Interviews

Interviews are a stressful process but the aim is simple – the medical schools want to make sure you’re an empathic, caring person who is interested in, and committed to, medicine. That doesn’t mean they expect you to have in-depth knowledge of disease management or be experts in communication techniques – if all the questions could be answered by factual recall, then the interview panel would not be doing its job properly. These interviews will take you outside your comfort zone as the panel try to find out about your personal values.

General Advice

Be Yourself

The key to doing well in interviews is being yourself. It’s easier said than done, but being relaxed helps which is why we advise practising answering interview questions with everyone you can!

Don’t worry about your accent (I have a Glaswegian accent and was very worried before I applied that it would hold me back – it didn’t). Just make sure you don’t use slang/words such as ‘damn’ which could possibly be misconstrued.

You want to get used to structuring your answers in a way that makes sense for the person asking the question. A good technique to buy yourself some time to work that out is to reflect on the question before answering it. For example if you are asked “How do you think future technological advances will impact medicine?” you might respond with “Technology improves year on year and has already had a major impact on the treatments and tests we can provide.” You’ve really just affirmed that the question is an important one but you’ve bought yourself some time and it sounds intelligent. You just need to make sure you have examples to back broad statements such as these up, because it’s very likely their follow-up question will be ‘..such as?’

Practice, Practice, Practice!

In the run-up to your interview, it is vital that you do some practice. Although you might feel that having a strong knowledge base is important, and it is, it is perhaps even more important to develop the skills to remain calm and confident even if a panel takes you outside your comfort zone. Ideally, your practice for your interview should include developing these techniques. A good way to do this is to ask a friend or some family to ask you questions until you feel you have nothing sensible left to say. When you reach that stage, keep attempting to answer the question.

I found this book – Medical School Interviews (2nd edition) – extremely useful. In the interview, there wasn’t a question I was asked which that book had not prepared me for – this was six years ago, but worth checking out your local library/speaking to your school about if they could get a copy for you because it is an excellent resource.

Different medical schools also have different styles of interview technique – for example, some medical schools have adopted the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) style of interview where you move around different interview “stations” and you spend around 5 minutes at each station. Each station has some theme – such as communication or reasons for doing medicine. Some people like this style more than others but do be aware of the style of interview at the medical school you are going to so that you can be prepared for it!

Your local branch of Reach Scotland will be able to tell you about any support they can provide you in preparing for interviews. We can’t predict exactly what’s going to be in your interviews but there are some topics that come up regularly which we’ll talk about below.

Specific Features of the Interview

Personal statement

Make sure you know your personal statement before going in and make sure you are aware of some of the common questions that they do like to ask at medical school interviews such as:

  • Why do you want to do medicine?
  • Why this medical school?
  • How have you demonstrated that you are a suitable candidate to study medicine?

Most of these questions will be covered in your personal statement and the same strategies apply but you will have to practice being able to do that on the fly!

This station might also include questions about why you have chosen this particular medical school to apply to. The answer isn’t that it’s in Scotland and therefore your fees are covered. You need to show that you have done enough research about the medical school and how medicine is taught there. The best way to learn about this, along with our pages, is to talk to medical students at the university you want to apply to.

Topical

Some stations are likely to include questions about current news in healthcare so make sure you are up to date especially in the UK. Some good sources of information include:

  • BBC Health (make it your browser home page after submitting your personal statement)
  • New Scientist or Scientific American (I prefer the latter because of the better graphics)
  • Student BMJ (although this is really for the medical student audience)

No one is expecting you to understand the details of some new scientific technique! They are looking to explore your interest in medicine, and so you should be able to talk about recent medical news/events if you use these resources. This shows your interviewers that you have qualities that they are eager to explore such as diligence, scholarship and curiosity.

Often you’ll be able to talk about a topic you do know about rather than them asking you about something you’ve never heard of. Sometimes though you will have to apply knowledge you have to a new area. For example if you choose to talk about how stem cells might be helpful for people with spinal cord trauma, then they might ask you “Can you think of any other areas where stem cells might be useful?”. It’s important for them to see that you can apply your knowledge!

Ethics

Ethical scenarios are common in medical interviews and are often a cause of concern for many candidates. Importantly, there is no right or wrong answer to many of the scenarios. The panel primarily wants to assess your approach to these problems and the reasoning behind your decisions. Be wary of changing your stance halfway through an answer if you are confronted by an examiner. However, if the scenario changes, don’t be afraid to change your answer if you can justify it. There’s not much in this guide that you absolutely must know but one of them is the four main ethical principles.

Patient Autonomy: Autonomy literally means “self-rule” and thus allows the patient to make decisions based on deliberations. This is concerned with the duty to respect the freedom of the individual and not to obstruct their ability to make and carry out their own decisions. Health professionals are required to consult people and obtain their agreement before they do things to them. To practice and respect patient autonomy good communication is essential.

Beneficence: This principle emphasises the importance of doing good to others – especially for a doctor to their patients. To be able to do good for their patient a doctor needs to be trained and should have the required skills and knowledge.

Non-maleficence: One of oldest aphorisms in medicine is primum non nocere – which means ‘first, do no harm’. It dates back to the Hippocratic Oath. Relating that to modern medicine most treatments have side effects that may do more harm than good – for example, chemotherapy. This does not mean that these treatments should be avoided. Rather, the potential benefit should be weighed against the harm to decide what is in the patient’s best interests. The new mantra involves that the best good should always be done for the patient.

Justice: In thinking about justice it might be easy to divide the category into three smaller units: (1) distributive justice – fair distribution of the scarce resources (2) Rights based justice – respect for people’s and patient’s rights. (3) Legal justice – respect for morally accepted laws. Limited time and resources means that not every patient can get the best possible treatment. Health professionals have to decide how much time to spend with different patients and how resources have to be allocated. The principle of justice emphasises that patients in similar situations should have access to the same health care and that a wider view should always be kept in mind because there is always an opportunity cost – thus, in determining what level of health care should be provided to patients we must take into account the effect on others.

An example

The questions will usually involve you being asked to talk through an ethical scenario or decision and you should refer to these four principles throughout. There is often no one right answer but you need to show you can balance these principles against each other. For example, if we consider a case of a 20 year old patient who has a cancer that can probably be cured by giving them a drug at a cost of £500,000 a year until the disease is gone.

It’s tempting to say that they should be given treatment (beneficence) no matter how expensive it is. That’s especially true because the patient is young and cure is a possibility. However, that needs to be balanced against the principle of justice. Committing to spending a huge amount of money for an unknown length of time probably isn’t the best use of resources and that’s before we’ve considered any likely side effects from the therapy (non-maleficence). Finally, we need to make sure the patient understands the situation and wants to go ahead with treatment despite any side effects (autonomy). That’s a fairly simple scenario but you can see how balancing the four principles doesn’t give you the answer but encourages you to think through all the issues and weigh them up.

Interview Styles

Each medical school in Scotland does their interview in a slightly different way, but there are two main types of interview that it’s important to know about.

MMIs (multiple mini interviews) (Aberdeen, Dundee, St. Andrews, Edinburgh)

Short stations – generally around 7 minutes in length. Stations can include:

  • General: broad stations which open with ‘why do you want to be a doctor’, ‘why did you choose to apply to X university’. For this station (and for all of them), it is important for you to REFLECT on your experience – you’ve already described it in your personal statement, now give examples of experiences and explain how they’ve influenced you. The interviewers want to get a wee snapshot of who you are as a person – try and show them that as much as you can.
  • Personal statement: individual stations on work experience, volunteering, extracurricular activities and how they have influenced your decision to apply to be a doctor (make sure you relate it back to that!)
  • Ethics: scenarios which you discuss with examiners.
  • Role Play: involving actors (generally medical students at the university – don’t be scared!) which will test your communication and reasoning skills. All sorts of things can come up – just relax into it and be kind.

Panel Interviews (Glasgow)

These are a more traditional style of interview where two or more interviewers will ask you questions that might cover any of the topics above.

Interviews might be different this year due to the impact of covid-19 – it’s worth checking the university websites for more information as it becomes available.

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