8.1 Introduction to Medical School Interviews

The medical school interview is one of the most frequently discussed topics amongst students as it is a key stressor. This chapter will go through the following:

  • What interviewers are looking for
  • What questions they ask
  • How to prepare for them
  • Background information for applicants to boost their knowledge for commonly tested topics

Why is the medical school interview important?

Almost all medical students who are currently studying have gone through this process. Interviews are essential for these reasons:

  • Selecting the best applicants
    Medical schools use this, alongside admissions tests and personal statements as a way of discriminating between good applicants that they want to give an offer and ones that they want to reject. Good applicants are ones that will be able to thrive in a medical school environment and succeed in exams.
  • Assess communication
    You can only assess a person’s communication skills so much via a form. A doctor has to communicate well with their peers, colleagues, seniors and patients. It is easiest to assess this face-to-face.
  • Assess stress response
    Interviews are useful to see how applicants respond to possibly novel questions in a stressful environment – to see how they cope, and to possibly minimise the effects of coaching an application.
  • Selecting future doctors
    The role of a medical school is not only to select great exam takers, but also to select a successful future doctor that will not burn out.
  • Meeting the applicant
    At the end of the day, the admissions tutors and interviewers will want to meet the person that was written about on the application. They will want to see whether the person that they see in the flesh matches the person that was written.

Who are medical schools looking for?

Interviewers do not deliberately select for personality traits nor show bias for gender/races/religion. There is not a “stereotypical” medical student, they come in all shapes, sizes and demeanour! Indeed some schools actively pursue such a mixed and diverse background in their cohort of students.

Researchers who analysed hundreds of American successful medical students’ to see what made them successful in the interview process, showed that being extroverted (as a personality trait) was the key differentiator of those students that scored highly in the interview process compared to those that scored badly and did not receive an offer. It may be that more outgoing applicants make a much better impression on interviewers compared to shy, silent types (as opposed to interviewers thinking that an outgoing medical student will make a good doctor).

In general, different schools (PBL vs traditional) might ask different types of questions, as to gauge the different skillsets that they seek in their students. The traditional school might ask about your academic achievements (including EPQs), More modern courses might want to ask questions that demonstrate your motivation, organisational skills and evidence of self-directed learning. They may wish to find out more about your empathy and communication skill set rather than over academic history.

How do medical school interviews work?

Medical schools have different ways of interviewing applicants.

  • Panel interview: Small panel of interviewers, one will pose questions whilst others take notes, and will rotate questions across the panel. Questions can be focused on science questions, extracurricular or any aspect of the student’s application.
  • Multiple-Mini Interviews (MMIs): Applicants move through multiple stations consisting of scenarios or questions, with each station is designed to test a specific aspect of the individual. For example, problem solving, competence, teamwork and communication skills.

Where do I find out more information about medical school interviews?

Since each medical school has their unique style of interviews, you do not want to discover any nasty surprises on the day.

  • Read the interview invite letter for details of any interview instructions and structure (they may tell you how many interviews to expect, where they are held, and who will interview you).
  • The medical school website and admission office will have useful information regarding the format of the interview process, including length of interview, and what type of question they may ask.
  • Use open days to ask current students on what questions interviewers may have asked previously.
  • Online forums are a useful source of information as well.
  • Use all information with caution, as questions do change. Also, it is worth noting that students at certain universities may not be allowed to disclose what they got asked and you may face consequences if you are found to be seeking these questions.

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 maybe because that medical school isn’t really suited to your 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.”

Justin – University of Leicester
“Be prepared by knowing your personal statement inside out. This can be done by brainstorming possible questions which could be asked and how best to answer. It is worth reading up about current medical issues and being aware about any specific information pertaining to that medical school. Above all, know why you want to be a doctor and show the interviewers your enthusiasm, maturity and understanding of what is involved. Any statements you mention about yourself should be justified with evidence (like any good scientist would!). Take your interviews seriously and remember that is your 10-20 minutes to shine!. Providing stories and anecdotes along with solid evidence will provide a good balance and help make you memorable.”

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