m from Canada, where it’s far less
    acceptable for a doctor to hold such an absolutist view as ‘life is
    sacred’. ?

  4. VSYC2013 says:

    Thanks for the upload!?

  5. Don Osborne says:


  6. Don Osborne says:

    I don’t agree. If I am a (pick one: pro life / pro choice) doctor, can’t I
    stay true to my beliefs, even if my patient wants me to violate those
    beliefs? Re: “deadpan, one-dimension answer” – those are your words, not
    mine. Sorry, I don’t accept your evaluation that my recommendation results
    in what you claim it does. But let’s put it to the test – join me in a
    Google Hangout, we’ll run the exercise, record it and put it online.

  7. Paul S says:

    Agreed, this is terrible advice! You NEED to show that you are able to
    frame the dilemma in the context of the current way that society and the
    medical profession view the dilemma. You NEED to describe both sides to any
    dilemma, and make sure that you show the interviewer(s) that you appreciate
    both sides and find both to be valid. You also NEED to answer the question,
    which is, “what you think,” about the issue. Here you SHOULD avoid talking
    in absolute terms.

  8. Don Osborne says:

    You’ll need context. There will be federal, state and local laws that may
    govern your choices. There will be hospital policy you will be required to
    consider. So, yes, you can say ‘let it happen’ within this context.

  9. Don Osborne says:

    Hmmm, well that’s certainly not my intention, at least not the “so there”
    part. The secret sauce here is to have a clear ethical stance and stick to
    it. There was a pediatrician in the news recently who refused to treat
    children if their parents did not get them vaccinated. He simply invited
    them to find another doctor. This is a fairly “real world” example of what
    I mean about being clear in your values.

  10. Paul S says:

    You’re problem is that you think the interviewer is going to be challenging
    your technical, ethical reasoning. This is not correct. They know you have
    good reasoning skills. You wouldn’t be sitting there if you didn’t. They
    want to see that you can empathize with other’s view points. So yes answer
    how you feel if you are indeed directly asked, but do so after
    demonstrating a superior understanding of various view points. I can not
    believe that you really think giving an intransigent answer is ok

  11. Don Osborne says:

    My suggestion for dealing with an ethics question may not be relative
    enough for your liking. However, just because I have a strong belief,
    doesn’t mean that I cannot also empathize with other view points. Stay
    consistent within your beliefs and you’ll earn the respect of your

  12. Tokoroa3420 says:

    What I heard and believe is Doctors must respect the patients decision and
    never allowed to decide for the patient in major life changing decisions,
    so would it be alright just to say if patient wants to do it I will let it
    happen after giving the girl enough information about abortion for her to
    judge on her own?

  13. Paul S says:

    Mr. Osborne, I agree, you do indeed need to answer the question. However it
    seems like you are suggesting that an interviewer can’t challenge your
    answer because it’s your opinion. That is ridiculous. You can’t just say,
    “well that’s what I think, so there!” State your opinion. That is
    encourage. But it must be part of an answer in which you show a
    well-rounded, thoughtful and critical approach. You will definitely be
    challenged if all you do is state you opinion and move on.

  14. ensignr says:

    No, sticking to one absolutist view is not the way to go. Adcoms will more
    than likely view this negatively as it does not indicate the interviewer
    has put much thought into the issue. I’d recommend taking second approach
    brought up in this video if and only if you genuinely hold an absolute
    belief. Medschools want to see that you can recognize that there is a
    variety of ethical considerations. Be thoughtful,and be honest, but don’t
    give an opinion just because you think it’s easy to argue.

  15. Don Osborne says:

    Of course any approach to an ethics question gives rise to a critique.
    However, Paul S.’s response works too hard to avoid having a viewpoint of
    your own. Do not be afraid. Have a viewpoint, honor it, trust it. Don’t let
    anyone tell you that your viewpoint should be muted or sanitized.

  16. Don Osborne says:

    Don’t be afraid, ensignr, to have a viewpoint of your own. The fact that
    you can see an ethical dilemma from more than one viewpoint does not
    preclude your own personal perspective. If your patient wants to Die with
    Dignity, and you feel that this is part of your role as a healer … who is
    to say that you are wrong? I do not recommend you take an extreme position.
    Just hold onto yours. Don’t be afraid to say in an interview, “This is what
    I believe.”

  17. CitizenofDystopia says:

    I have to say that if an interviewee came to me with such an absolutist
    attitude they’d be rejected outright. This is terrible advice. While it is
    important for someone to have a viewpoint and have the commitment to defend
    it, this style of response clearly shows an inability to think as all moral
    dilemmas have some relativistic aspects to it.

  18. Don Osborne says:

    It’s sooo much harder to approach this from a relativist perspective. It’s
    much easier to stick to one ethical viewpoint.

  19. Don Osborne says:

    Thanks for your comment, CitizenofD. Consider the belief “all life is
    sacred.” I can hold this belief as an absolute, and still consider opposing
    beliefs. I can consider the relativism of others, and not accept their view
    as my own. I can listen compassionately to a patient’s wishes, and refer
    him/her to a colleague when my values conflict with the patient’s wishes.
    Look at the comments on this video, notice how one-sided they are.
    “Relativism is right, an absolute value is wrong.” A paradox.

  20. Don Osborne says:

    Of course, having a specific viewpoint – abortion is [right/wrong, pick
    one] – is an absolute. This does not preclude recognizing other viewpoints.
    It’s the exceptions to your perspective that can be trappy.

  21. ensignr says:

    That’s terrible advice, no offence. Ad-coms want to see you have developed
    sound critical thinking skills and can approach ethical dilemmas from
    multiple viewpoints. Answering in absolutes and taking extreme positions
    just because you think it will be easier to argue will ultimately harm an
    applicant as this approach fails to demonstrate the above.

  22. izede says:

    Good advice. Thank you for sharing this.

  23. Erin Marie says:

    so is it not recommended to answer by the first approach?

  24. Paul S says:

    Don, you are saying “so there,” in a manner of speaking. You even just said
    it in your video… that “you’ve made up your mind and nothing the
    interviewer says can change your mind.” That’s not right. And taking your
    example of the paediatrician who won’t treat unvaccinated kids isn’t a
    value based based issue at all. It’s a medical/safety/work-safe issue.
    Please stop telling people that a deadpan, one-dimensional answer is

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