Preparing for Medical School Interviews

Q.  I have an interview coming up for a Degree course in Medicine and I really want to succeed.  What can I do to prepare well for the interview?

A.  Admissions tutors for Medical courses have the difficult job of sifting through many very academically well-qualified candidates to find those best suited to a career in Medicine, so you are right to be preparing well for the interview.  The majority of people who are called to interview will have (or be predicted) straight As or A* at A-Level, so the interview is used to distinguish those who have the right skills and attitude.  Most Medical schools also use the UKCAT tests to identify a candidate’s mental abilities (e.g. problem solving, verbal and logical reasoning) and behavioural characteristics.

The interview is used to get a fuller picture of the candidate, their interests, achievements, skills and attributes.  Admissions tutors will be looking for:

  • A good understanding of what is involved in the career (including being prepared for long hours, shifts, a long training period, geographical mobility) but also  operating within a Code of Conduct and with limited resources.
  • A genuine interest in health, medicine and people
  • A lively and well-rounded personality
  • Skills in leadership, communication, decision-making, problem solving, organisation, observation, team-work
  • Excellent academic skills – the ability to self-direct your study, research independently, use IT proficiently, present your findings verbally and on paper, analyse data and memorize large amounts of information for exams.
  • A strong sense of ethics
  • Confident (to communicate, make decisions and take responsibility) but not arrogant – they want people who are prepared to admit when they don’t know all the answers and can learn from mistakes

In preparation for Medical applications,  it is a good idea to do as many of the following as you are able:

  • Carry out a formal period of work experience/observation with a doctor (perhaps your own GP or a local hospital) and reflect on what you learnt from it.
  • Do some voluntary or paid work in a relevant field (e.g. paid work as a health care assistant, voluntary work in a hospital, voluntary work with elderly people, voluntary work with a health/medical support group, St Johns Ambulance/first aid roles)
  • Take on a leadership role (e.g. Student Union rep, School council member, school prefect, football captain, college magazine editor, science society secretary)
  • Take part in extra-curricular activities (e.g. Duke of Edinburgh Award, sports, music, student media, student societies) and think about the skills that you are developing through these activities.
  • Take an interest in current affairs and read the papers, particularly anything related to medicine or health.  New Scientist is also worth reading.
  • Do as much research into the career as possible e.g. the different specialisms, the training involved, the way the NHS is organised, the typical “day-in-the-life” of a junior doctor etc.  You can do a lot of this research on the internet but it is also good to talk to people who actually work in the NHS to get more personal views.
  • Look at the GMC website, particularly Tomorrow’s Doctors and the Principles of Good Medical Practice, as this has really informed the way that doctors are now trained and the ethical environment they work in
  • Choose options within your academic courses that enable you to do some independent research into a medical topic of interest.
  • Find out as much as you can about the specific course and university you are applying to e.g. the teaching methods, the structure of the course and anything that makes it unique.
  • Re-read your UCAS personal statement and be prepared to talk about it.
  • Find out what help is available from your school or college careers service – mock interviews can be very helpful.  http://www.mymedschool.co.uk is a very useful website.

In the run up to the interview, think about the kind of questions you will be asked, and the possible answers you might give.  You can’t be prepared for every question, but there are some key areas that you should prepare for.

Why do you want to be a doctor?  Why would you be a good doctor?  Why should we offer you a place to study Medicine?  What kind of person makes a good doctor?

Use this question to outline the skills and interests you have and how these relate to Medicine.  Back up your answer with some practical examples of things that you have done to test out your commitment (e.g. work experience and what you learnt from it) and to demonstrate your skills and interest.

What are the health implications of the water-shortage in Northern Ireland?  What do you think the impact of the this governments changes to the NHS will be?  Why do you think TB is on the rise in the UK?  What do you think is the most important health-issue worldwide?  Is obesity a class-issue?

Keep yourself up-to-date with what is going on in the world, as you may be asked something about current affairs.  If you don’t know the answer, think about it and make some suggestions as what you think may be relevant, as there may not be one correct answer.  Admissions tutors may be more interested in how you approach the problem than what you actually know.

If you were treating a child who needed a blood transfusion, but her parents refused to allow it on religious grounds, how would you react?  Should smokers who refuse to give up smoking be given expensive medical treatment when money is short in the NHS? Should an obese patient be expected to lose weight before being given an operation?  Who should make the decision not to resucitate and elderly patient?

You will often be asked about an ethical situation, and again, there may not be a right  answer.  Admissions tutors will be more interested in how you approach the problem and show an understanding of issues like: respect for the patient’s dignity and autonomy, safety, informed choice, consent.

What did you enjoy most about your work experience/voluntary work?  What did you find most difficult?  What did you learn about yourself?  What skills did you see doctors using?

Admissions tutors will be looking for a genuine interest and enthusiasm for the job (both the medical problem-solving and the contact with patients), but also a realistic view of the challenges of the job.  A willingness to self-reflect and address your weaknesses is important (as long as your weaknesses are fairly minor!).

What have you enjoyed most about your course?  What have you found difficult?

Show how the things you have enjoyed most relate to your decision to do Medicine.  Make sure you demonstrate the ability to study independently.

Can you give an example of a time when you have had to take the lead and organise other people?  Can you think of time when you have had to work as part of a team?  Can you think of a time you have had to help someone who was very upset or emotional?  Can you think of a time you had a set-back and how dealt with that?  How do you deal with stress?

These questions give you an opportunity to talk about your achievements outside academic life and to show another side to your personality.  You can use examples drawn from your home life, part-time work, course, extra-curricular activities, school/college responsibilities, work experience etc.

What would you contribute to the social and cultural life of this medical school?

Admissions tutors like candidates who are keen to take part in sports, drama, arts and culture.  This is partly because they like a lively medical school, but also because having outside interests can relieve the stress of the job.

On The Day

  • Dress smartly (e.g. a suit,  shirt and tie, shirt and skirt) – it shows you have made an effort and creates a professional impression.
  • Be early and use the time to look around, check your appearance and take a few deep breaths.
  • Keep calm, and remember to listen carefully, smile at the panel, speak slowly and calmly.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a question to be repeated if you need it.
  • Give full and detailed answers, using specific examples of what you have done and what you have learnt from it, but don’t waffle!

Good luck with your interview!  If you have prepared well, you have given yourself the best possible chance of succeeding, so you should feel confident.

It’s always advisable to have a back-up plan, however, and there are many interesting related jobs that are worth considering if it doesn’t work out, from medical research to the professions allied to medicine (occupational therapy, radiography, physiotherapy etc).


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