Medical School Interview

Lots of fresh faces in suits, looking lost on campus recently so it must mean it’s the time of year when UK medical schools invite applicants for interview in their selection cycles. The interview – the last hurdle.

The wait for an interview invitation can be nerve wracking and after submitting my application I can remember my obsession with repeatedly logging on and checking UCAS Track for any news. I know my current classmates were, so if you’ve just applied I’m sure you’re in the same situation and going slightly mad with it too. I was also constantly checking forums for news from fellow hopefuls. Hopefuls who I knew only by their online nicknames and with whom I shared the torture of waiting to see whether the schools I applied to had started issuing invitations (or rejections). I’ve got to say that was a weird time.

So how did my interviews go? Mostly straightforward, one involved a reading task on an ethical situation which was discussed during the interview. A friend introduced me to a little book called “Ethics: A Very Short Introduction” and I made sure I could apply and talk about the four main principles of ethics which helped a lot.

There was an all day assessment which included writing tasks and observed group exercises before an interview where the interviewer furiously wrote down every single thing I said, looking up only when I stopped talking to ask if there was: “anything else?” If not then another question was fired at me and she went back to head down manic scribbling mode. In the group tasks my fellow applicants were comically polite but at least none of them were crazy. I’ve heard stories about aggressive applicants aiming to get their own way in group tasks in order to show what they think are good leadership skills. I don’t know how that would help them gain a place.

Finally there’s the multiple mini type interview where you move between interview stations every five or so minutes and answer set structured questions. That must be so boring for the interviewer to have to ask the same question over and over. One advantage is that if you perform poorly at one station, you’ll have several more chances to make up for it.

Applicants ask me about the kinds of questions asked and I can only say that the questions that you imagine could come up probably will. I had a book full of questions which I thought was quite useful but I’m not sure I’d spend a fortune on expensive interview courses. But definitely practice with lots of different people if you can. I spoke to a careers adviser at the school where I did my evening class A-levels and he gave me a mock interview which helped a lot.

I found that time flew by during interviews and before I know it, I was already standing up and shaking hands leaving the room in a daze. So make everything you say count and try to include the things you want to speak about so that you don’t leave, wishing they had asked you about them. Just bridge them into the conversation e.g. If you asked: “What area of medicine are you interested in?” instead of just saying e.g. “Radiology,” smiling and waiting for the next question (after a deathly silence has passed), you could answer something like: “Well, when I was working at X hospital where I volunteered for Y years, I really got interested in Radiology because I could see that it was so important to the healthcare team in helping to confirm patient diagnoses, but it’s still early and I’m excited about so many other interesting areas in medicine …..” So not only are you answering their question, but including some other key points.  Try not to sound too much like a politician though.

In another post I said that I worried that some people might think I was too old for medical school and I did feel like a bit out-of-place sat among school leavers in the waiting room on interview day. But the good news is that once you reach interview stage the odds have improved markedly in your favour. Don’t worry about being interrogated, they were all nice conversations really. At this stage, the school is interested and want to know more about you. It indicates to them how you might talk to patients, whether people feel comfortable around you or whether you would fit in with other healthcare professionals, so think about how you’re coming across in the interviewer’s eyes.

You should try to put into words why you want to be a doctor especially if you’re a bit older than the average applicant. Even now, I’m asked “Why did you change career?” The fact that people do change is something that interviewers accept but they will be curious to know why – so at least make sure you have an answer. Older applicants are in the minority so will naturally spark a bit of curiosity. But it’s also what makes you different to everyone else too. As for school leavers, everyone will have good grades and stellar UKCAT scores to get this far so think about what it is that makes you stand out.

Anyway, I was fortunate that the interviews went well. Even the one where the interviewer seemed annoyed with my answers and bored (checking his phone!) must have gone OK as the school replied really quickly with an unconditional offer so I must have done something right.

When I received that first offer, I felt such a sense of relief and remember thinking “I’ve done it!” I was amazed when further offers came through and I actually had a choice of medical school. However, right now as I’m typing this when I should be writing up lectures, I’m thinking that I haven’t done it yet, not really. I’ve still got several years of medical school to get through and exams to revise for and pass – but I so sometimes pinch myself and think that to be doing what I’m doing now is really an amazing privilege.

So good luck to any applicants and if you have interviews coming up or have had them already, well done you’re almost there!

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