How to pass an interview for Medical School
If you have submitted a successful UCAS application and performed well in the UKCAT and/or BMAT examinations, then the next step for most Medical Schools is to invite candidates to interview as another way of assessing their suitability for the course. Meeting applicants face-to-face and presenting them with questions and scenarios allows Admissions Tutors to learn more about prospective students and find out why they want to study Medicine, whether they will be able to cope with the intellectual rigours of the course and whether they come across as someone who could one day practise as a doctor.
This is the final hurdle between you and that precious offer so make sure you prepare thoroughly and in advance. This article will explain more about the interview process and how best to approach them in the following key sections:
- Interview formats and what to expect
- Before the interview: how to prepare
- On the interview day
- Common interview questions
- After the interview: what happens next?
There are two main types of interview for Medical School in the UK: a traditional-style interview or a Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Which one you will experience depends on the university. Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester prefer the MMI whereas Bristol, Nottingham and Oxford favour more traditional models.
For this format you can expect at least one interview lasting 20-30 minutes, usually with a panel of 2-3 people comprised of a doctor, a subject specialist/admissions tutor and a medical student. Afterwards, you may be free to leave or there may be another, similar, interview or a different exercise. At Southampton, for example, candidates are set a group task to complete.
Multiple Mini Interview
The MMI is a series of short interviews. The exact details of how each is organised will depend on the universities but each interview is typically 5-7 minutes long, with a short break in between, and you will probably have around 6 of them in total. Each short interview will be with a different person and regarding a different aspect of your application: one interviewer might question you on why you have chosen that particular Medical School; another might ask about ethics; and a third might set you a problem to solve.
Which is better?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both interviewing styles. A longer interview with a panel allows you to ‘settle in’ and make a deeper connection with your interviewers than is possible in only 5 minutes. The MMI does not present the same opportunity to get to know the panel but on the other hand, if you stumble over a question and underperform, you are quickly able to leave the room. You then have a number of other chances to make a good impression without the lingering embarrassment and worry that your interviewer has already made up their mind about you.
Regardless of the format, each interview or MMI will be trying to assess the same interests and capabilities from you and learn more about why you would be a suit an undergraduate place on their course.
Luckily, you can prepare for the traditional-style interview and the MMI in the same way, the most important of which is to go over typical questions and think about how you would answer them.
It is better to rehearse key points in response to certain topics than to practise exact answers to particular questions. That way, at interview you are more likely to listen to the question and answer it properly. The danger with a rote-learned answer is that at best it may not sound genuine and at worst, if the question has a slightly different angle to the one you rehearsed, your answer could miss the point.
Interviewers almost always ask you about your personal statement in more depth so make sure that you read it through beforehand. You also need to make sure you are familiar with any reading you reference and refresh your memory about why your work experience was useful.
It is a good idea to keep a diary of your work experience to reflect back on when putting together your personal statement and getting reading to attend interview. Key points to note are particular incidents or procedures that you witnessed or performed and, extremely importantly, what you learned from those and why you found them interesting.
Interviewers will also want to find out more about your knowledge of the medical sphere as a whole. This will typically include questions about the NHS, some diseases, and any recent and relevant media coverage. It is important that you are up-to-date with current affairs in Medicine, and that you understand them well enough to be able to have a conversation about them, perhaps including an opinion (which you must be able to justify).
Cut out and keep relevant or interesting articles. Stick them together in a notebook or file, along with notes summarising your opinion or further thoughts. Read through the file prior to your interview to refresh your memory of key subjects and themes.
The health section of the BBC website is a good place to start reading more about medicine in the media. You should also read the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the New Scientist, and the relevant sections of a daily broadsheet newspaper. Try and read different newspapers to get different perspectives on the same news items.
If you find a lot of reading difficult to take in, you can also listen to relevant news items. BBC Radio 4 has a feature called Inside Health that you can either listen to live or download as a podcast.
Double check the time and place the day before, make sure that you know where you are going and have plenty of time to get there (set two alarms if you need to).
- Plan your outfit in advance. Boys should wear smart trousers with a jacket and tie. Girls should wear a smart dress or skirt/trousers with a blouse.
- Take care with making sure hands and fingernails are clean, hair is washed and neatly styled and jewellery/accessories are conservative.
Body language counts:
- Your first impression matters. Greet the interviewers with a confident handshake and a smile.
- Try to remain calm and in control during the interview by sitting still, relaxing as much as possible and considering everything you are asked carefully. It is fine to take a second or two to think about your answer before you reply.
- Make eye contact with the interviewers.
- Try not to let your nerves get to you and start fidgeting or jiggling. This might distract the interviewers from what you are saying.
Medical School interview questions tend to be open-ended and often do not have only one correct answer. Interviewers are often as interested in your justification for your answer as they are in the answer itself.
Some questions will attempt to establish your reasons for being there, your personality and your motivation:
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- Why have you chosen this Medical School?
- Do you know what it is like to be a doctor? How do you know that?
- Why would you rather be a doctor than a nurse?
- What aspect of practising medicine do you think you would find the most difficult? How would you cope with this?
- What personal achievement are you most proud of? Why?
Others will probe into your existing knowledge of science, medicine and the NHS:
- I see from your work experience that you particularly enjoyed watching an anaesthetist at work. Why was that?
- What do you know about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
- Can you explain why a pregnant woman living in Brazil might be concerned about the health of her baby?
- What, in your opinion, is the most significant advancement in the field of medical science?
- Why did junior doctors in Britain go on strike? Do you agree with that?
You might be asked some questions on medical ethics. They could force you to make a difficult decision, such as:
Imagine you work in A&E. A five-year-old boy has been in a car accident and the paramedics bring him to you with life-threatening injuries. You know that without a blood transfusion he is unlikely to survive. The boy’s parents refuse to give permission for the transfusion as it does not align with their religious beliefs. What do you do?
It is impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked at interview as the possibilities are infinite. However, preparing some answers based on these broad categories might help. Practice makes perfect so the more reading and research you do and the more questions you consider in advance, the more likely you are to impress your interviewers.
After the interview try not to dwell too much on the event and overanalyse your performance. Universities will usually not leave you in limbo for too long and you can expect to hear from them within a few weeks.
If you are successful then congratulations! If you are unsuccessful then do not despair. You might have other interviews coming up or you can re-apply next year, as a number of students do. In the meantime it would be well worth asking your UCAS referee to contact the university and ask for feedback on your performance.
If you would like to find out more information about interviews and applying to study Medicine, MPW’s book Getting Into Medical School is available to buy on Amazon.
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Simon Horner read Biology at the University of North London. He has subsequently held a number of senior science teaching and lecturing positions in schools and universities and became Head of Faculty for Sciences and Mathematics at MPW London in 2010. He is co-author of Getting into Medical School and co-ordinates MPW London’s preparation programme for prospective medical students.