Six essential things to do to prepare for a dentistry interview
The interview is one of the most demanding parts of a dentistry application. It is also your best chance to demonstrate your skills and ability to admissions tutors and it is essential to prepare thoroughly. Working through the six steps in this article will help you to prepare.
You will either experience a panel interview or a multi mini interview (MMI). Students invited to the former are likely to have one single interview with around three admissions tutors. Durations vary but you can probably expect 20-30 minutes of traditional-style questioning. MMIs are an increasingly popular method of interview in which students will visit a number of ‘stations’ for around five minutes each. Each station will be with a different member of staff and will be testing a different skill: some might be interview-style questions; some a test of practical skills; and some might give you a prompt to read and respond to (often these will involve an ethical dilemma).
Read your invitation letter carefully and make sure you know the interview format that your university will be using and that you are comfortable about the other arrangements for the day. Make sure at this point that if you require any access arrangements or adjustments to be made in order to attend that these are in place.
It has now been a number of months since you wrote your personal statement so take the time to read it and familiarise yourself with everything you have told the examiners so far. Make sure that you have read all of the books that you have said you’ve read, and that you will be able to answer questions both on them and on any dentistry or oral health-related news that you have referenced from the media.
It is almost certain that your work experience will come up at interview. Admissions tutors will either ask you directly about it or they might set you a task during which you find yourself reflecting on your experiences. Keeping a work experience diary is strongly recommended and is a great way to refresh your memory on what exactly you did, what you learnt from that and how you felt at the time. If you didn’t keep a diary, try to make notes from memory instead.
It is very important to be reflective about your work experience. For example, if you are asked whether there was anything you observed that you found challenging, there are three possible answers:
1) yes/no (very basic – unlikely to impress anyone);
2) yes, I thought actually pulling teeth was disgusting! (not much better);
3) yes, on my first day at a new placement I witnessed a tooth extraction that made me feel a bit squeamish. I was surprised and even a little worried about my future as a dentist after feeling like that but luckily I had the chance to speak to the dentist about it afterwards. She explained that the position of the molar and the level of decay meant that that had been an unusually difficult extraction and she was very reassuring about overcoming those feelings. She encouraged me to make an effort over the course of the next fortnight to challenge myself to observe as many extractions as I could and I found that I started to become more familiar with the procedure. I also saw a patient with a successfully healed gum following an extraction which helped me to feel more comfortable about the process as a whole and understand its value to a patient.
The third answer is of course the strongest because it demonstrates that the student has considered their work experience, made the effort to discuss their thoughts with the dentist and has learnt something. Although there will not always be a ‘model answer’, trying to be fulsome and reflective is a good idea.
Although admissions tutors are not looking for a rote-learned response, it is a good idea to think about how you would answer questions that are likely to be asked. You are probably expecting to be asked why you would like to be a dentist or why you have chosen that particular university. There is nothing wrong with making some notes about your possible answer to questions like this and practising your delivery.
It is easy to find lists of likely interview questions online. Although you can’t predict exactly what you interviewers are going to ask you about, what you can do is practise your question-answering style and technique. Family and friends will often be happy to help with this, and you can also film yourself giving answers to potential interview questions, then watch that back to learn more about how you come across. Try to be articulate and deliver intelligent and thoughtful answers to all questions. Familiarising yourself with how it feels to answer interview questions will be good training for the real thing.
Prospective dentists are sometimes tested on their manual dexterity, especially as part of an MMI. It is a good idea, therefore, to practise this in advance. The way that each student will prefer to do this is quite personal: some have hobbies that involve fine motor control, for example cake-decorating, piano-playing or Airfix model-building. Another way to practise would be to follow instructions to make origami shapes. Anything that requires repetition, focus and patience will do. In the actual interview, you might be asked about what you have done to improve your manual dexterity, in which case you can explain about your cross-stitch hobby, or on some MMI stations you might be given a practical task in which your manual skills are assessed. In this case you could be asked to do something like bending a piece of wire into a certain shape or threading a needle. Either way, you will be glad that you took the time to work on your fine motor skills.
It seems obvious but in preparing for the interview in a general sense, some students overlook the practical aspects of the day itself. A week or so in advance of the interview date, take the time to check these and make sure that you feel comfortable about the day as a whole. Consider how you will get to the university. If the journey is a long one or your interview is scheduled to take place early in the morning, think about staying overnight in the city beforehand. If you are catching the train, make sure that you check the time well in advance and plan to catch an earlier train than necessary to allow you some extra time in case of delays.
Make sure that you understand specifically where to go, so which university building or room you need to find. If you live close enough, or if you have arrived in the city the night before and are staying somewhere local to the university, consider going to find the building so that on the day of your interview you feel confident about where to go and how long it will take you.
First impressions matter (and if you are attending an MMI you will probably make about eight first impressions in an hour)! Plan what you are going to wear in advance. You must wear smart clothes and look neat and professional. Dress as though you have made an effort, do not wear any denim and consider tying long hair back and wearing only simple jewellery. If you own a suit then do wear that but do not feel pressured to buy one if not: smart trousers and a shirt will do or a smart dress/skirt. Make sure that your outfit is clean and ironed in advance of the big day.
The night before the interview make sure you get an early night. You might be too nervous to sleep well but try to relax as best as you can, and try to think positively about the day ahead. Admissions tutors want to meet future dentists so if you have prepared well and feel confident about your abilities then you can look forward to showing them that you are the perfect undergraduate for them.
For more advice on your dentistry application, watch this video from Getting into Dental School author and MPW Vice Principal Adam Cross: