NHS interview questions and answers

It is impossible to say exactly which NHS interview questions and answers to prepare for in medical interviews. Questions will vary depending on medical speciality, grade, trust and culture of the organisation.

However, there are distinct regular themes that crop up repeatedly in NHS interview questions. So this blog should help to drill down into a few of them. Part 2 questions to follow in another post.

You should bear in mind that the same question can be asked in a number of different ways whilst still requiring a similar answer. Prepare to listen deeply to the question to quickly ascertain what it is precisely that the panel are seeking. For example, “Why should we hire you? & What are your key strengths?” Each require you to name and evidence three or four relevant qualities that you will bring to the role. 

NHS interview questions for doctors and nurses generally offer a similar format of typical questions. There will always be the usual opening questions such as “Tell us about yourself” or “Talk us through your career to date.” However, the following NHS interview questions are those that I find clients can regularly stumble upon.

1. Which one of our trust values most resonates for you?

The ‘values’ question pops up nearly every time, no matter the grade. Every trust shares their values on their website (often in the form of an acronym) which you should know off by heart.

Try to avoid the common mistake of saying how you agree with the values, eg. “patient care is very important to me and I consider it in all aspects of my work.” That hasn’t shown how you demonstrate you put patient care at the top of your agenda.

Always, always evidence through an example. You will find that a good example will cover at least two or three of their trust values, which is even better. So, bring in those other values and mention what they are too. That way you can really show how you are aligned with the organisation and embed those values in your everyday practise.

2. Ethics: Your patient refuses to be treated by a non-white doctor but he is the only qualified medical professional available. How do you deal with this?

(This is just one example of a myriad of ethical questions which can be proposed but the key principles remain the same.)

Firstly, bear in mind that ethical examples are not necessarily right or wrong. More importantly, they require you to think laterally and from a broad perspective.

Your starting point is to know the four ethical principles; autonomy, maleficience, non-maleficience and justice. You don’t need to name them in your answer but they each need to be considered. An ethical dilemma is often just that because each of the four pillars will often contradict each other. For example, on the topic of euthanasia. Here, you might be asked “Is it right to keep someone alive who relies heavily on medical equipment to live if it is their wish to die?”).

Prepare to be challenged in ethical questions, but try to hold up your own arguments, even under pressure. You want to demonstrate you can think fairly, openly and have a strong mind without being opinionated.

3. What do you know about the NHS long-term plan or XXX report?

This is where many of my clients dry up! But you shouldn’t need to. The common mistake I see is that candidates feel they need to know EVERYTHING about the latest relevant report. Yet, such reports are often difficult to digest and the panel are not expecting you to regurgitate the contents of them.

Try reading summary versions of the NHS long-term plan. The Kings fund can provide a helpful breakdown.
https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-long-term-plan-explained. Consider the impact this could have specifically on your area of healthcare or medicine. Equally, if there are reports that are more relevant to your speciality, find out what they are and think about the practical application of their suggestions.

It’s definitely worth talking through them with someone in your field. Whilst this is deemed a tricky NHS interview question, you should think about how you can integrate the proposals. Or, even better, how you would develop them in the future eg. building stronger links with primary care.

4. Tell us about a clinical mistake you’ve made

Ideally, this should be within the last couple of years so don’t use an example from medical school if you’re applying for a medical consultant role. It’s not designed to catch you out but rather, it’s about your professional integrity and ability to self-reflect.

Your example should not include any aspect whereby the patient came to any harm. However, it should mention that the clinical mistake has now increased your vigilance. For example, you can discuss how it led to the implementation of new risk guidelines. Or how the learning has been shared with the wider team eg. through an MDT meeting.

Medicine and healthcare is continually evolving and you need to demonstrate that you are too to remain a safe and effective practitioner. Your answer to this common NHS interview question should always show the ability to self-reflect rather than feel the panel is trying to catch you out. 

5. What is more important – empathy or clinical judgement/knowledge?

Again, it’s not a trick question so don’t think you have to literally answer the question with one or the other. I often tell my clients to consider the way politicians speak, offering an answer but on their terms. At the same time, you don’t want to annoy the interview panel but it doesn’t warrant a ‘this or that’ type of answer.

A good approach to this NHS interview question will be to say that both are equally important and explain how that is the case. For example, you may be a top surgeon but additionally, you still need to have good communication skills. The patient’s whole experience of their disease can be far more negative than someone who uses empathy alongside their medical expertise to explain the patient’s condition fully, their prognosis, potential treatment, support, etc.

The best practitioners are well-rounded in all their skills including knowledge of their speciality but also their communication skills. Patients now have much more access to knowledge about their condition but this can make it more challenging for practitioners. That’s because such information may not be accurate or relevant for that particular patient.

But the ethos of medical care has changed to be much more patient-centric rather than ‘doctor knows best’ meaning that patient expectations are higher and medical professionals need to demonstrate both of these skills at interview level.


Final points on NHS interview questions and preparation ….

If you get the opportunity, visit the hospital or place you will be working at to find out more about how they operate or at least arrange zoom/phone calls with key individuals. This will give you a lot more insight to the role that you will get merely from the job description and will demonstrate that you are keen to make the effort and meet members of the team.

If you would like support with gaining greater understanding and confidence around NHS interview questions and answers, please get in touch to book one or more interview coaching sessions.