Preparing for an Interview
Potential interview questions
The medical interview can test you on the whole of your application, so the key is preparation. This includes knowing your extra-curricular activities well, being able to talk about your work experience and what you learned from it, and practising common questions before your interview, along with trying mock interviews. The questions you are likely to be asked can be divided into the following categories:
- Extra-curricular activities: know the activities that you listed in your application well, including any organisational details, as interviewers not only want to see that you have an in-depth knowledge of what you did, but also how it relates to you becoming a good doctor.
- Work experience: know what you did, what you saw, who you shadowed and what you learned. They may ask whether your work experience has changed your insight into medicine, or what qualities you saw being displayed.
- Reference: knowing what details your reference contains will prepare you for questions about it.
- Medical school-specific questions: some schools will ask you why you chose them, so you will have to think and prepare answers for why you were attracted to that particular school (it may be course structure, location, research or extra-curricular activities, for instance).
- Medical profession: you may be asked a question about a recent discussion about anything topical or newsworthy. Examples include the junior doctor strikes and the current state of the NHS. Interviewers may ask for your opinion on the qualities of a good doctor.
- Personal attributes: you may be asked to list examples of how you have demonstrated teamwork, communication skills or empathy.
Think like a doctor
You are trying to get into medical school, so when responding to any scenarios or questions, answer them in a way that suggests to the interviewer that you would make a great medical student. In order to do so, make sure you have a list of personal attributes that you think a good doctor should have, and throughout your preparation practise integrating these qualities into your responses so that in your interview you can demonstrate these important characteristics.
You should use the PEE model of reflection to answer these questions: that is, point, evidence, explain. Make a point, provide evidence for it and then explain why it is relevant for medicine.
- Ethics: you may get a standard question on medical ethics, or what is newsworthy at the time of your interview.
Remember that for ethical scenarios there is rarely a simple answer, and they are looking at your ability to reason and argue/defend a point rather than the contents of the argument itself.
- Oxbridge questions: scientific rigour and problem solving are the key to interviews at Oxbridge, and knowing your A-level syllabus and having an in-depth interest in human biology topics will be a benefit.
Sarah – Newcastle University
‘Before my interview, I was provided with a 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 about the legality of assisted suicide and apply it in the context of the article during my interview.’
Preparing for a medical school interview
- Medical knowledge: know common medical conditions to a basic degree, especially those that you may have encountered during your work experience. Try to pick up knowledge during your work experience and throughout your A-level revision.
- Newsworthy events: keep yourself up to date with events in the world of medicine and healthcare by reading the BBC News or the health section of daily newspapers. Do this for 3 months leading up to the interviews.
- Practising for interviews: there is no replacement for a mock interview to feel the stress and pressure of multiple interviewers looking on while you try to answer their questions. Do this 1 month prior to the interview itself so that you have time to prepare and improve on your weak areas.
One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to simulate the experience so that you know what to expect, can prepare for areas of weaknesses and can also receive feedback about your performance and pointers to help you improve.
Am I talking too much?
One major thing that students struggle with is the length of their answers. If your response is too short it may appear to the interviewer that you did not really consider or think about your answer. However, a lengthy reply can also suggest that you are struggling with the question and are resorting to waffle. The best answers will address all aspects of the question in a clear and concise manner allowing the candidate to show that they have thought about their response and can communicate their ideas effectively, as well as ending their response appropriately (knowing when to end one’s response is very important).
- Dressing for it: make sure your suit or dress is ready a few weeks before the interview, and wear it to make sure that you are comfortable in it. The interviewers should be able to visualise you as a potential doctor, so dress appropriately!
- The week before: plan your route and alternative routes well so you won’t be caught out if there are any transport issues on the day.
- The day before: relax! Look over your application portfolio to remind yourself of your extra-curricular activities.
- On the day: arrive in good time and do not get flustered. Talk to other interviewees to relax, if permitted. Arrive 1 hour before your scheduled interview slot, but do not arrive more than 2 hours early as you will get more and more nervous!
Take your time
One of the hardest challenges in an interview is to actually answer the question you are given without going off on a tangent. The prompts given by interviewers will often highlight the specific issues that are the focus of the question or multiple-mini interview (MMI) station (more information on this is given on the next page). Ensure that your answer responds to the prompts of the question. Do not ramble on about irrelevant issues.
No one can guarantee success in every interview situation, but conversely your performance can always be improved. To improve your performance you should become familiar with the interview process (particularly if it has a specific structure like an MMI or Oxbridge interview). You should recognise your weaknesses and think of ways that allow you to overcome them in the actual interview. It is much better to assess your weaknesses prior to the interview rather than during it, so that you can prepare and work around them.
Poise during an interview, and the ability to stay cool and calm, may put you over the line. Finally: sell yourself!
You know yourself, why you would make a good medical student: you just have to make sure the interviewer knows that too and gives you an offer!