All medical schools part of the UKCAT consortium interview applicants before offering them a place. The structure of the interview varies greatly from one medical school to another. Some universities have the traditional interview panel whilst others adopt a more intricate approach that includes several mini stations called MMIs (Multiple Mini Interviews). For example, King’s College interviews are normally MMIs. Interviewees circulate from one timed station to another and meet several interviewers who will ask structured questions and mark these independently. Whilst some universities such the University of Manchester can use a mix of traditional approaches and MMIs to include group discussions and role playing exercises.
Even though the structure of the assessment varies from one medical school to the next, the number of activities and questions you can be asked are fairly limited, if you had an MMI interview it doesn’t necessarily mean your preparation time should increase much. For example, ethical questions can be asked as part of a traditional interview, whilst some universities might allocate a separate station to cover ethical questions during an MMI. If you know how to handle ethical questions you’ll be fine regardless of the format of the medical school interview.
The key thing to know is that the type of assessment you will encounter in an interview will fall into two categories:
- Formal Interview Assessment: Designed in the formal questions and answer format.
- Practical Interview Assessment: Assessed on performance of a given task either individually or in groups, can be done orally or in writing.
Preparing for Your Medical School Interview
If you’ve got an interview with a medical school or dental school, you are doing well. Most rejections take place before this stage, so you’re ahead most of your competition by the the time the school invites you for an interview. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, performing your best in interviews can be tough even if you are experienced. I failed to get into medical school twice before finally succeeding on my third attempt and still found interviews difficult even though I was “experienced”. You have to be consistent with the information on your personal statement but still come across fresh, enthusiastic, and personable. Regardless of the interview format all medical schools will expect you to cover your motivation for medicine, your commitment, caring experience and ability to reason around ethical/social issues. The following steps are essential in your preparation for an interview:
1. Research Interview Format & Selection Criteria
It goes without saying that you must know the structure of the interview you are invited to attend. Interview structure varies between medical schools and how you prepare for a traditional interview can be different from how to prepare for practical assessed one. Take the time to find out the format of the interview, this will define how you prepare for it. If it a traditional format, working on your answers to the most asked medical school interview questions could proved more helpful than a task based interview where you might be asked to discuss a newspaper article. Also take the time to review the selection criteria listed on the medical school’s website you are interviewing, different schools describe their selection criteria in different ways. Regardless of the requirements used medical schools, the most common criterias are as follows:
- Academic ability and Intellect
- Initiative, resilience and ability to cope with pressure
- Communication skills, empathy & sensitivity
- Problem solving and decision making
- Managing others, leadership & team playing
- Insight & Integrity
These criterias are in accordance with the duties of a doctor published by the General Medical Council (GMC). Medical school look for these criterias in applicants so that they are sure they are recruiting the best candidates who can cope with the demands of medical school and a medical profession. Using the interview information pack you are provided before the interview try to anticipate how each criteria will be assessed, for instance some medical schools might incorporate a group task to assess communication skills and problem solving. Try to work out which skill will be potentially tested for each exercise. For traditional interviewees try anticipating the types of question you may face and make sure you have a personal example of when you have demonstrated each of their criterias, think about how your own experiences from a personal or academic match the medical school’s criteria. Interviewers might test a criteria in the form a competency based question, you will be asked to give an example of a situation, try to make your examples relevant to your caring experience or academics and be prepared for probing questions.
Examples of Competency based questions
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with a difficult challenge? (Decision Making)
- Give me an example of a time when you had to deal with conflict in a team? (Communication skills and team playing)
- Can you describe a time when you had to persuade others around your way of thinking? ( Communication skills, insight)
2. Review Your Personal Statement & Application
It is common for admission tutors to ask questions about the information on your application. Be prepared to expand on examples on your personal statement or information you may have given in your application. Ensure you know your personal statement like the back of your hand. Review your personal statement and application objectively, try to look for points you could have expanded more on and try to identify any weaknesses in your personal statement, for instance which criterias have you not highlighted? How much does the information in your application match the medical school’s criteria? Another helpful tip that I did was I gave my personal statement to three teachers and asked them to list any questions they had. I recommend you get three people to review your personal statement and use the list of questions as a starting point.
3. Get Your Experience & Motivation Story Right (rehearse it if you have to)
Medical schools will be assessing that you are serious about a career in medicine. It’s no longer enough to just say what you’ve done or give a generic reason on why you want to study medicine. You have to make it personal, BACKUP YOUR REASON WITH AN EXAMPLE OR STORY FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE. Make it unique to you but more importantly explain why. It not enough saying something like “my dad was a GP and seeing him work in his surgery day-to-day was inspiring and gave me exposure to medical care and aware of healthcare issues”, you need to elaborate a bit more. Something like “growing up with my dad has a GP was inspiring, there was this one time I was shadowing him and a lady came in with a huge swollen face, she had been misdiagnosed by another doctor that she had a mouth infection and the medication prescribed was not working, it was amazing to see the questions and procedures my dad took to correctly make the correct prognosis. She in fact had a serious ear infection, if it wasn’t treated would have potentially led to more serious condition. The steps in problem solving and empathy my dad demonstrated was inspiring, and knowing that he saved that woman from a lower quality of life is the sort of reward i’m looking for in a career ”.
The following are essential to getting your experience and motivation story right:
- Make sure it is truthful and personal to you
- Back up your own experience with a reason why it was important to you.
- Always try to mention what you learned from the experience (even if the interviewer doesn’t ask).
- Make sure you have your “why medicine” and “why this university” answers explained well and rehearse it, make it personal and truthful (run past teachers, etc)
- Be enthusiastic and passionate when explaining
- Paint the listeners a picture – mention scenario, might be worth mentioning intricate details of the experience.
4. Develop a “What I learned” Mindset
When describing your experience try to mention what you’ve learned from it. It is no longer enough to mention what you did or how you did it. Interviewers what to know why the experience has pushed you to still pursue medicine. For example If you are asked a competency based question, a helpful tip that will give you an edge over other candidates is if you mention what you also learned. For example, using the competency based questions mentioned earlier:
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with a difficult challenge?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to deal with conflict in a team?
- Can you describe a time when you had to persuade others around your way of thinking?
Most students will only give an example, you can stand out by also mentioning what you learned from the experience. It shows the interviewer that you are a reflective person. I cannot stress this enough, always mention what you’ve learned from an experience even if the interviewer does not ask, make sure to keep it concise.
5. Get On Top of Key Topics & Issues You Need To Know About
There are few topics and issues you might be expected to have some understanding, you may be asked to discuss an ethical issue or comment on an aspect of medical practice. To help you prepare for such topics have a look at online resources provided by the GMC:
- Ethical Guidance Guide by the GMC
- Interactive Case Studies by the GMC
Key topics I recommend you look into include the following:
- The History of Medicine
- NHS: Overview, history, NICE, Reform, Privatisation
- Four ethical principles
- Informed Consent
- Confidentiality of a patient
- Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide
These are some of the main topics I recommend reading on, I strongly recommend buying Medical School Interviews (2nd Edition) by Olivier Picard and George Lee, the book is very helpful in preparing for your medical school interview. It covers about 13 core topics in great detail and provides prep for both traditional and practical assessments. The writers have also analysed over 150 interview questions including MMI and provided helpful techniques to help you with each question type. I used this book to prepare for my interviews it is definitely worth it.
6. Learn Some Key Medical School Interview Techniques
It not just about what you say but how you say it. Interviews are also about how you convey information in a convincing and confident manner. Therefore interviews are like communication exercises, the Medical School Interviews (2nd Edition) by Olivier Picard and George Lee highlights some helpful techniques you can put into practice. My helpful techniques include the following:
- Be Concise – Keep answers within 1.5 – 2 minutes long
- Be Structured – A helpful approach is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format, it is an interview technique to answer interview questions.
- Use facts to substantiate your answers.
- Give examples whenever you can
- Be positive and Sell Yourself
7. Practice or Mock Interviews – Formal and Practical Format
Ask friends and family to practise interviews with you. If you have a teacher at school willing to conduct mock interviews, that can be a great way to get constructive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Alternatively, there are dedicated interview skills workshops that can provided constructive feedback and help you focus on the key message you need to get across in an interview.
8. Work on Body Language & Communication
Medical School Interviews are ultimately a communication exercise. Your body language represents about 60% of your communication and is therefore important in helping you make a good impression. Your body language is a reflection of your confidence, as you prepare you naturally gain more confidence and your body language. The following are a few things you can practice before your interview:
- Work on maintaining good eye contact when speaking with people
- Confident body positions – i.e positions that gives an impression you are not timid, you need to project a confident image e.g having hands under the table gives an impression of timidity, work on maintaining a quiet confident image.
- Projecting voice and maintaining good posture when sitting and talking
9. Work on Nerves
It is quite natural to feel nervous about your medical school interview. The key to calming them is being fully prepared and anticipating the types of questions you may face. Practice interviews can help familiarise you with the format of the interview process and provide feedback on your performance before doing the real thing. Breathing exercises or gentle meditation may also help you overcome your fears. On the day of the interview, arrive in plenty of time to avoid any additional stresses. If you feel hot and flustered, try running cold water on your wrists. The n take a few breaths, remember to have a good posture.