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The Scrubbed Up Guide to Interviews

Updated: May 5, 2020

By Hithin Noble

1. Preparation is vital. Do research on the medical school that you are applying to, and really know specifically why you would like study there, illustrating your commitment and enthusiasm. This should be a broad range of points, and should really show that you have considered all aspects of being at medical school: from the course to the societies within the university. 

2. Stay up to Date. You should be able to discuss the current issues that surround the NHS. When I applied, these topics included how Brexit will impact the NHS, the case of Charlie Gard and the effect of obesity on the NHS. Start getting into the habit of reading the health news every day: BBC and the Guardian are rather quick, but informative ways of doing so. When asked, it doesn’t really matter what your opinion is: as long as it is not offensive or utterly outrageous. Instead, the skill interviewers are looking for is the ability to communicate your point in a decisive and coherent manner, as well as your grasp of the current healthcare climate. This is done by doing your homework and backing your points up with factual statements. 

3. Go Beyond the Call of Duty. The majority of candidates have done work experience in the healthcare environment and have achieved highly within academia. You want to stand out. I am not saying volunteer in some far-flung place but doing something beyond the norm is the best way to show you are committed and motivated to do medicine. This can be simple things. From talking in depth about research in a medical journal/ article you found interesting, writing a medical blog, reading a book that broadened your horizons into the field, or doing a sponsored bike ride to raise money for a charity you are passionate about. The list could go on but reflecting upon such experiences certainly speaks volumes about your personality. 

4. Practice, practice and practice some more. During the run up to interviews, I was practicing with my family, friends and my mirror, at some points. What I was trying to perfect was the technique when reflecting on my experiences, rather than answering as many questions as possible. This is because, with practice, I found I could adapt these answers, and choose them based on their relevance to the question that was asked to me. Henceforth, I listed all my experiences and achievements, and then took the time to really comprehend what I learnt from these experiences, and how what I learnt is applicable to a medical student. The art of reflecting is difficult, and the mistake I often found myself doing was describing what happened and the nitty gritty details of the scenario, rather than illustrating what I had gained from an experience. 

The perfect method for reflecting on an experience is described in the article: ‘Reflection is Perfection’.

5. The element of surprise - The interviews will always surprise you with something you weren’t quite expecting, which requires you to keep an open-mind. I used to hate it when people told me ‘you just need to stay calm’. It’s not quite that simple. But something I found useful, was just asking the interviewer if I could have a moment to think. There is nothing wrong with this. It shows confidence, and it is better than blurting out some panicked answer. By asking for a pause, there is time for you to take a deep breath, compose yourself, and try and form the best structured answer you can. May I stress, this pause should be brief- the stations are time-limited. This worked for me but find what works best for you. Just remember you are all in the same boat, and it is alright to be nervous. Also may I stress  though, that this is YOUR  opportunity, and you want to do all you can to grasp it firmly with both hands. As long as you put in 100% before, and during the interview, whatever the result is after- you should be proud nonetheless. 

6. The interviewer is key. The interviewer that day, has probably spoken to dozens of candidates, and here you are walking in to be their next. Always take this into consideration. You are all eager to impress, but that shouldn’t turn into waffle, and lead to the interviewer losing their attention. If they are nodding along initially, and then appear to be just staring into space or have lost interest- it’s your cue to come to a close. (However, just as a disclaimer, every interviewer is different and you shouldn't read into it too much- some interviewers have a poker face throughout and want to see how you react under pressure so don't be discouraged) . I was given the advice to keep my answers at roughly between 50 seconds to a minute, but that is an approximate guide, and dependent on the question being asked.

7. Time- Limits- understand that within the station- the interviewer has got a certain amount of questions they need to go through. Think about this, in an exam there is no point spending the majority of time on the 2-mark question at the start: you also need to think about the 6- mark whopper in the end. There is no point going in circles in a question you are unsure of, and miss out on questions you had the chance to absolutely smash out the ballpark. Think tactically. 

8. There is more to think about than just your answers. For starters, obviously dress formally and smartly- it projects professionalism and commitment. Other tips include:

  • Think about whether you would like to shake the interviewer’s hand- it’s totally up to you- but do make sure it’s firm if you do.

  • Sit up straight and don’t slouch in the seat.

  • Make direct eye contact with the interviewer.

  • Try not to fidget (I used to tap my foot when I was nervous- I tried to imagine my foot was nailed to the floor). 

  • Don’t flap your arms around when you talk- nevertheless small hand movements are fine. 

  • Make sure you listen carefully to the question being asked- it is easy to just answer the question you wanted to be asked.

I hope these tips help with your interviews and best of luck!

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