INTERVIEW
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‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness’ - Medical Interview Question

Published on
May 13, 2024
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The ‘biggest weaknessmedical interview question is arguably the most dreaded test of any MMI or panel interview. It is exactly because of this challenge that this has become a typical interview question.

Students often find themselves conflicted when confronted with answering this question. On the one hand you are attempting to present the greatest possible medical school interview, but on the other hand, an honest response directly undermines your candidacy.

In this article, we will dissect the core purpose of the medical interview weakness question. By understanding why admission committees so regularly ask students to discuss their weaknesses, we will be able to develop a winning strategy for this challenge.

What’s Your Greatest Weakness - Purpose Of This Question?

The first, and most important point of discussion that should be considered when analysing any interview question is “what is the specific purpose of this question?” In other words, what medical quality is the admissions committee attempting to assess at this given stage of the interview.

Communication:

The baseline response for the purpose of any interview question is that it tests communication skills. Specifically, whether you are able to articulate your position on an issue is such a way that the examiner fully understands your opinion and supporting reasoning.

Effective communication is the product of succinct statements that should be preceded with signposts. It is also a product of your tone, and body language. For example, a student that rocks nervously during their interview, and responds in a monotone is unlikely to be an empathic patient communicator. Nor would this individual contribute positively to the dynamic of a medical team.

Finally, the tone of your language (different from the tone of your voice) is also important. Self-awareness is a sign of maturity. A carefully judged moment of levity, such a quick rhetorical question or emphatic pause are all part of a master interviewee’s toolkit.

Reflection:

Reflection, especially self-reflection is especially important when discussing your personal weaknesses. The weakness interview question specifically seeks to understand your perception of your own performance. After all, weaknesses are subjective, and that which is considered a shortcoming, or even a neutral quality in one industry, may be a great strength in another.

This is why stock-standard (generic) responses to medical interview weakness questions always lead candidates to failure. It is much less important which specific weakness you chose to present, and much more important to justify why you consider this quality a shortcoming.

Another important facet of reflection is honesty. It is incredibly easy to spot a disingenuous, or pre-prepared answer that has been designed to gain MMI marks, rather than respond to a question truthfully. Once again, this is why you need to present justifications for your choice of weakness, rather than simply state a personal negative quality.

Self-Improvement:

In medicine, as in any high-pressure industry, moments of weakness are inevitable. There is nothing more dangerous than an individual who genuinely believes themself beyond flaws. From a hospital or medical school perspective, such an individual is a danger to the patients, and the work environment.

Equally detrimental however is also a person who is apathetic to their circumstances. It is simply not enough to be acutely aware of your shortcomings - you must demonstrate how you have worked to turn your weakness into a strength. In fact, self-improvement transforms a weakness (negative quality) into a good weakness (an identified character defect that you have managed).

This is a sign of maturity, as you have taken responsibility for your own professional development.

Leverage Examples to Showcase Growth

A pivotal aspect of discussing your weaknesses is the ability to provide specific examples that highlight not just the recognition of these weaknesses but also the steps taken towards improvement and the results thereof. By detailing particular scenarios where you've actively worked on turning a weakness into an area of growth, you can convincingly demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and professional development. These narratives enrich your answer, making it not only more personalized but also evidence-based.

Strengths And Weakness Of A Doctor

From a distinctly medical perspective, the greatest weakness interview question requires a student to balance the complicated ethical responsibilities of a doctor.

On the one hand, a doctor’s responsibility is honesty. This includes honesty to staff, as well as full disclosure to patients. This may seem self evident, but it is certainly a difficult quality to adhere to in situations when you have to accept responsibility for mistakes or gaps in your medical knowledge. After all, no patient will appreciate a medical practitioner that is honest, and yet cannot respond to any of their medical concerns.

Paradoxically, a doctor’s greatest strength lies within their weaknesses. The medical profession teaches us that by identifying shortcomings, we are able to take action and prevent mistakes. This is critical in a professional environment where mistakes have a direct and negative impact on patient lives.

This means that as an aspiring medical student, you need to recognise that weaknesses are unpleasant, they are certainly nothing to treasure. However, we must gather up our courage, take a deep breath, and confront your limitations for the good of the community, and the healthcare profession.

It is this journey of identifying your greatest limitation, confronting it, and overcoming your personal challenge that the interviewers wish to see in your response to this question.

How To Answer What is Your Greatest Weakness Question in Med Interview

Now that we have outlined the key attributes, and overarching structure of the biggest weakness medical interview question, we should construct a more specific plan for your response:

Step 1 - Clearly State Your Weakness

  • Be succinct and problem oriented
  • Do not linger on this step, the more you emphasise your weakness, the more you undermine your candidacy

Step 2 - How Did You Identify Your Weakness?

  • Contextualise your weakness - when and where does it arise? How does it impact your professionalism?
  • Why is this a priority for your future development? 

Step 3 - Have You Attempted to Resolve The Situation?

  • Specific mitigating steps that you have undertaken.

Step 4 - Outcome of attempted management?

  • Do you still face residual challenges?
  • Will this impact your future medical career? 

Step 5 - What lesson did you learn?

  • How do you intend to continue improving in the face of this shortcoming? 

Preparing for Follow-up Questions

Successfully navigating the "What is your greatest weakness?" question in a medical interview isn't just about crafting a well-thought-out initial answer. It's equally about being ready for the potential follow-up questions that interviewers might pose to delve deeper into your self-awareness, resilience, and ability to grow from experiences.

Anticipating these follow-up questions and preparing your responses can significantly enhance the impression you make, demonstrating your reflective capabilities and thorough approach to personal and professional development. Here are strategies to effectively engage with follow-up questions, transforming potential vulnerabilities into showcases of your strength and readiness for a career in medicine:

Questions on the Current Status of Your Weakness

Interviewers may ask about the current status of your weakness or challenge. Be prepared to demonstrate ongoing efforts towards improvement, not just past actions. Discuss any recent opportunities you've had to work on this weakness and the outcomes. Highlighting ongoing education, new strategies you're implementing, or continuous reflection on your progress shows a commitment to self-improvement and a proactive attitude.

How This Will Affect/Help You in Your Medical Journey?

Understanding and articulating how addressing your weaknesses will positively impact your medical journey is crucial. Follow-up questions often aim to explore the practical implications of your personal development on your future career. Be ready to explain how the process of recognizing and working on your weaknesses equips you with specific skills, attitudes, and insights that are invaluable in the medical field. For instance, if you've worked on improving your public speaking skills, discuss how this ability will enhance your effectiveness in patient education and interdisciplinary communication. The key is to show a clear link between your efforts towards self-improvement and how these efforts prepare you to meet the demands and challenges of medical practice, ultimately benefiting patient care and team collaboration.

Practice Scenario-Based Responses

Given the unpredictable nature of follow-up questions, practice responding to a variety of scenarios that might stem from your initial answer. Consider how you would address hypothetical situations in medical school or clinical practice related to your discussed weakness. Practicing these scenario-based responses can help you think on your feet during the interview and demonstrate your ability to apply lessons learned from past experiences to future medical practice.

Embrace Vulnerability with Confidence

Lastly, it's crucial to approach these follow-up questions with a mindset that views vulnerability as a strength. Being open about areas of improvement and how you're actively working on them displays maturity, self-awareness, and a realistic approach to personal and professional development. Embrace these moments in your interview with confidence, showing that you are not only aware of your areas for growth but are also actively engaged in becoming a better medical professional.

How Not To Explain Your Weakness When Interviewing

Wrapping up this article, we would like to mention a few critical mistakes which would lead to failing the ‘weakness’ interview question.

  1. Forgetting to discuss how you have managed your weakness, and possibly turned it into a strength. 
  2. Discussing an insurmountable challenge - a weakness that immediately rules you out as a medical candidate (i.e.  disinterest in helping patients - only interested in medical sciences)
  3. Selecting a generic, and disingenuous weakness. 
  4. Selecting a weakness that is a poorly disguised strength. For example, stating that you are ‘too much of a perfectionist’ risks undermining your capacity for honest reflection of real shortcomings. 

Where To Next?

Discussing weaknesses can seem baffling. However, take a breather and acknowledge the shortcomings within you. Let this flow as a process of connecting with yourself, as deciphering your strengths and weaknesses can be easier said than done. Allow ample time for reflection and self-gratification to truly perceive your inner trait and compare it with instances that drew you out of your comfort zone. 

One of the best ways to reconnect with your sense of self is to deconstruct your weaknesses and rejuvenate your true potential.

We hope our article gave you the vigour and positive reassurance to excel in a medical interview question about weaknesses. Here’s a bunch of informative Free Resources,  provide comprehensive analogies to diverse medical interview scenarios.