Applying to Medical School

How to Approach Ethical Questions in Medical School Interviews

If you are a pre-medical student, one of your biggest fears may be an interview question that relates to ethics. Questions relating to ethics come up in interviews all the time, but it’s not necessarily something to be scared about if you can prepare for it. What an interviewer wants to see is that the student understands a few basics about medicine, society, and a physician’s role in solving ethical issues as they arise.

As an interviewer, we often ask questions because they’re actually fun, they don’t necessarily have a right answer, and it gives us the ability to look into a student’s ability to comprehend and potentially interact in a meaningful way with others as they eventually would as physicians.

There are several ways to prepare for the ethical interview, but perhaps the best way is to actually understand clinical situations and to think about what you would do with them.

Sample Ethical Case in the News

This leads to the recent case of Charlie Gard, an 11-month-old infant in Britain who has a rare, fatal genetic disease. He’s currently on life-support and his doctors there want to take him off of that life support (i.e. remove his breathing tube). However, his parents feel that this shouldn’t happen even though there may be any known treatment. They desperately and understandably want him to try experimental treatments to see if they would work. The experimental treatments are certainly not proven, and even in cases where they worked, they’ve prolonged life but these children have also needed ventilation support and around the clock care. There’s a hospital in New York that’s willing to treat this patient, under certain conditions. Of course, the treatment would be extremely expensive and may or may not work.

An easy ethical question I can see being asked about this case is whether this patient should be treated, or should the resources be revised to treat other children whose diseases maybe easily cured such as malaria, malnutrition, HIV, etc. As always, there’s no right answer. However,  as a premed, it may be helpful for you to think through what you would do in the situation and how you would weigh pros and cons.

Sahil Mehta

Sahil Mehta M.D. is an attending physician in the Department of Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Founder of MedSchoolCoach. Dr Mehta is one of the world’s experts on medical school admissions having founded MedSchoolCoach in 2007. MedSchoolCoach provides admissions consulting to premedical students in the form of interview preparation, essay editing and general advising. In the past 10 years, he has had a hand in over a thousand acceptances to medical school.

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