The majority of universities use interviews as part of the application process. These take place following a shortlisting process after your initial application is submitted.
The aim of the interview is simple – the medical schools want to make sure you’re an empathic, caring person who is interested in, and committed to, medicine. You are not expected to know specific details of any diseases, treatments, or have developed communication techniques – this is what you will be taught at medical school! However, drawing on any experiences you have had and lessons you have learnt from these, being aware of any major developments and news articles related to health and medicine and taking an honest, sensible, caring approach to questions and any communications stations should stand you in good stead!
Remember, these interviews are made to take you outside your comfort zone but the interviewers want to get the best out of you and see how you respond to different, sometimes challenging, situations.
The key to doing well in interviews is being yourself. It’s easier said than done, but being relaxed helps you and the interviewer to enjoy the interview, making you come across more favourably! This is your chance to show the interviewers who you are and why they should be accepting you onto their course! Everyone is nervous for interviews and the interviewers will understand this, however preparation and practice should help you feel more confident and allow you to be yourself so they get to know you as a person.
Don’t worry about your accent (like we sometimes did!), just make sure you don’t use slang/words such as ‘damn’ or act too laid back which could come across as being disinterested.
Consider how you come across in interviews. The classic general points such as taking note of your body language and how you present yourself do make a difference. Simple things like ensuring you dress smartly (even if your interview is on zoom!), avoiding slang/inappropriate words and making eye contact are all ways you can make a good impression.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
In the run-up to your interview, the best thing you can do is practice. Whether this is with a friend, teacher, family member or in front of a mirror/camera, practicing answering questions ‘out-loud’ will help improve how you come across on the day. It is often easy to think you know what you want to say but having to say this out-loud and in a slightly stressful situation will allow you to hear if it your answer comes across to the interviewer the way you intend it to. This gives you time to tweak your answers if there is anything you decide you want to do differently in the actual interview. If you are practicing with someone, they can also give you some general feedback on this.
It is worth considering how you structure your answers. Even if it feels like an eternity at the time, it is much better to pause and give a considered, thought through answer rather than diving in to reply immediately and ending up rambling because you haven’t given yourself time to think your answer through. If you make any broad statements, also make sure you can give an example or two to back this up if asked!
Another skill you can try and practice is remaining calm and confident even if a panel takes you outside your comfort zone. One way you can practice this is by asking a friend or family member 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.
Remember, practicing your answers to questions and knowing the points you might want to cover is invaluable but make sure you avoid ‘rote learning’ a script – try to keep you answers sounding fresh and natural!
Prepare for the different styles of interview that are used
It is important to be aware that different medical schools have different styles of interview technique. Some may have the ‘traditional’ interview style with a panel who ask you questions. However, many medical schools have adopted the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) style of interview where you move around different interview “stations” and you spend around 5-10 minutes at each station. Each station has a theme – such as communication, ethics, teamwork or discussing your personal statement. 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!
There are various resources available to help with interview practice and preparing for what to expect. These include the specific university websites, numerous books on medical school interviews, and resources such as this website. Your local branch of Reach Scotland will be able to tell you about any support they can provide you in preparing for interviews. There is no way of predicting exactly what will come up in your interview but some common themes are discussed below.
Additional tips for online interviews
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many interviews have switched to an online format. Online interviews are a new concept for many and bring their own challenges. If you have an online interview, key points to consider are:
- Ensure you have a good internet connection and practice setting up the technology before the actual interview
- Be organised and give yourself time on the day of the interview – it’s better to be early to give yourself time in case there are any unexpected glitches
- Make sure you are in a quiet space and make others in your house/interview location aware you are having an interview so you don’t get any unwanted interruptions
- Try to have a neutral background behind you to avoid any distractions
- Dress smartly and consider your body language – don’t let the digital setting make you lose your professional attitude
- Try to look at your camera as well as your device’s screen during your interview – this will help to give ‘eye contact’ with the interviewer and help you appear engaged
Stations of the Interview
Personal statement or ‘General’
This is the most traditional ‘interview’ station whereby an interviewer asks you about yourself, your future aims, or about things you’ve talked about in your personal statement. Some candidates may find these stations challenging because it feels like you’re being forced to be self-congratulatory or big headed, but remember that you are sitting in this interview because the university already likes you and thinks you are a good candidate; all they are asking is that you explain (or re-explain) to them what makes you a great candidate!
Make sure you know, and can talk about, all aspects of your personal statement before going into the interview. Before going to your interview, also make sure you know how you want to answer some of the more common general interview questions 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. (Your answer shouldn’t just be 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 look at the university website and, if you can, talk to medical students at the university you want to apply to.
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 so you easily see any big news stories on a regular basis)
- New Scientist or Scientific American
- 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!
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 hear 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. Below the four main ethical principles are briefly covered which may help to guide your thinking in an ethical scenario type station.
Patient Autonomy: This relates to patients having the freedom to be able to make their own (informed) decisions relating to their care.
Beneficence: This principle emphasises the importance of doing ‘good’ (i.e. for a doctor to do the best for their patient).
Non-maleficence: This essentially means to ‘do no harm’ and dates back to the Hippocratic Oath. This includes considering side effects and weighing up the risks and benefits of a treatment
Justice: This encompasses generally being fair and to consider the wider population. This includes treating all patients with respect and without judgement of their actions but also aspects such as fair distribution of funds/resources for different patients and needs.
Ethical scenarios can be quite challenging because it’s a topic most pupils aren’t familiar with discussing. We have put together the example below to show how you might be asked to apply the principles above and think about how they can sometimes clash. As in other stations, the aim isn’t to find the ‘right’ answer but instead to show the examiner you can think logically and compassionately while presenting your thoughts in an easy to follow structure.
“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).
Many universities use actors to create ‘role play’ stations where the applicant has to chat with a ‘friend’ about a difficult time in their life or play a board game with an ‘elderly care home resident’.
Medical students will often learn with the help of actors while at university. It’s important that new doctors have had experience in things like giving a serious diagnosis, dealing with challenging patients, or how to respond to a medical emergency however you can understand how it would be almost impossible for students to be taught about these situations in ‘real life’. Therefore, medical schools have increasingly adopted the use of actors to provide this teaching (and for use during exams).
This emphasis on actors during university means that the medical schools want to make sure that applicants can suspend disbelief with an actor to demonstrate a calm, patient, and caring demeanour.
These stations are rarely designed for you to ‘complete’ or get the right answer within 10 minutes. The interviewer is looking for you to show good listening skills, ask open questions if appropriate, reassure or empathise with people who are upset, and to show that you are invested in helping the other person reach whatever goal they have set.
Abstract tasks and group stations
Some universities include stations that involve completing problem solving tasks such as describing a shape to someone so that they can draw it. Alternatively, increasingly pupils are asked to work together with other applicants to create together or two applicants will debate a topic.
These stations may seem daunting because you aren’t able to prepare for them in the same way as you can for some of the above. However, remember that good foundations will set you up well; introduce yourself to other participants and ask their name, be courteous but don’t shy away from responsibility, listen to other participants, and encourage people who aren’t as involved. You are likely to all be quite anxious and tense so if you can avoid or soothe minor conflicts that arise this will reflect well on you.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced all universities to change interviews this year. They are all going to be delivered online but it is worth researching the specifics of how each medical school has adapted their process
Each medical school carries out interviews in a slightly different way but there are two main types of interview that are important to know about.
MMIs (multiple mini interviews) (Aberdeen, Dundee, St. Andrews, Edinburgh)
These involve several (usually 5 or 6) short stations, 5-10 minutes in length. They often have instructions or a scenario which you will get a chance to read through before entering the station. Stations can include any mixture of the above.
Panel Interviews (Glasgow)
These are a more traditional style of interview where you will likely be in a room with two or more interviewers who will ask you a series of questions. They are likely to follow general, personal statement, ethical, or topical styles of interviewing.