Medical School Interviews: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long do I need to prepare for medical school interviews?
There is no magic number when it comes to time for preparation - many students never feel ready! There isn’t a set amount of time needed to prepare sufficiently for interviews, the best guide is whether you feel comfortable answering questions. Practising questions with friends or family is a great way to find the words to explain more complex concepts. It can be difficult to articulate some topics, so running through these beforehand is a good way to make sure you are confident going into your interview.
Medical schools will often give you 1-2 weeks’ notice of interviews (this may change with the online format), so this gives you plenty of time to read about the medical school itself and to brush-up on the content of your personal statement. However, you can read about the less specific content whenever you have time around your studies – we would recommend doing ‘little and often’ as this gives you time to assimilate and reflect on the content you have learnt.
Be careful not to over practice these answers – you don’t want to sound robotic and rehearsed in the interview. The interviewer wants you to be yourself!
What do I need to read before my medical school interview?
It can be really difficult to know what to read and in how much detail - our best advice would be to read what you are interested in! When answering questions, your passion and enthusiasm for the subject will be far more obvious when you are talking about a topic you are genuinely interested in.
There are some topics that are helpful to know about as these are often examined, including the structure of the NHS, different roles in the multidisciplinary team, current affairs and medical ethics. Having a baseline understanding of these topics is important in giving you a solid foundation for answering more complex questions. The NHS website and the King’s Fund website are great places to find out about these topics. They have accessible articles, videos, podcasts and print outs that concisely explain these complicated topics! Keeping up with current affairs can seem unmanageable but reading a few news articles everyday breaks this up into manageable sizes. An easy way to fit this into your day might be to read a news app on your commute or when waiting for the kettle to boil! We would recommend using an app with fairly central views, such as the BBC, so the information you’re getting is as unbiased as possible.
The interviewers are not expecting you to have a vast knowledge of everything, but they will expect you have good insight into a medical career. This means you should know a little about the NHS and how it works, a doctor’s role in the MDT and the challenges that may face medical professionals. It is also very important that you are familiar with your personal statement and anything you mention in it. If there is a book you have mentioned, make sure you have read this and have reflected on what you learnt from it, or if there is a medical condition you have talked about, knowing a little about this is key!
Some medical schools may ask you about your BMAT essay in their exams (for example, UCL sometimes does this) so have a think about your BMAT essay and other things you may have wanted to add. If you haven’t sat your BMAT yet, it might be helpful to jot down the main points of your BMAT essay to jog your memory before your interview.
Depending on what interview you are preparing for, make sure you read about the medical school itself. Have a read into things like the teaching style, whether there is an intercalated degree and the facilities on offer. Having a specific knowledge of the medical school will be really impressive at interview - this shows that you have done your research and are passionate about studying there!
In summary, read what you enjoy! But make sure you have a working knowledge of the NHS, the role of a doctor & MDT and your medical school, along with anything you have written about in your personal statement.
What if I say something wrong and need to backtrack?
It is completely fine to backtrack – just be honest with your interviewer. They will be understanding of you being nervous – they will have been through lots of interviews too! If you feel that you have made a mistake, just take a few seconds to gather your thoughts, take a deep breath and start again. You could say something like ‘I’m sorry – I think I misspoke, would you mind if I start that point again?’. The interviewer will be appreciative of you being honest and clarifying your point. You are likely to gain more marks by being able to start your point again, correcting your mistake and moving on, than carrying on with your original point.
How much do I need to know about medical conditions?
It is important to remember that the interviewers are not expecting you to have the medical knowledge of a doctor or medical student – this is why you are applying the medical school! You don’t need to know lots about medical conditions, as the interviewers will know this is why they teach you. However, it might be helpful to know a little about very common health conditions, such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. Some A-Level specifications will outline some knowledge of diabetes and heart disease, which the interviewers will know.
It is also important to be able to link these health conditions to challenges in the NHS. For example, knowing that the risk of coronary heart disease increases with obesity and that currently the levels of obesity are rising in the UK poses a challenge to the NHS is an insightful link to make. This shows that you are linking the things you are reading together.
As per our advice above, it’s also important to read about what you find interesting! If there is something form your work experience that you find interesting or something that you mentioned in your personal statement, research it - your enthusiasm will show through when you talk about something you find exciting!
How will an online MMI be different?
The format of the MMI may change this year due to social distancing guidelines, but all of the principles of your preparation will be the same. Medical schools will be looking for the same skills and values and they would be with a face-to-face interview. It may be disorientating having to don a professional approach when in your own home, but we have a few tips to make the environment as productive as possible:
- Sit in a quiet room, alone if you can so that you don’t get distracted
- Wear professional clothes – the same way you would for any other interview
- Take any electricals/devices that may distract you out of sight, so that buzzes or notifications don’t distract your attention
- Download any software you may need in advance, so you don’t get stressed if software doesn’t initially work etc. We’re sure interviewers will be understanding of technical difficulties, but having things sorted in advance will save you worry on the day!
Different medical schools will have different formats for their interview. This is something they will explain when they contact you regarding your interview. If you have any questions or are unsure about anything, they will have contact details that you can use to clarify things.
What do I do if there’s a question I don’t know the answer to?
In the stress of the moment, it’s really easy to think you don’t know the answers, but you will know more than you think. The main thing here is staying calm. If there is something that you really aren’t sure of, take a deep breath and take a few seconds to gather your thoughts. If you still feel unsure of what to say, it’s better to be honest with the examiner and say something like ‘actually, I’m not sure about this – but I’ve read about something similar’ and go on to explain your point. Using other knowledge you may have will show that you are able to think laterally, linking these things together (and may help to jog your memory!)
Try not to panic and stay completely quiet, have a go at the question with what you know from your reading. Equally, if you really aren’t sure it is better to say that you aren’t sure. A crucial quality in a doctor is the ability to know their limit – talking very confidently about something you really don’t know about can sometimes tie you in knots!
How do I stand out from other applicants?
There is no magic bullet with this question. Standing out from other applicants will come from you showing your passion and enthusiasm for the subject. Being honest and yourself will be the most memorable thing! Of course there are things to make your knowledge of the subject impressive, as well as staying as calm as you can under pressure – but will completely understand that they are nervous, they know this is important to you!
Our tutors suggested some handy tips on how to stay calm in the interview:
- Have a glass of water with you at the table – nerves can make your mouth dry, so having a drink makes things more comfortable. This can also buy you a few seconds if you need some time to think about an answer.
- Organise any technology before your interview starts – this minimises chances of technical difficulties during the interview
- Count to 3 in your head before attempting to answer questions – this gives you a few seconds to gather your thoughts and some room to think
- Have a question ready to ask at the end of the interview – being asked this can put you on the spot, so having one ready is a great way to reduce the stress around that. This could be about anything, sports and facilities, the teaching itself etc.
What buzzwords should I know?
Going to medical school is like learning a new language as there are so many new terms for things! Some key buzzwords to make your answers slick and mature might include (there are lots, but we have included a selection here):
- Multidisciplinary team – a group of different health professionals that work together in order to care for a patient. Each person has a different expertise and is of the same importance.
- Empathy – this is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is different to sympathy (feeling sad or sorry for someone), as empathy is often helpful in being able to treat someone based on their needs and priorities. E.g. a single parent would be far more beneficial being on a non-drowsy version of a medication in order to make sure they can still drive their children to school
- Free at the point of delivery – the NHS operates on a free at the point of delivery system. This means that when you require care, you are not charged with an itemised bill – the funding for the NHS comes from taxes and national insurance.
- Adaptability – being adaptable as a doctor is really important. Switching from talking to patients, to students to other members of the team requires your communications skills to be flexible. Its also important that you can change your approach to different tasks too. You may find yourself on a nightshift where a patient is unwell, and usual treatments aren’t working – here you need to be able to adapt your approach to solve the issue. Doctors also have multiple different aspects to their role e.g. teaching, running clinics, being on-call, research – so being able to switch between these roles is really important
- Integrity – this is extremely important for a doctor. Being honest and acting within your scope of practice is vital in keeping patients safe. It is also important that if something goes wrong, that a doctor takes responsibility and is honest. Keeping a strong moral compass when working within a team and treating patients is vital. Acting with integrity is an integral part of a doctor’s role.
- Duty of candour – this was something that was consolidated in medical practice by the Francis Report. This was an investigation into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire Trust, where patients were mistreated. The term ‘duty of candour’ revolves around being open and honest with our patients. Admitting and apologising for the mistakes we make, even if the patient came to no harm is important in improving our practice. Patients put huge amounts of trust in doctors, so we have a responsibility to tell them when things went wrong. Most patients do not want compensation when things go wrong, they want an acknowledgement, an apology and reassurance of how this is being dealt with.
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