By: Ryan Kelly
CASPer Scenario 1 - Video
(My written account of the video)
One member of your student group, Sue, is showing up unprepared and not contributing. She blames this shortcoming on a paper she had to write, but the other members argue that they were responsible for the same paper yet still managed to show up prepared. Two other members begin confronting Sue about the problem.
Question 1: You are a member of the study group and have not participated in the interaction so far, but now the group is looking to you. How would you defuse this situation?
Always be searching…
Part of what makes ethical dilemma questions tricky is their missing information. They don’t usually give you everything you need to know to make a clear decision.
In this case, you don’t know anything about Sue’s life or responsibilities beyond her apparent lack of group work and her questionable excuse. That’s why you should always be searching.
At first, you need to give her the benefit of the doubt and ask tactful, non-accusatory questions that might reveal whether she’s withholding important information from the group. Maybe something like, “Is there anything going on outside of class that’s causing a distraction? Is there any way we could help?” Keep your questions general, and voice them from a position of concern.
Perhaps one of Sue’s close family members passed away, or maybe she’s stuck in an abusive relationship. Those might sound like extreme scenarios, but you can’t make any assumptions. For all you know, there’s a deep, terrible root to the much smaller problem in front of you.
Use if/then conditional statements...
It’s good to use conditional statements in your CASPer answers. For example:
“If the group discovered a serious personal issue in Sue’s life, I would offer to help Sue find support on campus and suggest talking to the professor as a group to explain the situation.”
“If Sue hesitated to give us a valid excuse, but seemed troubled, I would try to talk to her in private after the group meeting in case she was too embarrassed or afraid to speak in front of the group.”
“If it appears that Sue is simply neglecting her duties, I would try to re-establish a set of expectations for the group and have everyone sign off on them.”
“If Sue didn’t correct her actions over the next few meetings, I would inform the professor about the situation and ask for his or her guidance.”
These conditional statements are like a cheat code for ethical dilemmas, because they let you create your own criteria for answering the question, while also showing yourself as someone who can think ahead and anticipate different outcomes.
Appeal to a higher authority…
In some ethical dilemmas, you can escape or skirt the decision-making process by calling upon some higher authority. There’s a reason why we have laws as a society and why we have bosses in the workplace. We need strict rules and arbiters of the system so that we can navigate these grey ethical areas that present themselves.
Sure, you want to explore all other options first. But in some cases, you won’t be left with that many choices. It’s important to know about the legal issues that apply to you as a student, a potential doctor, or a resident of your city/state. In some situations, you’ll be limited by confidentiality, or oppositely, you’ll be obligated to report a serious safety concern.
Don’t use these higher authorities as a cop-out, but definitely call upon them when appropriate.
CASPer Scenario 2 - Word-based
(Excerpt from the test)
From time to time, we are all faced with conflict in some form. With experience, we learn to deal with different forms of conflict.
Question 1: Describe a time when you had to deal with conflict and how you coped with it?
Question 2: How might you handle a similar situation differently should it arise again?
Question 3: What would be your strategy if you were faced with a conflict that cannot be resolved?
Be prepared to share personal stories…
Before the CASPer, re-read your primary and secondary essays. Take a mental note of the different “genres” of questions you might be asked:
- A time you failed
- A time you had a serious disagreement
- A time you worked with others unlike yourself
- A time you navigated a personal crisis (yours or someone else’s)
- A time you received unfair treatment or criticism
You might not have a pre-written answer for all of these, or you might have one example that works for all of them. Either way, it’s good to take inventory of your word bank of answers, so that you can quickly recall and utilize those stories when needed. You can’t copy/paste, so make sure to learn them well enough to paraphrase.
Focus mostly on the lessons involved…
Since you have limited time, try to move through your presentation of the problem as quickly as possible. If you want to include a few extenuating circumstances, that’s fine, but don’t editorialize things too much. Just state what happened and own up to any mistakes you made along the way. The schools care more about how you processed the event and learned from it moving forward.
The prompt uses hypothetical language (What would be your strategy if…), but that doesn’t mean you can’t answer it with real events and evidence. If you’ve already applied the lessons from your conflict/failure to other facets of your life, then sharing those examples is probably your most compelling answer.
Avoid red flags…
Medical schools want candidates who seem stable, level-headed, and objective enough to own up to their shortcomings. Oppositely, they do not want students who seem volatile, resentful, or clouded by bias.
Please please please do not choose stories about dealing with anxiety, or stories about your inability to handle stress. Also avoid anything that’s too fresh, like a recent fight with a roommate or a recent unfair policy at work. You need distance from the event to write about it properly. Don’t choose something if you’re still harboring any negativity about the situation, since that’s likely to come out in your essays.
When possible, avoid focusing on internal conflicts (doubt, depression, fear, etc.) and instead utilize stories that primarily hinge on external conflicts (deadlines, unexpected obstacles, etc.). You want to show yourself navigating your environment and circumstances, rather than navigating your own neurotic hang-ups.
CASPer Scenario 3 - Video
(My written account of the video)
You work at a retail store. A customer wants to return an item for an $80.00 cash refund without a receipt, which is against the store policy. She pleads her case, explaining that she needs the money for her child’s prescription. Your manager is unavailable, so as the most experienced employee, you must advise a younger salesperson and make the final decision.
Question 1: What do you tell the other employee – go ahead and give the refund or abide by store policy? Justify your answer.
Question 2: Assume you advise the newer employee not to give the refund, but she does anyway. Do you report this to your supervisor? Why or why not?
Question 3: If you were asked to establish a policy for a new store around refunds, what aspects would you take into consideration?
Don’t be the exception to the rule…
As tempting as it is to make an exception for this poor mother who needs quick cash, it’s not your place in this situation to override store policy.
You have already offered the customer store credit and explained that she cannot get a refund without a receipt. Your hands are tied. The customer’s story about her child might be compelling, but that doesn’t make it true, and it’s not a sufficient enough reason to break an established rule.
Also, it could potentially be unwise to bend the rules in front of the younger employee, since it might set a bad example or precedent. There’s always the small chance that the younger employee will report YOU to your boss.
Moral of the story: there’s not enough information here for you to safely break the rules. You could maybe use some if/then conditional statements to help justify why you’d give the refund, or help explain what you’d do to follow through and find a possible compromise. But remember that there can be a slippery slope when it comes to making exceptions, so you’ll need to cover your bases well.
Sometimes you have to be a tattle-tale…
If the younger employee chooses to give the refund against your advice, you immediately become obligated to take action.
In some other settings, like a group project or a student organization, it would be best to confront the student/colleague first before reporting him or her to your supervisor.
However, in this scenario, you’re clearly in a place of employment, and you’ve likely signed a contract to abide by certain company policies. By not reporting the broken rule, you become an accomplice, and if the transgression is discovered, you might be viewed as equally culpable.
For the sake of civility, you should definitely tell the younger employee about your plans to inform your boss about the break in policy. That way she won’t be surprised or feel deceived. It will also give her the chance to reach out to your boss on her own.
Be forward thinking...
If you felt frustrated or limited by the first two questions, you can take some solace in the third one, which lets you to create new policy surrounding refunds. Rather than dwell too much on the unfortunate incident with the present customer, focus more on how this situation could be avoided moving forward.
One possible option would be to establish a better tracking system, so that a particular product could be confirmed as bought in a specific store’s location at a certain date and time. At the very least, that information would help you corroborate a customer’s story about when and where the item was purchased.
It would also be wise to seek your supervisor’s counsel and inquire about what circumstances would justify overriding the refund policy. If there are any stipulations or exceptions to the rule, you should take careful notes and share this information with other employees. That way, if you need to make a judgment call in the future, the staff will be better prepared.
If customers are allowed to pay in cash, it will be much harder to establish a consistent and fair policy. It might be smart to limit cash purchases to items under $20 dollars, since that’s the largest refund the employees are allowed to give in the current scenario. For larger purchases, you could limit customers to traceable payment methods.
What if I need more resources?
- Here is another McMaster Sample Video and questions.
- Understand common medical ethical issues: Santa Clara's discussion of ethical scenarios and University of Washington's Ethics in Medicine are both fantastic resources with real case studies.
- Stay current on healthcare news through sites like The New York Times.
Boo! Are you still scared?
Probably. But that’s okay. A test like the CASPer is bound to induce some anxiety. However, I hope that my tips will help you prepare and get in the right mindset, so that you can comfortably field any questions that come your way.
It’s a lot like Casper the Ghost. Once you get to know the test (just like the MMI), you’ll realize that it’s much more student-friendly than it seems.