Medical ethics for interviews: What you need to know

October 17, 2019 - Sara Zaidi

So you’ve submitted your UCAS application. Congratulations! Now you are approaching one of the final steps in the application process: the interview. Here is an opportunity for you to show your interviewers in person how keen you are on studying at their university. Whether you are going to be taking an MMI or a panel interview, good preparation is vital.

Preparing for interviews can be challenging, as many students do not feel confident in talking about themselves. But the competition is huge! So, it is crucial to put nerves to one side, and be as comfortable as you can when approaching the interview.

The principles of medical ethics

Medical ethics is one aspect that you should try to familiarise yourself with. It deals with the philosophical side to medicine and how to respond to different clinical scenarios by applying some key principles. 5 key principles of medical ethics are:

  • Patient autonomy
  • Beneficence
  • Non-maleficence
  • Justice and confidentiality

Want to see examples of medical ethics questions? Try some free panel interview questions and free MMI interview questions. Need more than practice? We offer a range of MMI & Interview Courses to suit your needs.

Patient autonomy

Firstly, patient autonomy refers to giving patients the right to make decisions for themselves about their health. It is important that, before any procedure, a patient’s consent is taken. The patient should feel comfortable and their freedom to make decisions should be respected. For example, patients can ask for a second opinion from a different doctor if they want to.


Secondly, beneficence is the principle of ‘doing good’. Doctors have a moral responsibility to act in the best interest of their patients. This involves doing their utmost to provide the patient with the best healthcare. Sometimes, situations can arise where you have multiple treatment options for a patient and choosing which one to eventually deliver would need a decision-making process. This could be based on how effective each option is and how likely the patient would be to recover.


Thirdly, non-maleficence refers to ‘doing no harm’ to patients. This includes acting morally; it is often used alongside the term beneficence. It involves making sure that patients are treated with respect and dignity. Doctors should not put their patients at risk of harm and they should assess the advantages and disadvantages of a certain treatment given the patient’s disease state when treating them holistically.


Fourthly is the principle of justice, which is becoming increasingly well-known in terms of meeting healthcare demands with limited resources. Justice is all about making sure that there is fairness when dealing with patients. Doctors should ensure that they treat all their patients the same.

Sometimes, when resources are limited, decisions need to be made regarding who to provide with a particular treatment or intervention. For example, if there are two patients with liver failure, where the only treatment is to have a liver transplant and there is only one donor available, which patient should be given the liver transplant? Here, you would have to assess both patients as a whole, consider multiple aspects such as, whether or not they are alcoholics, what their prognosis would be like if they were to have the transplant, their age (as this can affect how they may tolerate any post-operative infections and medications), and you may also want to consider if they have any pre-existing medical conditions.


Finally, the last main principle is confidentiality. Doctors must ensure that they keep patient details confidential. They should obtain the patient’s consent when in a consultation. The patient should feel confident and comfortable in talking to their doctor and the doctor should facilitate this by ensuring the patient’s identifiable information is kept private.

Overall, it is a good idea to review the medical ethics principles before your interviews. Be sure to understand them and be able to apply them to a range of scenarios. And remember, some clinical situations can be complex and it can be difficult to make a clear-cut decision on what action to take. So, give a balanced argument, assess the situation from a range of possible angles and be confident!

Want more support with interview preparation? Have a read of our blogs: How I prepared for my MMI and Secrets to securing medical school interviews !


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