Answering Medical Ethics Questions...


Know the "four pillars of medical ethics"

There are four basic principles of medical ethics. Each addresses a value that arises in interactions between providers and patients. The principles address the issue of fairness, honesty, and respect for fellow human beings. Dropping these "buzz-words" in an ethics questions will impress... But make sure you know what they mean incase they question you on them!

  • Autonomy: People have the right to control what happens to their bodies. This principle simply means that an informed, competent adult patient can refuse or accept treatments, drugs, and surgeries according to their wishes. People have the right to control what happens to their bodies because they are free and rational. And these decisions must be respected by everyone, even if those decisions aren’t in the best interest of the patient.

  • Beneficence: All healthcare providers must strive to improve their patient’s health, to do the most good for the patient in every situation. But what is good for one patient may not be good for another, so each situation should be considered individually. And other values that might conflict with beneficence may need to be considered.

  • Non-maleficence: “First, do no harm” is the bedrock of medical ethics. In every situation, healthcare providers should avoid causing harm to their patients. You should also be aware of the doctrine of double effect, where a treatment intended for good unintentionally causes harm. This doctrine helps you make difficult decisions about whether actions with double effects can be undertaken.

  • Justice: The fourth principle demands that you should try to be as fair as possible when offering treatments to patients and allocating scarce medical resources. You should be able to justify your actions in every situation.

Types of Medical Ethics Question

There are many different ethical situations that may come up in a medical school interview. Make sure you write answers down for these so you have a logical and well thought out answer. Here are a few common examples:

  1. Consent - Both under the age of 16 and over the age of 16.
  2. Religious beliefs and its impact on treatment
  3. A friend taking part in an illegal/unethical act. What do you do?
  4. Should the NHS pay for self-inflicted diseases? i.e. smoking or obesity.
  5. Cosmetic surgery. Should this be on the NHS?

For more ethical questions, please see our 100 interview questions

It is important you don't just jump straight in with your opinion. This will make for a short answer and will tell the interviewer you are not open to other opinions. You must first define the situation. Talk through exactly what the ethical dilemma is. Then you can start discussing the Pros and Cons of each side. Only when you have discussed each side can you discuss your opinion and explain your reasoning.

Example Medical Ethics Question