For many people, the interview is one of the most intimidating parts of applying to medicine. However, as long as you prepare, you should be able to get through the experience with ease. It is also very important to remember that no one is trying to trip you up - all the interviewers are trying to do is identify promising future doctors, so all you have to do is show that they’ve found one!
There are three broad categories of interview type in medicine: traditional panel; multiple mini interviews (MMIs); and Oxbridge. Most universities release details of the format of their interviews on their website or prospectus, so be sure to research your choices.
- Traditional Panel eg. Imperial, BSMS, Cardiff
Probably about half the medical schools still use this format – you will be sitting across the table from around four interviewers often including a doctor, an academic, and a current student. Each interviewer will probably ask a question, and the whole process usually lasts around 30 minutes. Questions usually include your reasons for applying to the profession and this medical school in particular, along with an ethical or topical discussion.
Tip: Don’t disregard the student. They want to make sure they would enjoy having you around, and do actually have an input into the final decision.
- MMI eg. Aberdeen, UEA, Birmingham
Many medical schools are now moving to the MMI format. Multiple mini interviews are exactly what they sound like: you rotate around several “stations” (the number depends on the university) for mini interviews of around 7 minutes. For some stations you will answer a selection of focussed questions on a particular topic, for example an ethical conundrum or your motivation to become a doctor, while for others you may have to perform short tasks such as a role play, or analysing statistics.
Tip: Take 10 seconds to reset at the start of each station – don’t dwell on things that went wrong in the previous interview. You have a clean slate for each station and focussing on previous slip-ups is just going to make things worse.
- Oxbridge - Oxford, Cambridge
Oxbridge interviews are often more scientific than at other universities, and can involve seemingly unanswerable questions. Remember that these questions are designed so you won’t know the answer straight off – they want to see you try and work it out. You will usually have two or three 20 minute interviews.
Tip: Think out loud. It’s much easier for the interviewers to see where you’re going with your answers and for you to score points.
For more details on Oxbridge interviews including a worked example question, see the Unifrog article The Oxbridge Interview – Science.
Don’t forget to research the interview format of your chosen universities. This can really make a difference to what you might prepare. The medical school might even publish mark schemes for their interviews or a demonstration interview video online! You’ll never know unless you look…
Probably the best way to prepare for interviews is to set up or join a group of medical school hopefuls at your school or with neighbouring schools. It’s really important to stay up to date with current affairs in medicine, and discussing events or discoveries you’ve read about is a great way to brush up your communication skills. You can also debate ethical issues or confer on challenging UCAT and BMAT questions.
Tip: Don’t get too competitive with your friends! You’ll each bring your own talents and interests to the group – by working together you will all improve your chances of success at interview.
- Don’t forget your Personal Statement
Everything you have put in your personal statement is fair game to interviewers, and acing questions on it can be an easy way to gain points and confidence at the start of an interview. Make sure you can talk for at least a minute about everything you’ve mentioned. Think deeply about all you’ve seen or read, and for bonus points link experiences together. For example: “While I was reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, I spent a week assisting in a laboratory at Imperial College, which still uses her cells. The book led me to consider the ethical issues of working with human tissue, and I found it fascinating to reflect on the rights of human tissue after it has been removed from the body.”
Remember to stay consistent. If you said one thing in your personal statement and say the opposite in your interview, they’ll wonder if you are trustworthy – and this is a vital attribute for a doctor.
Tip : it’s great to incorporate extra reading you’ve done into your personal statement to demonstrate interest in the subject – just don’t forget to brush up on key points before the interview. It will be very clear to the panel if you haven’t actually read the book or article!
It’s important, too, not to over-prepare. Think about a few key points you might say to common questions – see the next article – but don’t memorise full sentences. One of the most important skills a doctor should have is the ability to communicate, and a robotic speech learnt by heart does not demonstrate this. Memorising answers also puts you at risk of answering the question you wish they had asked, not the question you were actually asked!
- Practise, Practise, Practise
Approach a teacher or medical professional (work experience contacts can be helpful here) and ask them to perform a mock interview with you. Make sure you have made it clear what type of interview you are expecting, but don’t give them a question list. You must be able to think on your feet!
Tip: Mock interviews are the best way to banish nerves – once you’ve done one interview, even if it was only a practice, you’ll feel much better.
At the interview
First of all, don’t panic! Remember that the interviewers are trying to find future doctors, and that above all they want to find out more about you and your attributes. Don’t act like somebody else – just be yourself. With that in mind, there are many things you can do to improve your chances:
Dress professionally. Shirts should be button-down and ironed. Roll sleeves up to the elbow to really channel your inner doctor! Ties aren’t necessary – they’re not allowed in the hospital anyway. Skirts should be at or below the knee and necklines high. Skip on the high heels but don’t forget your tights.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get there and make sure you know where you’re going. You don’t want to arrive stressed and late!
- First impressions can influence how the whole interview proceeds: introduce yourself confidently and smile at every person in the room. You’ll feel better too.
- Allow yourself a few seconds to get your thoughts in order before you start to speak at the beginning of each answer. A considered response is more impressive than a quick one.
- Remember to listen carefully to each question and answer the question you are actually being asked!
- It is important to round off your answers with a conclusion – otherwise it’s all too easy to stutter yourself into silence.
- If something goes wrong, forget about it and move on to the next question.
- Try not to say “I don’t know” – you can always have a go!
Above all, you can only do your best. If you prepare well and keep a cool head, your best should be enough! Best of luck in your preparation and your interviews.
Don’t forget to check out the next article - Medicine interviews: Tackling common questions.