How to Succeed at Medical School Interviews!
Interviews will always feel daunting for any subject. When applying for medical school, even if you’ve ticked every box for academics and extra-curriculars, it’s possible to be rejected due to not interviewing well. That sucks right? All of that hard work, in some cases for many years, can feel like it amounts to nothing.
This article has been written to reassure all of you worriers out there that it's very possible for anybody to ace their medical school interview!
The key to interviewing well is knowing what to expect. Obviously if you’ve never had an interview before, it’s impossible to predict what things will be like- but if you do your research well, you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea.
So first of all, let’s get to the basics. Almost every medical school will interview on:
- Medical Ethics
- Teamwork & Leadership
- Knowledge of what being a doctor/medical student actually entails
- The university itself
- Work Experience/Personal Statement
- Communication (maybe not asked about, but they will observe your manner of communicating)
This article will be more geared towards traditional one-on-one interviews, but this information can definitely be used for MMIs too.
EVERY interview for a place at medical school will have a question about ethics. It is imperative that you inform yourself well about current medicine-related events in the media, and read up about the most common ethical concerns in medicine. Before you start practicing your interview technique, get reading Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. This is an absolutely fantastic book that will get you knowing everything you need, and more, for an interview to medical school. It’s very short (as the title says) and extremely readable- it also contains some fascinating theories and cases. Even if you’re an absolute novice about medical ethics, I guarantee that if you read this book and mention a few of the ideas in your interview, you will impress.
Another thing to strongly consider is your technique with answering these types of questions. As they generally tend to include some kind of two-sided argument- for example, a famous topic to discuss is whether euthanasia should be legal - DO NOT be afraid to voice your thoughts as you contemplate your opinion on the matter. "On the one hand, ____ and ____ is true about [ethical topic]. However, other people might believe _____".
Questions about medical ethics are fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the way you think about and approach difficult situations, so talking your interviewers through what's in your head will demonstrate to them that you're able to think critically.
Teamwork & Leadership
Being a doctor requires both leadership and teamwork, due to the multidisciplinary nature of the healthcare system. Now this is where you bring in all of those extra-curricular activities you’ve been accumulating over the years. Think of transferrable skills- are you in an orchestra? Do you play a sport? Choir? Drama? Debating? Knitting club? ALL of these activities can be related to teamwork and leadership- it just requires some strategic thinking.
For example, if we go for the orchestra option, you’re working as a team to provide a top-notch performance to the public. Each section of the orchestra works together to try create the best sound possible; that’s the teamwork part. The leadership bit is the individual instrument practice you’d carry out yourself. By making sure you practice your music before going into rehearsal, then playing your instrument with confidence amongst your peers, you’d individually be helping to lead your section in the difficult bits of the music.
Now this kind of reflection could be applied to pretty much anything- you just need to think it through before going into your interview. DO NOT over –think, and DO NOT rehearse and memorise answers- you need to sound natural rather than robotic! You just need to spin things in a way that sells yourself without sounding complacent.
Knowledge of the role
This is mostly common sense- all you require for this bit are a few strategic Google searches. "Role of a doctor in the UK" should be a good starting point for a search. Make a list of roles you find and make sure you understand what each one entails. Also, an impressive extra thing you can do is have a good read through the GMC (General Medical Council) guidelines- this will give you a thoroughly detailed insight into what a doctor will do in their day-to-day job. An important thing to take note of is that you must be aware of both advantages AND disadvantages of a career in medicine. Every job has pros and cons, and the interviewers will probably want to know that you have a realistic view of what a degree and career in medicine will entail.
Here's your opportunity to brown-nose your interviewers a little. Questions here could range from anything about the university in general, or course-specific. Examples would be "why did you choose our course?", "what can you bring to our university?" etc. Make sure you have a good read of their prospectus and trawl through the university websites- both the main site and department-specific.
Most universities will have some unique attribute that they will repeat everywhere they can in order to advertise themselves to potential applicants. Is the course PBL or traditional? Are they famous for the academic side or the social side? Are they campus-based, or a city university? All of these things could be used for your answer. As long as you're genuine and have good reasons to back up your choices, you'll have this part of the interview in the bag.
Work Experience/Personal Statement
Depending on how exciting your work experience was for you, this could either be easy or difficult. The key thing to consider when answering these types of questions is to reflect upon what you learnt rather than just listing the things you saw. Questions about work experience can easily be linked to questions about medical ethics or the role of a doctor- especially if you shadowed in a clinical setting. This is why it's important not to lie about your work experience in your application!
Pretty much every medical school course in the UK will have a "Communication Skills for Clinical Practice" module. As you probably already know, being a healthcare professional requires you to be able to talk to other human beings in a respectful and professional manner. The key thing for this, I will repeat, is DO NOT OVER-THINK.
Speak to your interviewers as naturally as you can- imagine the way you'd speak to your favourite teacher back in school. Don't be afraid to smile or use your hands to accentuate enthusiasm, and always look at the interviewer who asked you the question when you give your answer.
Now, I know you're probably sitting there thinking "but what if I'm asked something that I don't know the answer to?? WHAT WILL I DO?" *hyperventilates*. Do not worry! It can be extremely discomfiting when faced with a challenging question in such a stressful situation. You might be tempted to stammer your way through it incoherently, with the hope that you'll somehow get something right through all of the babble.
Do not give into this temptation- your interviewers will know you are fudging it! Be 100% honest with them. Don't be afraid to ask them to repeat the question. If you need to think, just say "would you mind if I thought about that for a moment?" and pause for a bit to gather your wits. Tell them what's going through your head if you're attempting to work something out.
If you're completely lost and have no idea, make sure you explain- say something long the lines of "I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I don't know". If it's something that you can learn about (ethics for example) assure them that you will read up about it later on.
Be honest about what you're thinking and feeling, the interviewers will recognise that these are attributes that will be very useful for you as a medical student and doctor.
MMI (Multiple-Mini-Interviews) can seem extremely daunting- especially as you're tested on all of these topics in quick, timed succession. It can be extremely stressful and exhausting if you don't approach it with a level head. The good thing about MMI is that you have a different interviewer for each station- so think of the next one being a fresh start to impress, if one of them has gone badly!
Due to the time constraints on each station, it can be very easy to rush through your answers as fast as possible and miss important points. Don't feel like you have to say absolutely EVERYTHING- quality is better than quantity! Make sure you get your most important points across first.
Use the time when moving between stations to collect your thoughts and take deep breaths. It can feel hectic, but by using your limited time strategically, you can work things to your advantage.
Lastly, the most important thing to do is to stay positive. If you view the interviews as an opportunity to learn and experience new things, instead of a scary test, you will be able to actually enjoy your time there- and that's a guarantee! Put on your best suit, wear your best smile, and walk in and out of that interview with your head held high.