Remember our magical method of getting interviewers to like us? The second point of that was that we should be demonstrating the qualities that the interviewers are looking for in a prospective medical student.

What does it mean to be a good doctor?

It’s important to understand what it means to be a good doctor in order to succeed at interview. Medicine is a vocational course that demands a resilient professionalism under a core set of values that is imperative in our care of the most fragile in our society. If you can’t demonstrate you understand what it means to be a good doctor, your academic achievements won’t be enough to get through.


We’ll go through some of the things leaders in the professional medical arena have said and will then distill down the core qualities you want to keep in mind when preparing for your interview.

the core values that define a good doctor

Quote from the Chair of the GMC, Sir Peter Rubin:


“Doctors have the enormous privilege of touching and changing lives. Through all the changes driven by research and public expectations, some of the art and science of medicine has endured down the ages and defines medicine as a profession, whatever a doctor’s area of practice. Doctors:

  • Synthesise conflicting and incomplete information to reach a diagnosis.
  • Deal with uncertainty – protocols are great, but doctors often must work off-protocol in the best interests of the patient, for example when the best treatment for one condition may make a co-existing condition worse.
  • Manage risk – many patients are alive today because doctors took risks and as doctors we bring all our professional experience to bear on knowing when acceptable, informed and carefully considered risk ends and recklessness begins – and we share that information openly and honestly with our patients, always respecting that the final decision is theirs.
  • Recognise that change both in medicine and society is constant, ensuring that those standards, which are immutable, are preserved while those that are simply a product of their time are consigned to history carry and accept ultimate responsibility for our actions.

Those of us who practise and teach medicine now are merely the custodians of those core values which were passed on to us by earlier generations and which we in turn will pass on to those who come after us. It is these values and these qualities which define a good doctor: they are timeless and long may they remain so.”


There’s obviously no need to memorise this quote – we’re just including it here because it makes for interesting reading, and the more we can appreciate what the ideal qualities of a doctor are, the more we can tailor our own interview answers to attempt to display them.

Patient undergoing surgery

The qualities seen in a good doctor

Quote from Sister Donna Keenan:

“To me and my patients I have always found the following qualities essential ingredients for the making of a good doctor:

  • Approachable, confident, decisive, intelligent, interested, compassionate and caring – being able to absorb people’s pain and anxieties without losing focus, treating patients as a human being rather than a symptom or collection of symptoms. Their integrity is without question.

  • Takes time to listen and communicate honestly and effectively with patients, relatives, staff teams, managers, peers and dignitaries pitched at the appropriate level whilst putting everyone at ease.

  • Respect for everyone’s capabilities and their contribution to the team. Knowing everyone’s name in the team regardless of their position. Being fair and non-judgmental.

  • Having technical skills, being competent, knowledgeable using evidence based practice. The ability to remain calm and proficient when under pressure and still make clear and timely decisions.

  • Inspiring, always learning and teaching without fear of humiliation, lead and train the team as a team.

  • Trustworthy, loyal, dedicated, thorough, a mentor, reliable, respected rather than revered and dedicated to up holding their Hippocratic Oath.

  • A visionary leader who is confident about their standards and stands firm to up hold their and the team’s values and beliefs.

A great doctor knows and remembers his/her patients and treats them with a kind heart and gentle hands as if they were one of their own family, dedicating their working life of service to creating and preserving health.”

Sister Donna Keenan gives us many of the qualities she sees in a great doctor – it might be a good idea to write some of these down and internalise them. These qualities shouldn’t be ‘learnt’, but instead, you should pay attention to them and see where you fit in. You’ll be using them later on to form your database of qualities and reference experiences.


so, how can you be a good doctor?

If you feel you’re weaker in some areas – for example, you don’t think you’re decisive enough – that’s completely fine, but make sure you know how you’re going to work on these weak areas and show the medical school you’re trying to improve. You could potentially get a question on your weaknesses – we recommend you try to avoid giving an answer that’s considered a key quality in a doctor, but more on that later.


In an interview, clearly you won’t be able to physically demonstrate a lot of these characteristics in a clinical setting. Your aim therefore, should be to show the interviewers that you possess many of these qualities through your experiences and achievements. This brings us nicely to the next chapter.

2021-07-27T10:24:22+00:00Interview Practice questions|Comments Off on What are the qualities of a good doctor?

About the Author:

I'm a medical student at Cambridge University, and one of the co-founders of 6med. I created the BMAT Crash Course and Interview Crash Course, and helped code BMAT Ninja and UKCAT Ninja. If you need a hand with anything, feel free to give me a shout!