Tell me about a time you were on a team and there was conflict.

This is a common question to get in interviews.  Conflicts naturally arise in the healthcare setting.  These may be between healthcare team members or between healthcare providers and patients.  Anytime you give an example, you want to have previously thought critically about it, and you want to ensure that it is not a story or example where you might look bad or be at serious fault.  I suggest choosing an example where there was a conflict between other people, but you helped resolve the issue.  You answer the question by describing a conflict and get to demonstrate that you are a problem solver and can bring people together.  The important thing to understand about this type of question is that the interviewer isn’t interested in the conflict itself.  They are more interested in your role in the conflict and that you handled it in a mature and professional manner.  Thus, build an answer that demonstrates this.

Be sure to address how the conflict was resolved, whether prompted or not.  Conflict resolution is a great quality to have in a resident, and this is the perfect opportunity to put your value on display. Someone who can effectively deescalate situations, whether those be disgruntled patients, concerned family members, or upset coworkers is a great asset to any team.  Be the solution in your story, not the problem. 

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

We experience or witness conflicts every day in our life.  But what conflict should you choose?  I think this is a great opportunity to bring in a facet of your application that is of value to you and you would like to highlight, but that you otherwise may not have the chance to discuss.  For example, if you were a leader in a student organization and poured a great deal of time and energy into running that organization, this is a great opportunity to speak to your role in that group.  Pick a conflict that arose, and highlight your role as the problem solver.  In a similar example, I had several friends that were on the executive board of our student run free health clinic for patients with no insurance in medical school.  There are countless examples of conflict and conflict resolution from their work with this clinic that they could use, and they have the chance to bring up what is a very impressive experience.  If you have similarly impressive activities that you have been involved with, integrate those experiences into your responses.  Every answer doesn’t have to be clinically or research focused.  You are a multi-faceted individual.  Show interviewers every facet.

What questions do you have about finding examples of conflict and conflict resolution to discuss?  Have a specific question if an example is appropriate to use?  Comment below or contact us directly.

Back to more interview questions and structured responses.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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