How To Prepare For A Dental School Interview?
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”- Aristotle
The dental school interview aspect of the application usually allows for a more holistic assessment of an individual and its primary objectives are four-fold:
- to assess the non-academic strengths of applicants as they pertain to the four major cornerstones of Dentistry (namely clinical skill; communication and interpersonal skill; professionalism, ethics and empathy; management and leadership)
- to gauge if applicants demonstrate key values, characteristics and attributes that are pertinent towards both studying Dentistry and which carry forward into the dental profession thereafter
- to assess an applicant’s perspicacity and awareness of the fact that Dentistry is a vocational degree (namely an understanding of Dentistry as a career and the commitment which this entails)
- to learn more about the applicant beyond their paper credentials and how they could contribute towards enriching the overall student experience by way of what they can bring to the university institution
By this same token, the interview process is also a useful opportunity for applicants themselves to introspect and better understand if they personally feel suited towards rising to the challenges that dental school and the dental profession will present.
Regarding how to effectively prepare for the interview stage, there are a series of measures which can be undertaken as suggested below so as to hopefully help applicants maximise their chances of success.
- FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE INTERVIEW FORMAT
There are two main interview formats:
a) The entire interview is conducted with the same panellists, which usually tend to consist of two members of staff (either clinical teaching staff or academic staff) and a dental student. There may be an additional skills assessment post hoc (for example, an interpersonal skills test, involving a specific scenario with a patient or colleague. In these cases, there is no expectation for applicants to have any prior clinical knowledge, the emphasis is more so on the skills they demonstrate eg communication, empathy, working as part of a team in the context of the given scenario.)
b) There are a series of timed stations (usually between five and ten in total) that the applicant rotates between, with a different independent assessor and separate marks awarded at each station. In some cases, rest stations will be incorporated as a break in the circuit. The main advantage of this interview format is that each station is completely independent of the next and thus, there are many opportunities to compensate for sub-optimal performance in certain stations, which for many candidates is a reassurance.
Although the majority of dental schools now employ the MMI (Multiple Mini Interview) Format, there are still several institutes which have a panel interview (eg. Queen Mary’s University/Barts and The London and the University of Sheffield). It is advisable to check the latest selection criteria for each university either from their website or latest prospectus so as to best cater preparation for the specific institute concerned.
- FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT AND WORK EXPERIENCE
In most cases, the personal statement is used as a supplemental part of the interview process and can help to guide the line of questioning undertaken. Hence, it is imperative that applicants know their statements well enough to be able to expand upon and justify certain elements of what they have written. Aspects that are common focal points tend to include: their motivation for wanting to study Dentistry, references made to specific wider reading regarding the dental profession, skills and insight gained through work experience, both within and beyond Dentistry (to reflect an understanding of the value of transferrable skills towards the profession).
- CONTINUE TO UNDERTAKE READING OF DENTAL DEVELOPMENTS AND CONTEMPORARY AFFAIRS IN HEALTHCARE ESPECIALLY
A basic understanding of dental advancements is demonstrative of a genuine interest in the dental profession as a whole beyond the scope of the clinical and academic training undertaken as an undergraduate. This attests to a level of commitment and vested interest as well as illustrating that initiative has been taken towards additional reading, which shares some semblance to the need for Continued Professional Development upon qualification. By remaining informed of changes, developments and updates in healthcare, applicants can exhibit their appreciation for the fact that Dentistry is a part of the healthcare sector and being a dental professional involves also understanding one’s obligations and responsibilities to healthcare as a whole.
- PRE-INTERVIEW REQUISITES AND MATERIALS (DISPLAY OF MANUAL DEXTERITY)
In most cases, it is advisable for applicants to bring to the interview a practical example of a case where they have demonstrated manual dexterity or physical skills of precision, attention to fine detail, hand eye coordination or notable visual spatial perception and acuity. Examples include but are not limited to small model vehicles, circuitry, artwork (conventional media or string art), cross stitch, embroidery etc. Applicants may be prompted either during a panel interview or at one of the multiple mini interview stations when asked how they have demonstrated manual dexterity. Alternatively, one of the stations may involve an exercise that requires the candidate to exercise their manual dexterity at the time of interview such as threading a sewing thread through a needle or bending wire into a specific shape.
Some institutes may also request applicants to bring additional information (eg a pre-interview form outlining extracurricular activities, work experience details, exam certificates etc). This material may or may not be called upon over the course of the interview but applicants are advised to read and conform to the pre-interview guidance carefully.
- UNDERSTAND THE EXPECTATIONS AND PURPOSE OF THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
The objective of the dental school interview is ultimately, an assessment of characteristics and attributes -to ascertain if applicants demonstrate a firm foundation of qualities that will allow them to, through the course of the undergraduate training and when coupled with the academic and clinical theory provided by the training programme, uphold the professional and ethical standards of a dental professional successfully.
[Reading Reference For Codes of Conduct for Dental Professionals: GDC Standards and Nine Principles of Practice]
Therefore, the primary focus is not an applicant’s ability to use dental jargon correctly and demonstrate a comprehensive prior understanding of the nuances of clinical dentistry-whilst this is endearing in that it can suggest a proactive, self-driven approach, it is not the principle priority. Another key component of the process is an applicant’s capacity for self-awareness, understanding and exhibiting candour towards their own limitations and exhibiting the ability to enlist the help of other healthcare team members when warranted.
- PRACTICE IN ADVANCE AND PRACTICE PRACTICALLY
It is advisable for applicants to commence interview preparation upon submission of their application to allow for as much practice as possible. When practising, there is a wealth of frequently recurring questions/common interview questions to refer to so as to develop effective strategies for fashioning coherent, well-structured and well considered responses. Rather than crafting and memorising specific prose responses to common questions (which can often come across as too rehearsed, formulaic, inorganic and contrived), it is often useful to have a series of key points in mind that can serve to organise the applicant’s thoughts and aid in their articulation at the time of interview, whilst still maintaining a sense of mindfulness and active engagement during the interview. It is recommended for applicants to practice with different groups (friends, family, tuition support) so as to improve their ability to engage and communicate with a wide variety of individuals.
- RESEARCH THE SURROUNDING AREA, THE DENTAL INSTITUTE CONCERNED AND THE COURSE STRUCTURE PRIOR TO THE INTERVIEW
Having an understanding of the specific dental school’s course structure (eg whether it is a pre-clinical or integrated clinical course) and either incorporating this knowledge into a response to a question or using this information to ask the assessor/panellists a question can often consolidate to them that the applicant has a clear sense of self-awareness regarding why they may be compatible with the concerned dental school and demonstrates a sense of well-informed decision making skills.
Furthermore, background knowledge of the dental school can allow for the applicants to make genuine enquiries if prompted, which then reflects more favourably upon the applicant.
Finally, some interviewers may enquire about if there were any factors regarding the location itself that influenced the applicant’s decision and having some background knowledge regarding the surrounding area is recommended (as well as how that may affect the patient base seen as a clinical undergraduate eg for the University of Birmingham, the city has a fluoridated water supply, which may be of some significance to the caries incidence and a reduced DMFT decayed missing filled teeth score noted in the local population relative to the wider population of the UK)
- COVID-19 ADDENDUM: PREPARATIONS FOR VIRTUAL ONLINE INTERVIEW
In light of recent circumstances, many dental institutes are planning on conducting their interview process for September 2021 entry remotely, namely via online or virtual platforms. In anticipation of this, it may be prudent for applicants to factor this into their preparation process by way of:
- practising interview techniques over video calls
- familiarising themselves with navigating various different platforms such as Zoom and Google Meets
- ensuring they have an appropriate home setup and backdrop (ideally a plain background in a well illuminated area with minimal background noise and visual disturbance)
- ensuring suitable internet connection and speed well in advance of interview date
Although it can be a daunting experience, applicants should try to bear in mind that the intention is not for interviews to be intimidating but rather an opportunity for both assessors and applicants alike to ascertain if they are a suitable fit with the dental school in question. Hopefully, the suggestions presented over the course of this article can aid prospective dental school applicants in structuring their preparation for their interviews and offer some insight so as to place them in better stead over the course of the interview period.
Authored by: Pooja Patel BDS, King’s College London Dental Institute (2011-2016)
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