Updated: Aug 5
Some valuable tips from Titanium Tutor Ed.
Medical school interviews are often seen as very challenging and difficult to prepare for. As a medical school interviewer, I know the truth could not be more different.
All medical schools are looking for the same set of qualities in their students (whether they are school entry or graduate entry): empathy, industry and commitment.
The most important of these qualities is empathy. Medical schools want to see that you can understand your patients’ fears and concerns. The reason is that a more understanding doctor will be better at communicating with his/her patients and therefore will be able to provide better care; patients are more likely to take their medication if they have a good relationship with the doctor who prescribed it.
But how to get your qualities across in your interview? Here are a few tips:
1. Research your chosen med school’s interview style.
There are several different styles, depending on which medical school you are applying to. Some prefer panels of three or four interviewers, others prefer the one-to-one approach, others still like to use the multi-mini interview (MMI) approach. This latter approach is taking over as the preferred form of interview.
Once you know the style of interview, practise answering questions in that environment – ask some family friends to form a panel after Sunday lunch, for instance. Give them a large range of questions to choose from, so that you will not feel too comfortable. If the interview will be an MMI, then practise answering questions inside of 5 minutes. You will be amazed at how quickly the time passes!
2.“Why do you want to do medicine?” – have a personal answer to this question.
Every medical school interview will ask this question. It is meant to relax you at the start of the interview. Nevertheless it is an opportunity for you to show off your experiences, and to show that you have considered your potential career choice.
> Draw on your personal experience – what have you seen and done that is related to medicine? This does not have to be work experience – one student’s excellent answer related the death of his grandmother and how he was touched by the commitment and empathy of the medical team caring for her.
> Including an empathetic reflection in your answer will set you head and shoulders above your competitors. All medical schools prize a student’s ability to empathise with patients, above all other skills. They assume that you are intelligent and they do not expect you to know any medicine at interview. Instead they want to know that you will have the ability to understand a patient’s concerns and address them effectively.
> Show consistency in your interest in medicine. It is very advantageous to be able to show a track record of activities geared towards medicine. This does not need to go back years. Something as simple as volunteering one evening a week at a care home or similar facility is fantastic. Be warned: working at the reception of your local GP will not impress interviewers. Your work experience must be patient focused and provide you with the opportunity to see patients and empathize with them.
> Say “my family members are doctors so I want to become one”.
> Say “I want to make money”.
> Say “I want to save lives” (this does not show any insight into what the job entails).
> Give work experience examples that do not involve patient contact (eg: shadowing a doctor, working on a GP reception).
3. Work experience
You will be asked about your work experience and what it has taught you. In your answer you must be clear about what you personally did on your work experience, and then clearly link what you learned to that work experience.
If you have multiple work experiences to discuss, then describe each one separately and link a different learning point to each experience. Show that you learned a range of qualities.
The best answers describe a combination of work experience that has put you in contact with patients and an empathetic response to that experience. Your answer should show that you have insight into what the patients were experiencing and what you learned from that insight.
4. Research your answers beforehand
There are only so many questions that medical school interviewers can ask you, so it is well worth your time researching your answers ahead of your interview.
There are some excellent guide books available that contain example questions and model answers. The most comprehensive book at the time of writing is Medical School Interviews (2nd Edition).
In addition to the stock questions, you must have an answer to the following questions:
> What do you see as the effect of the Health Reform Act on the NHS?
> What do you think are the five most important health advances in the last 100 years?
> Tell me about a recent piece of medical research that has impressed you
> Which medical person from history do you most admire and why?
You can develop strong answers to all these questions online with no more than one hour’s research on each. Websites like Wikipedia, The King’s Fund and reputable news outlets such as The Economist will give you all the detail you need.
The medical school interview is predictable in its content. As it is predictable, you have the opportunity to prepare yourself in advance for most of what you will face. Follow the four steps above for each medical school to which you are applying, and your performance on the day will stand out high above your competitors.
Blog Post Crafted by Ed
Background: Ed studied Classics at Cambridge University, and went on to study graduate medicine at St George’s, University of London. Ed has been teaching since 2004. In the academic year 2004-2005 he taught a range of subjects as maternity cover at Arnold House, a boys’ prep school in North London. His students were all boys aged 5-13. He has successfully prepared children for UK school entrance exams, UK national exams (GCSE and A Level) and UK university entry exams, including interviews. He also has a lot of experience teaching via Skype.
Fun Fact: Ed is an occasional stand-up comedy performer and an obsessive cricket fan, who has managed to meet all but one member of the 1975 West Indies bowling attack.