How to use the STAR Method in Medical School Interviews - Cracking Med School Admissions

Using The STAR Method For Behavioral Medical School Interview Questions

Both traditional medical school interviews and Multiple Mini Interviews ask behavioral questions. STAR = Situation + Task + Action + Result. Utilizing the STAR method in medical school interviews is crucial as it offers a systematic approach for candidates to effectively communicate experiences that align with the multifaceted skills expected in future healthcare professionals. In the realm of medical school admissions, where interviewers seek qualities beyond academic prowess, such as empathy, communication, and problem-solving, the STAR method enables candidates to present a coherent narrative of their clinical encounters or challenges faced. 

**To address these behavioral questions, it is important to employ the STAR Method.**

This blog post will help you use the STAR method to brainstorm responses to common medical school interview questions and give you examples of how to utilize STAR-method-derived answers.

In the Medical School Interview STAR Method post, we’ll cover:

If you have any questions about medical school interviews, contact us. We’re happy to answer your questions. Schedule a mock interview with our Cracking Med School Admissions team today!

What is the STAR Method

The STAR method is a structured approach used for answering behavioral interview questions. It involves outlining the Situation, Task, Action, and Result of a specific experience to provide a clear and comprehensive response that showcases skills and accomplishments.

What does the STAR method stand for?

Situation

What is the situation, or circumstance? Which activity were you engaging in? Describe or set the scene and give a “So what?” for why this particular situation was important.

Task

What was your responsibility and/or role?

Action

What key steps did you take in the situation?

Result

What was the result or outcome? What impact did you make? What lessons did you learn?

When to use the STAR Method in Medical School Interviews

It’s best to use the STAR method in behavioral questions. Behavioral questions assess how you responded in a particular situation. In college interviews, schools often want to see how you are as a leader and as a teammate, since healthcare is a team sport. They will ask you questions about how you interact with others to understand these aspects better.

Some behavioral questions include:

  • Tell me about a time that you worked on a team?
  • Tell me about a time that you led a team?
  • Tell me about a time when you led a team and faced a challenge? 
  • Tell me about a time when you faced a personal challenge?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed?
  • Tell us about a time when you faced a challenging patient encounter?
  • Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge in research?

For more examples of behavioral questions, download our Cracking Med School Admissions interview guide, written by Dr. Rachel Rizal and Dr. Rishi Mediratta!

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Brainstorm Your Interview Answers Using The STAR Method

It’s best to brainstorm responses and examples to the most common behavioral questions up above!

SITUATION:

  • I’ll talk about a challenge I faced in leading “Arkansas PPE.”
  • Arkansas PPE is a nonprofit I co-led during the pandemic that distributed 30,000 units of PPE to different organizations in need.
  • We had a program I managed where Arkansas PPE volunteers called construction and other companies for PPE donations.
  • So What (why is this challenge so important?)
    • This worked great in the beginning of the pandemic but after some months, the sources of PPE dried up, and this impacted volunteers’ morale.

TASK:

  • As volunteer manager, I had an idea to leverage existing DIY (Do-It-Yourself) makers in the community. Think groups 3D printing masks.

ACTION:

  • There were four key actions I took:
  • (1) After confirming my co-leads thought this was a good idea to test, I tested it out
    • Using a news article on LinkedIn, contacted a DIY group at University of Arkansas that was already making masks for the purposes of donating them. I was able to form a partnership with them to get a few thousand recurring donations of masks.
  • (2) Set up people / process:
    • I recruited a co-lead for this initiative to get volunteers to replicate this process.
    • I created a guide for volunteers
  • (3) Set up meeting to solicit opinions of other co-leads 
      • I got buy in from rest of leadership board. We made collaborative decisions together and thought that a pilot would be the best approach.
  • (4) Ran pilot with small cohort of volunteers which was successful

RESULT:

  • As a result of these efforts, we were able to shift most volunteers to this and other initiatives I helped establish over course of next few months.
  • Got thousands of masks from the initiative
  • Lessons Learned:
    • I learned how to adapt and innovate as circumstances change to address challenges.
    • I learned to work collaboratively with others to create impact.
    • I hope to bring both these skills to my work on teams as a medical student.

 

Analysis: What did this response do well?

  • This response was very structured and followed the STAR method
  • This response included a “So What?” giving us context as to why this challenge was so difficult.
  • This response included some quantifiable metrics (e.g. # of masks distributed)
  • This response included lessons learned and directly tied that to how someone will be as a medical student/resident.

Mock Interviews: Refine your interview skills with us 1-on-1

Rachel Rizal, M.D.

Undergraduate
Princeton

Medical School
Stanford

Residency
Harvard, Emergency Medicine

Dr. Rishi Mediratta
Rishi Mediratta, M.D., M.Sc., M.A.

Undergraduate
Johns Hopkins

Medical School
Stanford

Residency
Stanford, Pediatrics

Sample Medical School Interview Answers Using The STAR Method

Study the STAR method TWO examples below and let us know if you have any questions.

Once you’ve brainstormed responses and you’re ready to practice, sign up for a mock interview with our Cracking Med School Admissions interview team.

Patient Interaction Example –

STAR Method For Medical School Interviews

 

Interview Question: “Describe a challenging patient interaction you’ve had, and how you approached it?”

Response using the STAR method:

Situation: During my clinical rotation in the emergency department, I encountered a challenging patient interaction. A middle-aged patient came in with a complex medical history and was expressing frustration and fear about his acute abdominal pain. The patient had difficulty understanding the severity of their situation and was resistant to certain diagnostic tests.

Task: I wanted to establish effective communication with the patient, gain his trust, and ensure we understood the patient’s complete medical history as it related to his current symptoms. Additionally, I needed to address his emotional concerns and provide support during a critical moment.

Action: To address the situation, I first took a moment to empathize with the patient’s feelings and actively listened to their concerns. I learned that he had an autoimmune condition – inflammatory bowel disease – and he had changed medications recently. His abdominal pain started a few hours prior accompanied with nausea and vomiting. I made sure to record all the details and then relayed the information to the attending physician. 

Throughout the interaction, I maintained open and respectful communication, demonstrating empathy and patience. I also coordinated with the healthcare team to provide additional resources and support for the patient’s emotional needs.

Result: As a result of the approach taken, the patient became more receptive to the recommended tests and treatments. We were able to give him medications to manage his pain, nausea, and vomiting. We also got in touch with his gastroenterology doctor for recommendations about medical management. The collaborative decision-making process not only improved the patient’s understanding but also strengthened the doctor-patient relationship. Subsequently, the patient expressed gratitude for the personalized care received, and the medical team was able to proceed with the necessary interventions more smoothly.

Through this experience, I learned how important it was to understand the full context of a patient’s history, including other medical conditions that are both acute and chronic. As a physician, I will listen carefully and empathetically to patients so I can gain their trust and create treatment plans with them. 

Analysis: What did this applicant do well?

  • Discussed a patient story
  • Showed that she knew how to take a patient history, by adding some medical terminology and insights (inflammatory bowel disease, symptoms, etc.)
  • At the end, the applicant explicitly added what she would explicitly do as a physician based off of what she learned from this patient encounter

Mock Interviews: Refine your interview skills with us 1-on-1

Rachel Rizal, M.D.

Undergraduate
Princeton

Medical School
Stanford

Residency
Harvard, Emergency Medicine

Dr. Rishi Mediratta
Rishi Mediratta, M.D., M.Sc., M.A.

Undergraduate
Johns Hopkins

Medical School
Stanford

Residency
Stanford, Pediatrics

Public Health Group Project Example –

STAR Method For Medical School Interviews

Interview Question: “Tell me about a challenging situation you faced in a team setting and how you handled it?”

Response using the STAR method:

Situation: During my third year of undergraduate studies, I participated in a group project focused on researching a public health issue. Our team was tasked with analyzing the impact of a specific disease on a local community.

Task: Our team decided to look at the effects of COVID in our local community. The primary goal was to gather relevant data, conduct interviews with healthcare professionals, and compile a comprehensive report to present our findings to the class. Because I had experience in conducting interviews through my public policy degree, I took the lead on conducting interviews with community health doctors and our County’s Public Health department to gather insights about COVID-19’s impact on our neighborhood. 

Action: Midway through the project, we encountered a significant setback when one team member unexpectedly had to withdraw from the course due to personal reasons. This left us with an uneven distribution of responsibilities, and we needed to quickly adapt to the situation. Recognizing the urgency, I took the initiative to redistribute the workload among the remaining team members. I communicated with each member individually to ensure they felt comfortable with their new tasks and provided additional support where needed. Simultaneously, I reached out to the professor to explain the situation and request an extension, which was granted given the circumstances.

Result: Despite the unexpected challenges, our team successfully completed the project and delivered a well-researched presentation on time. We even presented our findings to our County’s Public Health Department.

The experience taught me the importance of adaptability, effective communication, and leadership in group settings. Our ability to overcome adversity and produce a quality project highlighted my commitment to teamwork and problem-solving, skills that I believe are crucial in the collaborative environment of medical practice.

Analysis: What did this applicant do well?

  • Even though this is a team activity, the applicant still highlighted her specific contribution (conducting public health interviews)
  • At the end, the applicant explicitly added what she would explicitly do as a physician based off of what she learned from this patient encounter

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