Medical School Interviews - strategy
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
The medical school interview is the final hurdle you have to jump over to be accepted into medical school. My first application cycle for medicine took place in 2016. I received interviews from UCL (traditional) and Keele (MMI). However, I did not prepare enough and therefore, was not confident in a lot of my answers which came across to the admissions tutors and led to me being unsuccessful.
During my gap year, I made sure to correct these mistakes. I received interviews from Queen Mary University London, Cardiff and King's College London and offers from all 3. In this blog post, I share some pointers that worked for me:
1. Think of the interview as having a conversation with someone who is interested to get to know a bit more about you.
The key to a successful interview (not just for medicine but for anything) is to demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable about the position you are going for and to come across as your authentic self. The interviewers simply want to assess that you understand what you are applying for and learn a bit more about you as a person. After all, some of them may even be your tutors once you get accepted into the university. If by the end of the interview, they don’t feel confident in either of these aspects, you have a greater chance of being unsuccessful. So make sure that you have practiced, that you have done your research and KNOW what a medical degree is all about and finally, why you're suited to it.
2. Although I practiced, I did not ‘rehearse’.
Practice a range of different questions with different people. This prevents you from rehearsing your answers to questions because you’ve been asked them so often. Have answers and examples prepared for common types of questions such as:
A situation when you have shown resilience
What you learned on work experience and how it informed your decision to study medicine
A situation where you have had to work in a team
Assessing ability to deal with an ethical dilemma
But the goal here is to not regurgitate rehearsed answers for each question they ask you. This will come across as disingenuous and false.
3. Use the STARR (= Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection) Technique
I loosely used the STARR technique to answer the questions during the interview. This is a very popular strategy that helps to ensure that you actually answer the question you are being asked and that you don’t go over your time limit by waffling (which is especially key in MMIs – Multiple Mini Interviews – where you’re only given about 6 minutes to answer).
Example question and answer: What personal qualities should a good healthcare professional have, and when and where have you had to exhibit these qualities to date?
An excellent answer would cover many of the following plus a relevant example and would demonstrate a realistic understanding (as far as possible) of a career in healthcare:
Desire to work with people and a commitment to a life of service
Integrity and honesty
Courteous and respectful
Ability to lead and cooperate
Dedication to continuous learning
To be able to communicate effectively and sensitively
Critical judgement to solve problems - must be able to measure, calculate, reason, analyse
Situation: A good healthcare professional should have empathy, an ability to communicate effectively and sensitively and able to cooperate in a team. I currently work as a healthcare assistant for an NHS hospital where I have demonstrated these qualities. My role entails assisting patients with personal care (such as washing, feeding and helping them with their mobility), checking their observations and working as part of a team, mainly supporting the nursing staff.
Task: A patient had recently died – one that I had grown fond of – and I had to work with the nurse to wash and dress the patient ready for their loved ones to visit to pay their respects.
Action: I worked with the nurse, taking great care to maintain the dignity of the patient at all times and we waited in the room until the family arrived. It was heart-breaking to see them so upset and both myself and the nurse had to respond sensitively and empathetically in order to comfort them appropriately. Little, but important, things like drawing the curtains in the room and allowing them to grieve in peace made all the difference. I particularly remember his grandson, a very young child who was only 5 years old. He was very confused as to what was going on. We supported the family as they explained to the boy that his grandfather was ‘sleeping’ and signposted them to bereavement services, reassuring them that they could visit their grandfather on the ward until his transfer.
Result: As a result, the family really appreciated the way the nurse and I dealt with this situation that they wrote us a thank you card after they had gone.
Reflection: I learned that as a healthcare professional, you are not only responsible for looking after patients, but you also have role in supporting and listening to their loved ones, especially during times of bereavement. Although doctors work to treat patients to ensure a successful recovery, this is not always possible for every patient. It is very important that doctors deal with deaths compassionately and sensitively. Doctors need to be able to maintain a level of objectivity and professionalism and balance this with natural grief and worry for patients.
Extra note: Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal taps into doctors' collective anxiety about confronting death, and helps introduce the question of what makes a good life and a good death into the public consciousness. As doctors, we have to be acutely aware of the part we play in this narrative on a daily basis—even when it’s a passive one.
Bringing this book into the answer would have really topped it off! But with only 6 minutes, it may not have been possible. If you find yourself with spare time, further reading is a good way to link your experiences.
4. Locate and use available resources
During my gap year, I used Medical Portal (will be linked below) for their question bank and undertook an MMI interview course from there (I paid for this) but there are now lots of cheaper interview courses and free resources/blog posts out there.
Make sure you’re watching out for Eventbrite, sign up to receive notifications and book yourself onto any free interview sessions that university societies or organisations may be running.
Universities also run summer schools. King's College London runs the K+ programme and MedView where you get exclusive access to medical students to ask for advice and guidance as well as Mock MMI practice with written marks and feedback. Students who successfully complete the K+ programme may be eligible for the K+ variable offer worth up to two A-level grades lower than the standard offer (excluding medicine and dentistry) and additional consideration. I have a separate blog post on outreach opportunities here.
I made sure I practiced with friends, family and reached out to any Sixth Form teachers and medical students that I could.
You can book interview practice with me here for a small fee and receive written feedback, a booklet of questions and model answers.
These are further resources you can use:
And lots more!