Fine, we can’t exactly guarantee you’ll ace your medical school interview – you will have to manage that bit on your own. But we can deliver you wise advice from those who have been there, done it and got the scrubs to prove it.
We spoke to three students studying at two of the UK’s renowned medical schools, including the University of Cambridge, to hear their advice on how to nail that interview.
Expect the unexpected
“The questions they ask you at interview are not questions they expect you to know the answers to,” Cambridge sixth-year student Chidera Ota told Study International.
“Some of the questions they asked me in my interview, I only learned in my third year of my degree so these are not things I was supposed to have covered [before].”
Expect to be asked questions about complex medical situations, biochemistry terms you have never even heard of, or even your opinion on major issues facing the world. They really could ask you anything as they want to see how you cope under pressure.
“Be prepared to respond to all kinds of questions – many unrelated to the study of medicine,” assistant dean for admissions at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Filomeno Maldonado wrote on the university website.
The only way to really prepare – when you have no idea what they could possibly ask you – is to accept you won’t be properly prepared and to practice being thrown out of your comfort zone.
Read books you wouldn’t normally pick up, engage in conversations about topics you aren’t comfortable talking about, challenge yourself to learn more about something you feel you know nothing about.
Learn you don’t have to know all the answers all the time, but instead remain calm and confident and learn to respond intelligently when challenged, proving you are someone who thinks on their feet.
Practice, practice, practice… and when you’re done, practice some more.
“The most valuable thing for me was having teachers just sit with me and have conversations with me where they challenged my views – even the most basic things,” Ota said.
“None of the questions anyone asked me in any way prepared me for the questions the interviewers asked me, in terms of knowing the answers.
“But what it did mean was when I went into that environment, I wasn’t completely thrown off by having to debate or explain myself.”
The key to preparedness is, “having as many practice interviews as possible, particularly with people who you are not that comfortable with”, Ota explained.
“It will teach you to approach the environment from the right point of view,” she said. “And that’s what will allow you to think and remain calm during the interview.”
Show empathy and kindness
When Ota went for her interviews six years ago, universities were yet to bring in the roleplaying aspect which so often accompanies current interviews. Now, most medical schools use rounds to vet potential students. Each round has a different measure, including role-play, which could see you doing anything from comforting a crying ‘patient’ to making snap decisions on a serial hypochondriac.
First-year student Maisy Hooper* experienced just that – and told Study International knowing how to cope with stressful and highly emotional situations is crucial.
“Learn to respond to situations quickly, read them and respond as empathetically as you can,” she said.
In terms of roleplaying, “there are certain skills or characteristics that they need you to have but they can’t necessarily teach you, like empathy or sympathy or kindness. They aren’t really things medical schools can give lectures on,” Ota said.
So, show the interviewers you already have these characteristics inbuilt.
“You need to be good with people – being compassionate is one of the most important traits you can have,” Hooper explained.
“This is why I think it’s so important to do things like volunteering,” Ota added. “You need to display to medical schools that you have these skills.
“They can teach you science, they can teach you medicine, but they can’t teach you basic social skills.”
“If you are really uptight, the interviewer will feel it,” Hooper explained. “It is likely to be tough to do but try to relax.
“They want to see how you cope under pressure, so ensure you stay calm on the surface even if you are a mess internally.”
Ota agreed: “Go into it with confidence and the ability to have a conversation with someone where you can reason as you are thinking, and not panic when they throw you a question that is just really throwing you into the deep end – because honestly, that is what is going to happen.”
The way you come across is very important, explained first-year student Jenna Smith*.
“Wear professional but comfortable clothing, maybe something with a bit of colour to ensure you stand out,” Smith told Study International.
“And smile,” she added. “Show you are personable and friendly. Don’t forget they are watching how you carry yourself from the moment you step into the building.”
Be honest, be yourself
Medical schools want people, not mindbogglingly clever machines, so show them you are human and be your no-doubt charming self.
“Be honest with your interviewer and be yourself. You deserve to get in and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise,” Hooper asserted.
It might sound cheesy but just having a little bit of faith in your abilities can go a long way.
“If you don’t come from a typical medical background like me, I am a testament to the fact you can still do it,” Hooper said.
Be brave, be bold, be kind and show them what you’re made of.
Here are 20 questions you could be asked
This list is by no means exhaustive, and, in truth, you could be asked none of these questions, but just get thinking and be prepared to answer anything that comes your way.
1. Do you think doctors should ever go on strike and why?
2. What is your relationship with your family like?
3. Tell me about a time you failed.
4. You have one life support machine. Three people need it: a middle-aged woman with cancer who has three children and a six-month life expectancy; a 16-year-old drug addict; and an elderly man who volunteers now he is retired. Who gets it?
5. Would you be willing to perform an abortion?
6. What books have you read recently?
7. What are the negative or restrictive aspects of studying and working in medicine?
8. Would you prescribe the contraceptive pill to a 14-year-old girl who wished to have sex with her boyfriend?
9. Why do you think some professionals are unhappy working in medicine?
10. What do you think about the fact many nurses are developing extended roles and undertaking work previously done by a doctor?
11. If you could tell me just one fact about yourself so I could get an idea of who you are, what would you say and why?
12. What is the most pressing current issue in medicine?
13. How are your qualifications relevant to medicine?
14. What role do politics play in healthcare?
15. Would you ever discuss your religious beliefs with a patient and why?
16. What parts of your work experience did you find most challenging? Why do you think this was?
17. What characteristics do you need to work on in order to be a better doctor?
18. If you witnessed someone stealing from a shop what would you do?
19. Tell me about your favourite piece of artwork and what it says to you.
20. How do you think you will cope with the death of a patient after you made a mistake?
* Students wished to remain anonymous.
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