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!



By the time we had arrived at the mortuary the intestines and other glistening organs were already in a large metal bowl, quivering everytime another part was thrown in. Not long ago they were living, functioning and keeping someone alive but were now a fatty wobbly jelly .

It was not the ideal first post-mortem for students to see. This particular person hadn’t been seen for a while before being found. The smell was not how I imagined, I can only describe it as almost “foody” and it’s ingrained in my memory. The table was stainless steel, shaped into a shallow basin with a sink and plug hole at one end and our distance to it was a compromise between being close enough to see and far back enough for the smell to be bearable.

Post-mortems are usually performed when the cause of death is unclear so the pathologist’s task is to find out what happened regardless of whether the person passed away yesterday or a few weeks ago. The pathologist analyses the body and organs and the cause can then be written on the death certificate.

Mortuary technicians seem to do most of the preparation, organ removal, ‘closing up’ and cleaning and although they aren’t doctors, they are incredibly skilled in human anatomy. As our technician continued to cut or rip flesh and organs from their rightful places – with noises akin to horror movie material, I found it difficult to balance their actions against the respect that they obviously had for the bodies.

It reminded me of when a friend once said: “Thank goodness for people like you who study to become doctors.”  I replied that he could easily have gone down the same route as me but his reply was: “I’m talking about the horrible things you have to see.”

I really don’t mind the ‘seeing’ and after dissection classes nor do I mind the idea of being around dead bodies but perhaps pathology is not for me.  I’m sure there could be days where I’d enjoy aspects of pathology particularly the investigative parts and be inspired by a career in pathology but today wasn’t one of them.

The Old One

Me: “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name”
Classmate: “Oh don’t worry, I remember yours because you’re the old one”

At the start of term I wondered how I’d be accepted but despite being twice the age of most of my classmates, I do feel part of the class. I guess it helps that I make an effort to talk to everyone and it doesn’t phase me that technically I could be the same age as some of their parents. Gosh, banish that thought!

About 20% of my cohort are graduates. Some came straight from university whilst others worked for several years after graduation. It’s these lovely people who I usually hang around with although the non-grads are really nice too. Some of the grads are only a few years older than the 18 year olds but it seems that the few years spent independently makes a lot of difference to behaviour, confidence and maturity levels although I’m sure that will even itself out quite quickly.

So I think I fit in OK!  Even if I didn’t, I’m too old to let it worry me now!

Patient Contact

It’s the summer holidays and I’m making myself useful working at the hospital again as a healthcare assistant (HCA).  Recent shifts have been in palliative care and it’s like when I volunteered but with added extra “messy” responsibilities. It’s a world away from my previous job but it’s rewarding to work with patients and other healthcare professionals. Some of them know I’m studying medicine and actively teach me too.

Recently I began taking observations, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen sats… etc. These haven’t been my first contact with patients but they do feel as though I’m doing something more ‘doctor’ like.  First year medical school taught me what the numbers and observations mean so I’m beginning to grasp what’s going on with actual patients which is satisfying. With my looking a bit older, maybe the patients think I’ve done obs for years which I hope puts them at ease. Anyway, the practice will help with OSCEs in second year.

Although I’m getting used to it, the speed with which some people pass away still has me bewildered. A patient and I were chatting only a few days ago yet here I am preparing his body for the mortuary… upset relatives waiting outside…

Doctors, nurses and other HCAs tell me that they deal with so much bereavement by leaving it all behind when they walk out through the revolving doors. Yet I’ve seen a few healthcare professionals upset outside so it’s not always the case, we are after all, human.

I try to forget too but sometimes weeks and months later, patients faces, their voices and funny conversations we’ve had still pop into my head.  Flashbacks of what their bodies looked like, their diseases, accompanying smells which I sometimes wish I would forget.

I’ve often thought what a waste it is that all those memories, skills learnt, experiences and connections with other people in those minds are gone, it’s too final. I wonder if one day we’ll be able to record them somehow so that others can learn from them?

The Privilege of Dissection


A year ago, I was ecstatic about getting into medical school but the first year seems to have flashed by in an instant. It’s been a tense couple of months as we had to pass all the end of year exams to proceed to second year. I really wasn’t sure how I’d performed but I am so relieved to say I’ve made it through.  About one fifth of the cohort need to resit at least one exam and a few students have been “invited” to leave the course.

Looking back, one of the highlights has been full body dissection. Surprisingly, it’s offered at increasingly fewer medical schools in the UK. Instead, schools now use computer based learning, videos, pre-prepared pro-sections and plastination.  In some ways they’re better but they can’t replace the experience of standing over a body, scalpel in hand, carefully cutting and peeling back layers ourselves. Dissection is an amazing learning experience.

However, preservation of a cadaver is not without its effects on the donated body, everything becomes a shade of grey or beige and the formaldehyde stings the eyes. Whilst it must feel different to cutting into a real living human body, all the organs, muscles, nerves…etc remain in the same place so it helps us to build spatial awareness of where everything is – I can’t imagine gaining that from a book or a computer simulation.

The first time we “met” our cadaver Mr(s) X, there were a few nervous classmates. It’s understandable that some people felt faint as the dissection room is warm and the smell of the chemicals combined with the realisation that you are in a room full of dozens of dead bodies laid out on tables can be overwhelming.

Dissection is strictly regulated by the Human Tissue Authority and the school warned us that anyone caught cutting bits off the body and using them in pranks could forget about ever practising medicine. I can’t imagine how anyone could do that as it just shows a lack of respect for the person who kindly donated their body for the benefit of our learning. Anonymity and privacy are also prioritised. All we are told is the age and what the donor died of and any phones have to be switched off as almost all of them have cameras.

With each session, we progressed to removing the organs and studying them to back up our lectures and reading. Each time I was astonished by the ingenuity of the human body. It’s been truly amazing to see how everything is packed so well inside and how everything functions so well together.  No wonder man has found it difficult to design and produce anything artificial that even remotely functions as efficiently and reliably as nature. Millions of years of evolution.

After our end of year exams we attended a funeral service for those who kindly donated their bodies, together with the donors’ friends and relatives. Attendance was optional but the fact that so many students and teaching staff showed up signified that we all had the same thoughts of respect and thankfulness.

So, a big silent thank you from me to you Mr(s) X.

Results Day

I passed my first year exams! Just goes to show my poor old brain is still coping with all the new information I’m jamming into it. I hope it holds out for a good while longer!

When someone mentioned that the results were up, everyone scrambled for their phones and iPads to find out. We receive our results online via a “candidate number” and it’s a huge contrast to when I did my first degree where the exam results were posted next to your name on a noticeboard and how well you did (or didn’t do) was visible to all.

Apparently medics are especially competitive but I think it’s only natural to compare oneself with one’s counterparts. Along with our score we get to know our percentile and although I’ve gone down slightly in the class rank since our last exam, I’m still in the top half of the class. Some members of my tutor group didn’t pass, but should hopefully be OK depending on their in-course assessment scores. Others didn’t do any work but still managed good scores – how do they do that? There’s always a group of geniuses who get high scores so easily isn’t there? One classmate was in the top 1% of the class but she worked really hard so well done to her!

I’ve got to work harder and more efficiently I guess…