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How Do I Show Active Listening Skills In Medical Interviews?

Published on
May 13, 2024

Arguably one of the most challenging things to interpret during a conversation is whether or not the other person is truly 'listening’, or merely ‘hearing’ your perspective. Though they seem to serve the same purpose, the difference between the two is reasonably significant. The act of hearing is relatively simple and basic compared to listening, which entails paying attention to the sound and interpreting the message.  

Active listening constitutes a significant feature of effective communication.  Especially during medical practice as not listening to your peers can infuriate them and disrupt the workplace balance. On the other hand, whilst assisting patients, not interrupting their thoughts can help establish a secure patient-doctor rapport and also reassure them that you understand what is going on. After all, listening to your patients is pivotal to provide the correct diagnoses. Hence, the sole purpose of active listening is to create a mutual understanding between the speaker and the receiver, which can only be sufficed if the speaker responds to the conversation thoughtfully. 

This article highlights key tips on how pre-medical students can improve their active listening skills across three stages: the medical interview, medical school and in subsequent future practice.

Let's dive right into it.

Active Listening Techniques During Medical Interviews

Most medical interview questions are relatively straightforward and may not be very complicated to understand. However, questions about the nation's public health or something as simple as 'why do you want to study medicine?' and 'what is the role of a doctor?' can get pretty confusing if you don’t pay attention to it. This is when active listening skills come in handy. 

For starters, it is essential to understand what the medical interviewer expects of you and based on that understanding formulate a comprehensive response. The interviewer is not fixated on your academic achievements but is keen to observe your approach to various medical interview questions and scenarios. These questions help determine your attributes to succeed during medical school and subsequent medical practice.  

One of the most common occurrences during a medical interview, and hospital errors, is miscommunication. Medical interviews are gruelling processes, and hence, most of us tend to be extremely nervous and attempt to answer questions too quickly. Incorrect interpretation may lead you to stray from the question. And this is when active listening can avoid miscommunication. While formulating your medical interview answer, pay attention to the context of the question, strive to be relevant and study the interviewer's receptivity towards your response. 

A general rule of thumb is to paraphrase or request the interviewer to repeat the question to comprehend whether you have understood the question correctly. This allows the interviewer to correct any misunderstanding to enable a smooth interview process. In addition, you can patiently cultivate an answer in your head before jumping to a conclusion too quickly to provide an uncertain response. Finally, your interviewer will feel like you are warm and engaging. We do not know this for certain, but it stands to reason that it could affect the way you are marked on your interview day!

What Is The Purpose Of Active Listening During Medical School?

Most Australian medical schools encourage collaborative learning spaces and adopt a problem-based learning approach as the core dynamic for effective learning. For the most part, you will be assigned to work on various case-based scenarios originating in hospital settings, thus encouraging you to amalgamate with your classmates, brainstorm ideas, and ultimately derive a unified solution to medical problems. 

You can demonstrate active listening skills by allowing your classmates to communicate their ideas whilst portraying a genuine interest in their views. The concept behind teamwork learning is to discuss diverse perspectives and finally settle on a suitable solution - very similar to a hospital atmosphere that demands you to be a team player even under pressure. Paying attention to your peers can help you grasp the right information to then provide a reflective response. It requires patience and time to infuse this habit of reflection, however, remember that active listening is not just listening but cultivating the ability to encapsulate information succinctly. 

Though these skills seem tricky to accomplish, you can practise active listening skills by increasing your attention span. One solid technique that works well is understanding the discussion's core contents and reflecting on your teammate's perspective. At times during a group discussion, you may lack the prerequisite knowledge on the subject or the topic may not intrigue you as much. Therefore, it is essential to be receptive towards other ideas to ensure a practical learning experience during medical school.  

How To Show You Are Actively Listening During Medical Practice?

Active listening skills are important in the workplace environment, especially when you undertake clinical internships upon completing medical school. Your day-to-day activities involve interacting with patients, reporting your daily tasks to superiors and engaging with your peers. However, besides these apparent responsibilities, one of your critical tasks will involve providing accurate diagnosis to your patients. Besides, understanding the clinical history of different patients requires a structured approach because, many a time, the information accumulated may get lost if you don't pose the right questions. This is where active listening skills play an active role in good communication

1. How Is Active Listening Encouraged During Patient Interaction?

Doctors and nurses frequently interact with patients, therefore they have a systematic approach to question different types of patients to diagnose their symptoms. Compared to their approach, as a novice in medical practice, your communication skills may lack a sound foundation whilst attending to a patient. 

But this practice evolves with time and experience, so the best way to improve your communication during the early days of the clinical internship is to implement open-ended questions to understand the patient's history in-depth. Open-ended questions often allow free flow of ideas and improved clinical statistics leading to better patient outcomes. Thus, a conversational style of consultation can cajole the patients into disclosing more information which can benefit the diagnosis.

In contrast, close-ended questions can also encourage patients to provide precise answers and can help narrow down your diagnosis. Most clinical diagnoses are based on information gathered during the patient consultation, so good communication is key to encouraging patients to open up and disclose personal information.

2. Why Active Listening Is Important While Networking?

Another essential component during medical practice is the ability to network. Your method of network impacts the potential relationships you build with your superiors and peers. So, active listening comes into play based on your professionalism and work ethic. During a clinical internship, the ultimate goal is to represent yourself amongst your peers. Indulge in meaningful conversations at work, respond to questions and scenarios in a pensive manner to retain a solid workplace relationship that can aggrandize your reputation amongst peers and future opportunities.

Where To From Here?

Now that you have an in-depth knowledge on how active listening strategies can improve your communication skills within the medical field, check out our FREE resources that can guide you throughout your medical interview process.

Alternatively, here are some handy tips to follow before a medical interview:

  1. How to perfect the medical interview tone?
  2. 5 medical interview strengths
  3. MMI station - Why do you want to study medicine?
  4. How long does it take for medical interview prep?
  5. Get to know your interviewer: Who does your med school interview?