NUS Faculty of Medicine Undergraduate Interview Tips

That’s right. J., in his limited capacity as a newly graduated, haven’t-started-work, no-longer-as-idealistic-or-fresh-faced-as-first-entered-med-school house officer, is going to offer tips on what to say in the interviews to enter the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. He’s not going to talk on ‘duh’ tips like “wear a tie! look neat! don’t wear a miniskirt! speak well!” because that’s just pointless.

No wait, he is. Be sincere. Be honest. At the least, be great at pretending you are. And think, for crying out loud. Remember, at the medical interviews, everyone’s bleedin’ Mother Theresa.

Practise at own risk (AOR). Interview season’s coming!

Addendum: J.’s med school buddy has pointed out that in answering such questions, you should always address the science and the art. For instance, in the first question below, the care for patients and treating the sick is the art, and the cerebral understanding of the situation of a doctor is the science.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Watch Grey’s Anatomy. Watch House. Watch Channel 8 medical dramas. Now throw all that out the window. Let’s talk about some potential types of questions.

  1. Why do you want to do medicine? What makes you so sure?

    Allow J. to rephrase this question for you. “Are you a naive or pretentious bastard?” No, seriously. Let’s look at the ultimate cliché: because I want to SAVE LIVES. (pffft)

    Now, unless you’ve spent 3 months doing medical work in 3rd world countries and seen first hand the versatility and importance of doctors in improving the lives of folks, or have been working as a volunteer in hospices and am thus inspired to be a palliative physician AND have the eloquence to say that AND have proof of it… this statement is more likely than not going to make your interviewers roll their eyes.

    Someone once told J. when he was a bright-eyed CSFC student that doctors only cure about 20% of patients, and control disease for slightly more, and just relieve symptoms for a larger percentage. So the curing thing really falls short.

    So what to answer? The truth. There’s no single quality of a doctor, but a combination of everything. A big part of why you want to become a doctor because a medical professional is in a prime position to allay/prevent suffering, but you’d be lying if the combination of social respect, intellectual challenge and a comfortable but not luxurious living didn’t contribute.

  2. What field of medicine do you have in mind?

    Translation: Are you a pretentious narcissistic son-of-a-bitch? Wrong answer: “I’m going to be a neurosurgeon! Patrick Dempsey gets all the ladies.” As a 19-year-old without much clinical experience, it’s obviously way, way, WAY too early to think of entering a medical specialty. Medical officers struggle with the question, much less somebody who hasn’t entered medical school.

    What to answer? The correct answer is either a humble one or an inspired one (to not sound pretentious, see above). Do not state a glamorous specialty like plastics/cardiothoracic/ophthalmology. Humble: Sirs, given my lack of clinical exposure, it would be premature for me to state a single specialty. However, I enjoy working with my hands, so I suspect the surgical field might interest me more. Inspired: During my volunteer days at BrightVision hospital, I was very inspired by the knowledge and empathy demonstrated by the doctors on the team and would definitely consider geriatrics/palliative medicine.

  3. What do you think is the most important quality a doctor should have?

    Ans: Compassion. Yes, sure, other stuff’s important too.

  4. Name a flaw of yours.

    A classic, classic question. The answer is not a brutally honest exposure of your toe fetish, neither is it a boring old “I’m too much of a perfectionist” answer. The answer is an innocuous flaw that demonstrates your self-improvement… such as “I can sometimes be too honest, to the point of bluntness which offends people, but I’ve been working on being more tactful and broaching subjects with more consideration.”

  5. I see that you used to be a netball player. What other hobbies do you have?

    Translation: Are you someone who will bore me to death if you’re ever on team? The yes answer goes something like “I enjoy reading medical magazines like the Singapore Medical Journal. Also, in my time in SAF as a medic, it was challenging setting IV cannulas on my buddies. I also keep up to date with the latest clinical practice guidelines for interest’s sake.”

    Zzz… The better answer would be something interesting that sets you apart from the run-of-the-mill candidate. Like, “I’m a big fan of adventure sports, which actually consumes a fair amount of my tuition income. But it’s amazing the places and people you can see on a tight budget. I’ve been trekked in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, China, but there’s still so many places. Diving costs more, so it’s been a bit difficult for me. My aim is to see the coral reefs in Australia next.”

  6. What do you think about Singapore’s medical system?

    This is the place to demonstrate your interest in Singapore’s medical system. Remember that your interviewers can have many different opinions so it’s best to keep politically correct in an intellectual fashion. For instance, “There is no perfect medical system, and Singapore is no exception. However, I find that it works well and strikes a decent balance. The co-pay system helps manage patient expectations to keep healthcare costs down as compared to welfare systems like Canada and Scandinavian countries, but at the same time, no one is every denied medical treatment because they cannot pay, a situation that occurs sometimes in the United States.”

  7. What will you do if you can’t get into medicine?

    Commit suicide. No, of course not. For J., his options were to do it overseas, including a 1/2 and 1/2 program in Malaysia. He would not be denied! You’ll have to search your heart for this one. The thing is, J. only put medicine in his application.

    If you’ve put dentistry, science, law, whatever in your application, be prepared to defend your choices.

  8. You’re a doctor driving along the expressway when you see a car accident occur on the left-most lane and a man thrown out of the car onto the side of the road. You’re in the centre lane of the expressway 20m prior to the accident site, am post-call and have no medical equipment with you. What do you do?

    This is amongst the easiest of the ‘challenging’ questions.

    A life’s at stake. I would manouevre my car to the side of the road, bring the triangle sign with me, walk the distance to the accident site. Call 995 the ambulance and check on the victim, perform basic cardiac life support (learnt in the army) without respiration and wait for the ambulance to arrive.

  9. Let’s say it was a hard decision but you chose to drive on and ignore the accident. How would that make you feel? What would you do about it?

    This isn’t that bad of a question. These are questions designed to make your think and at the same time assess your moral values somewhat. The wrong answer would be to feel slightly guilty and thus guzzle gallons of beer, beat up the wife, step on the cat’s tail and spew vulgarities at the neighbour for stress relief.

    The right answer would be realistic yet show empathy. You would of course be very bothered, but in a fashion that does not affect your function, and do healthy stress-relieving techniques, confiding in a friend, etc.

  10. What are your views on complementary and alternative medicine?

    Wooo! This is dangerous territory, so tread lightly. CAM includes things like acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine. There are consultants who are invested in things like Bao Zhong Tang in SGH and acupuncture as adjunctive treatment in pain clinics. They might be your interviewer. Then again, your interviewer might hate CAM. Tread carefully… Remember, politically correct (like GP essay) but intelligent. Don’t be seen as someone who regurgitates stock statements like the layperson.

    Wrong: “CAM is a bunch of nonsense.” or “CAM and Western medicine should work hand in hand.”

    Right: “CAM, while not exactly evidence-based, still plays an important part in healthcare, largely due to the widespread acceptance and use of modalities like acupuncture (e.g. for sportspeople) or traditional chinese medicine. As such, while the evidence for most CAM modalities might be lacking, I supported the opening of Bao Zhong Tang TCM clinic in SGH last November because of 3 reasons: (1) being able to know the components of and hence offer patients unadulterated herbs (2) allowing doctors and pharmacists to more easily know what herbs the patient’s taking (and hence drug interactions) (3) there’s a market for TCM.”

  11. What will you do if one day you find your brother/sister smoking?

    Kick his slimy little ass all over the floor, that’s what! Show him who’s boss!

    This is another of the ‘harder’ questions that few people prepare for. In this case, a few points should be covered: (1) you know that smoking is bad, and one of the things that’s been most strongly linked to a multitude of diseases from heart disease to every cancer (2) he’s your brother (or sister or whatever) and you have strong Asian family values, yah? (3) you understand that behavioural change is best approached with one of the models of behavioural change, like the stages of change.

Well then, hope that’s been helpful to some degree. If you don’t get into medical school, well, there’s always the financial field. You could buy your condominium decades before doctors.

Good luck.

21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by cheekysalsera on April 30, 2008 at 1:00 am

    Purely out of light-heartedness, you could also title this post “How to con interviewers to let you into med school”.

    Which would then lead some of us to wonder if the interviewers really choose the right people to be our future doctors, or did they merely pick the best liars.. Heh.


  2. Heh, well then, the interviewers are remarkably sharp. And they’ve noticed that everyone’s super altruistic during interviews…

    Then again, looking at some of the folks in med now… hmm…


  3. Posted by Brainboxer on July 7, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    The medical school interview is a remarkably effective social-engineering con job in modern history. There remains no evidence that it selected better doctor material really.

    The irony of it all is that the system was devised as a means to artificially restrict entry and prevent an over-representation of scholastically high-achieving jewish students at US medical schools in the early 1900s, several years following the release of the Flexner’s Report.

    Come to think of it, it’s almost as enduring & progressive (people find new uses for it all the time) as that 2000+ years old scam from a certain Middle Eastern country.


  4. Posted by Shuyi on January 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for this post. It’s very enlightening. And I have to agree what you mentioned in your reply that despite interviewers being sharp, people whose eloquence mask their character, still get through. It’s really no joke being an interviewer and trying to find the most suitable candidates.


  5. Posted by Sarabeth on April 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for your tips. I’m a foreign student currently studying in high school in Singapore (not PR or citizen), and I’m very interested in the medical field, can you tell me roughly what’s the percentage of foreign students in the medical faculty? Does the faculty set a higher standard for foreign students who will complete their high school diploma in Singapore?



  6. Posted by Dev on October 30, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Hi, Thanks for the post. It was certainly informative.
    However, currently I am in a dilemma. I sat for my a-levels in 2008 as a sch candidate. My grades were not good enough to even be shortlisted for NUS medicine. Currently, I am serving NS. After 2 failed attempts at retaking a-levels as a pte candidate in 2009/10 (as i am in a stay-in camp) , I have decided to resit for A-levels (GP,M,C,B,H2 TL) next year after I ORD from NS. Foreign med uni is out of option due to financial constraints. I have a few qns pertaining to NUS medicine:

    1. Would I be disadvantaged and not even considered for NUS medicine interview if i reapply in 2012 using the new A-level results (assuming I do really well)?

    2. I cannot retake PW though. I got A for it?

    3. If I enter NUS medicine in 2012, I’ll be 22 years old. Is that “too old” to begin with?

    Apologies for the inconvenience
    Thanks in advance….


    • Posted by as on December 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm

      wow Dev i salute ur perseverance. but ur grades really cant make it for NUS med. we’re looking at straights As here + impressive portfolios.

      why is it u want to do medicine? if it’s abt helping ppl, u may wanna consider ancillary services like nursing/physiotherapist/msw.

      u wont be “too old” but ur grades seem to suggest med sch will be a struggle for u even if u get in.


    • Posted by wahhahah on January 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      1. I admire your perseverance too. What were your grades for your 2 attempts at retaking the A-levels? I don’t wish to burst your bubble, but there is some truth in which medical school will be a struggle for you if you find A-levels tough right now. But retaking the As as a private candidate without guidance is difficult. I really hope you’d do very well, do you’ve confidence that you’d score straight As? Because NUS med interview does not usually consider anyone who deviates from the perfect score. Some of my friends had straight As but didn’t score at the interview.

      Some time at the hospitals and hospices will also help you to decide whether you really want this.

      2. We have to check with the NUS staff and ask whether the interviewers do accept A-level grades from different years in different certificates (PW 2008, other subjects 2011). Do take note that the interviewers are able to see your less better grades from 2008, and that they may accept only 1 ‘A’ level certificate. You can write to SEAB about these queries and see whether they are able to combine your 2008 PW results and 2011 results together into one certificate. (I’ve personally never heard of this situation before, but you can try your luck.)

      3. It’s never too old to enter medicine. My eldest brother entered medical school in Monash Malaysia at the age of 28.

      Maybe you can consider applying there too and check out whether the fees and living expenses fit into your budget.


    • Posted by Shanker on April 20, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      Hey Dev, sincerely wish you all the best for your future. Don’t give up, kick away the obstacles on your way and fight towards your dream. God Bless=)


  7. hi.. if you really feel that medicine is the only thing u want to do in life, and that it’s all or nothing, then you should go all out to make sure u enter medicine no matter what. u can try international medical uni in msia, russia, post-grad med in sg. u are right in factoring age in.. but i do know of house officers in sg who graduated overseas and are 27, 28 yrs old. whatever it is u shld always be very clear about your motivation for entering med as this will be sorely tested from time to time when the going gets tough.


  8. Posted by Hello on April 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Hello, I would just like to point out something. Yes grades are important, but Straight As isn’t compulsory to get you shortlisted for an interview. My friend got a B for one of his H2s and he got shortlisted all the same. If I’m not wrong, the UAS cut off point is never 90, it’s 87.5. So yes, do aim for Straight As, but don’t feel too apprehensive to try even if you end up with a B. And like all the rest have said, I really admire your determination. This is really one of the qualities that a good doctor should have :) But yes, make sure this is what you really want. Get some insights by going on hospital attachments. I sincerely, sincerely hope that you will get Straight As and be given a chance at NUS! I’m sure when that day comes, your interviewers will be VERY impressed when you tell them about the long way you’ve come. All the best, study hard, and don’t give up my friend! :)


  9. Posted by Anya on June 15, 2011 at 12:27 am

    hi there!
    Dev, thank you so much for posting your question!
    I did my A Levels in 2010 and got my results in March this year.
    I had a predicted score of AAB/A with a A/B for GP.
    The actual results were other-wise.
    My results came as a surprise to both my teachers and me.
    I have always wanted to and still want to do Medicine and specialize in Gynecology and Obstetrics.
    So without any hesitation, i applied to redo my A Levels as a school candidate in my JC to increase my chances of getting into a medical school.
    The UK Medical schools do not consider A Level resits and in the US-it is only offered as a
    post-graduate degree. This deeply worries me as i am serious about doing Medicine as a under-graduate degree.
    What are my chances of getting into Medicine (NUS) given that i get the straight As? Is it true that NUS does not allow students who have retook their ALevels to apply for medicine?


  10. Posted by cc on June 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Hello I am currently in secondary school and am aiming for NUS medicine after I graduate from jc. I was looking through the eligibility criteria on the NUS website and found out that I do have to take Chemistry and either Physics or Bio in jc.
    I am taking chem and physics in now, but I am having second thoughts about taking H2 physics in jc. If I do end up taking a H1 science subject, which would be either physics or bio, would that affect my chances of getting shortlisted into NUS even if I may get an A for it?
    And thank you very much for your post!


    • Posted by Doe on July 22, 2011 at 12:38 am

      H2 Chem + H2 Bio/ Physics is necessary to enter medicine. There is no negotiation around this rule and H2 Chem + H1 Physics renders you ineligible to apply for medicine.

      My best advice is to work extra hard on your physics in JC if you are serious about doing medicine. If you make a conscious effort, there is definitely a possibility that you will improve, because you DO get a fresh start in JC as all the topics are retaught, just a greater detail. I was in a similar position to yours, doing poorly in physics and just scraping through decent grades for biology. I chose biology in JC because it was my better subject of the two, and by making a conscious effort it has actually become my best subject.

      J: I found this very entertaining. But beyond entertainment it has prompted me to think a lot about entering medicine. I read this post maybe a year or two ago, and at the time I was unable to answer many of the interview questions. But since then, every now and then some of these questions have popped into my mind, and today I surprised myself when I was able to respond genuinely to all of the questions. I hope this means I am more ready than I was a year ago to apply for medicine. Thank you for your post!


  11. i often wonder what potential neurosurgeons will do for a living if doctors were paid the same as barbers…. ; )


  12. Hi
    I’m currently in the 12th grade, sitting for the Indian Secondary Certificate in March 2012. The NUS website mentions “good passes” in all subjects, while stressing on high grades in Chem + Bio/Physics. Could anyone possibly give me an indicator of what percentages in Chem & Bio would be healthy enough to be shortlisted? And about “good passes” in all subjects, are they looking for 90+ in math and other subjects too? If not, what would be pretty good in the others?



  13. Posted by yak on November 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    would you tell me what is CSFC?ths


    • Clinical Skills Foundation Course.
      The first two years of medical school are academic and held in the form of lectures/tutorials. CSFC tries to bridge the period between the first two years and doing actual clinical postings.
      Basic things like: how to take a history, how to do a physical examination, basic bedside manners, simple procedures are taught.


  14. “everyone’s bleedin’ Mother Theresa.” That means mostly lemons will be chosen? :/


  15. I like it when people come together and share views.

    Great website, keep it up!


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