Dreaming of that place in medical or dental school?
Interviews are your chance to make the right impression and show that you’ve thought this through.
The article is designed to get you started. To make sure you’re fully prepared, buy our medical school interview course, which includes a highly detailed, book-length guide covering must-know terms, essential questions, model answer frameworks and crucial tips and tricks. All for just £20!
Medical schools have different ways of interviewing applicants: The most common are panel interviews and multiple mini-interviews (MMIs), though if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll have a completely different kind of interview.
How do panel interviews and MMIs compare?
Even though you don’t have time to prepare, you should take a few moments after you’ve been asked the question to quickly arrange your thoughts so that you can give a clear answer rather than a jumbled answer. Asking for a moment can actually give a great impression.
It is important to create rapport with the whole panel of examiners. When you’re in social situations, practice making eye contact with the whole group and making sure everyone feels listened to.
We go into greater detail in our MMI article, but as a broad overview, you can prepare by working on the following:
Train yourself with a strict time limit of about 7–8 minutes to answer questions, learn to respond to prompts adequately in this timeframe.
Since each station is like the start of a new interview, the structure takes some getting used to.
Simulate the interview by asking friends or family to ask you typical interview questions at separate stations. This can create some familiarity with the format, which will be a huge help on the day.
‘Oxbridge’ (Oxford and Cambridge) interviews are designed to see how you deal with unfamiliar questions. The interview format is similar to their teaching style and they want to see if you would thrive in this environment.
Be prepared for random topics designed to test your problem-solving skills. Explain your thought process to the interviewer.
An example of these kinds of questions:
You could also be presented with an X-ray or the results of an experiment to discuss. You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of X-ray images, but the interviewer will give you some hints and cues, which you should use when discussing your answer.
Take on board everything the interviewer tells you to increase your chances of giving a good answer.
Top preparation tips for Oxford and Cambridge interviews:
Make sure it’s fresh in your mind, as it can help answer questions
Your interviewer will ask you science-based questions, so the more you read the more confident you’ll feel to answer their questions. Wider reading also shows that you have a passion for the subject.
These questions can be tough as they are unpredictable. Your mind may go blank at first, but with practice you can improve - even with so-called extemporaneous communication. Ask a friend or family member to fire unusual questions at you. You could also practise alone by looking up previous questions and quickly jotting down bullet points without preparation.
a) Work out your strengths and weaknesses
Make a comprehensive list of your positive and negative attributes, which should be framed around a healthcare context, i.e. how does that skill apply to being a doctor or a dentist? And don’t just say anything you think the interviewer wants to hear. Be honest.
Don’t try the classic trick of presenting one of your strengths as a weakness by saying something like 'I’m a perfectionist' or 'I work too hard'. Interviewees can tell that you’re dodging the question and that you haven’t really done much self-reflection.
On the other hand, make sure you don’t say anything that is a major red flag for medicine or dentistry like 'I struggle to communicate with people', or 'I don’t work well under pressure', as it could affect your chances of getting an offer.
Discuss how you’re planning on improving these weaknesses. For example, instead of saying:
'Sometimes, when I’m told a lot of instructions at once, I tend to forget them',
you could say,
'Sometimes, when I’m told a lot of instructions at once, I tend to forget. I’m working on this by jotting down the instructions I’m given all in one place, so that I can refer back to check if I’ve completed everything. I also verbally repeat the instructions to the person who gave them to me, as this helps to iron out any problems with miscommunication.'
b) Read as much as you can
Also read these two essential guides:
Read articles on ethics and other relevant topics, so you’re as well informed as possible. The more topics you’re familiar with, the more you can talk about.
c) Stay up to date with current affairs
Know what’s going on in the healthcare, biomedical and medical fields. When you read news articles on non-healthcare related issues, think about how it can impact the medical and dental fields.
Keep up to date while you’re on the go with the BBC news app. If anything in particular interests you then write it down along with where you found it. With this technique, you can mention where you found your information when discussing current affairs in your interview. This will make you sound much more credible.
That being said, only talk about news you’ve found through respectable sources. It’s probably not a good idea to talk about things you’ve found on Reddit or Youtube.
d) Make a skills bank
It can be hard to think of ideas under pressure.
Few of us can recall a time we showed resilience or leadership on the spot. So in preparation for this kind of question, make yourself a bank of examples to show when you used a certain skill and reflect on it.
Here’s an example of what your skills bank could look like:
e) Make a checklist of topics you need to read and research before your interview
Example pre-interview checklist for medicine and/or dentistry
▢ Finishing my skills bank
▢ Mastering knowledge of NHS values
▢ Gathering important medical/ dental stories from the past, e.g. Dr Bawa Garba, Charlie Guard
▢ Gaining sufficient knowledge of various bodies like the General Medical Council, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, British Medical Association, World Health Organization, General Dental Council, British Dental Association.
▢ Mastering relevant knowledge of the NHS (how it works, challenges, patient journey through primary and secondary care)
▢ Mastering ethics knowledge, particularly around:
[Only for medicine]
▢ Gaining sufficient knowledge of common conditions, particularly:
▢ Reviewing hot topics (i.e., topics in the news, which can change year to year)
[Only for dentistry]
▢ Units of dental activity
▢ NHS price bands
▢ NHS traffic light system
▢ Sugar tax
▢ Fluoridation of water
▢ Private vs NHS dentistry
▢ Barriers to oral health
▢ Health conditions:
Here are some additional, commonly covered medical and dental school interview question types:
Sarah – Newcastle University
‘Before my interview, I was provided with an online news article about “locked-in syndrome” and was required to read around the topic and to consider the ethical arguments at play in the issue of assisted suicide.
I extensively researched the issues mentioned in the article online and even watched a French movie about the condition. This was to gain better insight into the experience of living with such a debilitating condition from a patient’s perspective.
This then allowed me to consider both sides of the argument and apply it in the context of the article during my interview.'
Our interviews course contains many more questions for you to think about and practise.
Answer structures vary depending on the question, but one useful approach is the STARR technique. This helps to demonstrate skills or qualities in a similar way that you would demonstrate them in a job interview.
STARR stands for:
Describe the situation you encountered which relates to a quality:
'I was helping at the reception of a GP practice when a lady who didn't speak very much English came to the counter. She wanted to know how to get the flu jab, but she was struggling to understand what was being said to her.'
Describe the actions required:
'I needed to explain to the lady how to get a flu jab and help her book an appointment and make sure she understood.'
Describe what actually happened and how you responded:
'I explained everything slowly, using simple language and avoiding figurative expressions to reduce the likelihood of miscommunication. I waited for the lady to understand what I had just said, before moving on.'
What were the outcomes of the situation and was the issue resolved?
'The lady was able to book her flu jab and understood all the information.'
What did you learn from the experience?
You may encounter a general ethical question. The General Medical Council provides ethical guidance for medics. These are virtually identical to ethics for dentists and so are worth revising no matter what you plan to study.
When you are asked an ethics question, follow a three-step process.
1. You’ll first want to identify what ethical issues are involved. The first thing you will want to discuss is which pillar(s) of medical ethics is/are at stake.
There are 4 pillars in medical ethics:
You could also briefly mention anything topical that you’ve read.
2. You’ll then want to discuss who is involved. This is an opportunity to show your empathy by considering who will be affected by your decision and how.
3. Finally, you want to discuss and weigh options. Explain potential courses of action and the advantages, disadvantages and implications of each.
An example ethical question: Should the fluoridation of water be allowed?
First and foremost, if you don’t already know what ‘fluoridation of water’ means, ask the interviewer(s). Then once they’ve explained it to you:
It can be hard to understand what kind of answer interviewers are looking for. Here are examples of good and bad answers:
'One of your fellow students on your medical course regularly misses lectures and stays in her room a lot. What would you be concerned about? What would you do?'
'I’d ask her why she’s not coming to lessons and explain that she risked not learning anything and not becoming a good doctor. I’d warn her that if she didn’t come to the next lesson, I’d contact the teachers and get them to make her come.'
This isn’t a good answer. The student isn’t being considerate about the reasons why she may not want to come. The student is rash in their decision-making process.
'Well, there are a lot of reasons why somebody may be missing lessons and staying in their room a lot, they may be struggling with their mental health, or with the course content. It’s even possible they have something going on at home or haven’t been feeling well lately.
My main concern would be the well-being of this student. Along with that, I’d be concerned about the fact that missing lessons will create gaps in her knowledge. She’s missing out on information that could aid her as a doctor and so it may affect her ability to perform in the future and consequently affect patient safety negatively.
In this situation, I would go and meet her and just have a casual conversation. I wouldn’t confront her about this straight away but let her get friendly with me and comfortable speaking to me.
I would start off by indirectly asking her how her classes are going. If she’s avoided the topic, then I would be more direct, and say:
‘I haven’t seen you in lessons for a while. Is everything okay?’.
I would listen to her patiently and wait for her to finish. If it was something I could help with then I would do my best to help her. If it was something beyond my control I would encourage her to seek help and support, using the mechanisms in place at the university.
Throughout my conversation, I’d emphasise that I was there to listen to her and help her. I would also offer to help her catch up on any of the classes she’s missed so that any gaps in her knowledge would be filled.
So my overall approach would be empathetic, by listening to her circumstances and guiding her to get the support that she needs.'
This is a good answer. The student takes a thoughtful approach to the situation and appreciates the need to establish more information. The student also expands much more on her answer and is sensitive and compassionate.
Medical and dental schools are both training doctors and dentists to join the NHS workforce, so medical schools and dental schools will look for a lot of the same things. In the UK, both types of schools will want students who can live up to the NHS values:
These are the skills and attributes of an ideal candidate for dentistry as described by the Dental Schools Council:
As you can see, the qualities required are very similar. The biggest difference is that dental schools also look for manual dexterity. The role of a dentist is very hands-on, so it’s important to have steady hands.
Since each medical school has their unique style of interviews, you do not want to discover any nasty surprises on the day.
Phoebe – Swansea University
‘I had one awful interview during my first application, then four really enjoyable interviews on my re-application which were followed by four offers. If the interview goes badly, don’t give up; sometimes it just doesn’t go as planned for whatever reason. It may seem tricky because they are trying to challenge you, or it may be because that medical school isn’t really suited to you and your personality or learning style. Generally, the interviewers want to get the very best out of you and aren’t there to trip you up or make you feel uncomfortable.’
It’s highly unlikely that any student would receive an offer without an interview. Many universities explicitly state that they will not do this and even those who don’t state it explicitly almost always adhere to the same policy.
Your likelihood for interviews hinges on a range of factors including :
Generally, having a strong UCAT or BMAT score and good academics will put you in a good position to receive an interview. The way universities select for an interview will vary between schools, so don’t worry if you feel like one part of your application is weaker than the other, as some medical and dental schools may not use that part as much.
Interviewers are trained not to have any bias based on gender, race, age or religion, so you can fully take that out of the equation.
To make a good impression when you enter the room, make sure you smile - a genuine one. Big fake smiles are off-putting!
Greet all interviewers in the room politely. It's important to bear in mind that not all interviewers will want to shake hands, so you should use your own judgment for each interview and be aware of social distancing, where appropriate.
With MMIs you’ll have a different interviewer for each station and therefore a new opportunity to make a good impression each time. Don’t worry if your interaction with one of the interviewers was slightly awkward.
You should dress smartly for your interview in order to make a good first impression. Interviewers need to be able to visualise you working as a doctor.
It is best to wear a suit and tie, a dress or a shirt and skirt. Don’t wear bold shirts or overly patterned clothes. Instead, choose basic patterns and colours. Dress shoes, heels or flats are all appropriate footwear.
It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous on the interview day. Your interviews are an important part of your medical school applications and that can put a lot of pressure on you. Here are some tips to help you feel less anxious for your interview:
Try your absolute best to not be late. Maybe set out an hour early in case you run into any traffic, or maybe even stay overnight at a hotel near the university. Use a digital map to make sure you have a good idea of the route before you set off.
If you are still going to be late, call up the university as soon as you can to inform them. Make sure you apologise and also make sure you explain why you’re late. Be prepared to face the consequences, as some universities will be prepared to wait while others may not.
Most interviewers you’ll encounter will have been doing their job for many years and can tell when someone is just regurgitating an answer they’ve learned by heart. Interviewers want to know your thoughts, not how good your memory skills are.
Instead, use bullet-point notes when you’re preparing to help you recall the gist of what you want to say. For example, for the prompt, ‘Tell me about a time you worked in a team’, you might simply jot down the following:
As we mentioned at the outset, this overview is meant to properly gear up for your interview prep, and if you work through it carefully, it will get you off to a really great start.
If you really want to take your interviews skills to the next level, however, make sure you check out Medify’s Interviews Course, which offers much more in-depth and detailed guidance on interview formats, what interviewers are looking for, how to prepare, how to conduct yourself and how to spin your unique circumstances if you’re a graduate or international applicant, along with many many more possible interview topics and strategies for giving outstanding answers.
The length of interviews can vary from university to university. It can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Universities will give details on how long the interview will be in your interview invite. It’s important to bear in mind that you won’t be talking for the whole of the time mentioned in your invite, which, in the case of MMIs, also accounts for the time spent moving from station to station. Some universities also give a tour of their facilities on the day.
The University of Leeds does ask about your essay at one of their interview stations. Although other universities don’t explicitly state whether or not they ask about the essay, they’ll give more information along with your interview invite.
Find out more about the BMAT.
Some interviewers will discuss your personal statement in the interview. This means that you should know your personal statement very well. It also means that it’s crucial to be honest when writing it. It’s really hard to bounce back in an interview if you’ve been found to be dishonest in your personal statement.
Although the pandemic caused a lot of interviews to be online in 2020, it’s hard to tell what they’ll be like this year. It’s important to remember that whether they’re online or virtual, your preparation for them should generally be the same, but note these tips for online interviews.
Succeed in your Medical School interview
Membership will expire on Wed 31 Mar 2022 23:59 UK time