Posts Tagged ‘ucas’

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. 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).


Pressure of University Clearing

As a Careers Adviser in Further Education, I would look forward to Clearing day with a mixture of trepidation and excitment.  It’s one of the busiest days of the FE Careers Adviser’s calendar and a day of high drama: tears, triumphs, hugs and quick decisions to be made.

The day would start with groups of students hanging around, waiting for someone to come to the noticeboard with the list of obscure codes and letters that would prove to be life changing.  As the notice went up, a group of students would cluster around, pushing for a better view.  We would watch from the windows of the advice centre, as students hugged and congratulated each other, phoned parents and celebrated.  And a trickle of disappointed students would appear at the door.  Before long, the trickle would swell, and we would have twenty or thirty students consoling each other in the waiting area.

Our task was quickly assess their situation, and put them to work on the clearing process.  If they had only just missed their place by one grade, the first task was to ring the university they had applied to.  Many of them would still secure a place with this one phonecall, and could quickly be despatched with a smile on their face.

The rest were put to work, hunting through the newspapers and the UCAS website for courses that they were interested in.  We sat by the students as they checked prospectuses, phoned universities and put their case to admissions tutors.  As each one found a place, the rest would hug and cheer them.  By the end of the day, most had secured some tentative offers, and were reassured that they would still be going to university.  There would be a few who were considering the alternatives.  Job well done, we thought.

Later, I worked as a University Careers Adviser and saw for myself the results of these hasty decisions.  It was all too common for students to feel that they were on the wrong course.  It was only now that they were realising how much Maths was involved in that Business Studies course.  Or how their Psychology course wasn’t recognised by the appropriate professional body.  Or that there wasn’t any practical work in their Media course.  All things they could have found out before they accepted their university place, but didn’t.

Many (but by no means all) of these decisions were made in the rush of the clearing process.  The pressure to just “get a place” makes it hard for students to coolly assess the offer, check the course content and visit the university to see for themselves.  They may not think to ask about drop-out rates, career destinations or student satisfaction ratings.

This week, thousands of students will go through a very similar process in clearing.  The process hasn’t changed all that much.  The most radical difference is that now, students can receive all this information online.  The noticeboard is obsolete.  Many students will receive the news of whether thay have a place at university in the privacy of their bedrooms.  It does give them the chance to absorb the shock of not getting a place before they face the world.  It saves that awkward moment between friends, where one recieves three grade As, and the other receives 3 grade Es and they don’t know what to say to each other.

But with this privacy comes isolation. There are no friends on hand to give a hug and console.  There is no group of disappointed students, in it together, and giving mutual support.  Teachers and Careers Advisers are not on hand to calmly guide the student.  Parents may be as disappointed and confused as the student themselves.

The pressure has only increased to secure a university place, as many school and college leavers fear there will be no jobs for them to go to.  The pressure to get a university place sorted before facing the world will lead to many students accepting places on Any Old Studies at University of the Back Of Beyond, just so they can say they have it sorted when they finally see their friends.  And yet it will be harder than ever to do this, as the number of university applicants has increased and funding for additional university places has been cut.

It’s a brave decision to step out of the clearing process, and make the decision to have some time out and re-apply.  No-one wants to be left behind as friends go off to university.  No-one wants to have to tell the world that they failed to get a university place.  But maybe this is better (and braver) than spending three years (and a lot of money) on the wrong course.

There are lots of things that can be done with this time out:

  • Getting relevant work expereince, whether in a paid job, an internship or just a few days of unpaid work shadowing, can give  something to talk about and write about in applications.  It’s essential for many careers – Media and Law, for example – and can give a UCAS application the edge.
  • Voluntary work, either at home or abroad, is looked upon very positively by universities, and can give the chance to develop new skills, confidence in dealing with people, going to new places and operating in a different culture.  Helping others with their problems and issues is a really effective way to take your attention away from your own problems.
  • There may be apprenticeships available in your area that would provide an alternative route into the career you are interested in, as well as additional qualifications
  • To some extend, any work is useful, even if it just convinces you to work hard at university because you never want to work in a chicken factory again.
  • Some people will choose to re-sit A-Levels, and this can open up a wider range of courses.  However, it should be remembered that some of the more competitive univerisities don’t look so positively on re-sits, unless there is a good reason for not doing well the first time.
  • Gaining new skills though practical courses, such as IT, Business, Care, Construction, Art or Mechanics might open up new doors or give new ideas

If you do find yourself (or your children) in Clearing, please don’t sit alone in your bedroom trying to figure it all out!  Go into your school, college, Careers Service or Connexions and get some professional help.  Don’t make your decisions in a rush without thinking it through.