Medical School Interviews
Guide to Prepare for your Medical School Interview in 5 Key Steps
1. Watch mock interview videos
In order to prepare sucessfully for an exam, it is sensible to look at past exam papers. Your medical school interview is, in a sense, one of the most important exams of your life so it only seems natural to do the same. Many applicants look through the internet to find past medical school interview questions, but remember that reading something is very different to seeing it. By watching mock interviews, you not only become familiar with the type of questions that interviewers may ask, but also the non-verbal queues that are important in communicating your answers to best effect. The interview is not a written exam and thus to optimize your preparation:
You should spend time watching medical school interviews and practicing mock interviews, rather than reading about them.
There are plenty of very good videos online for medical school mock interviews. Cambridge university also released a "medicine mock interview" video to help students prepare and know what to expect.
As you prepare for your medical school interview, you need to think of the content of your answers (some of my tips below will cover this). But also consider that perhaps one of the toughest skills to develop, is to learn to convey your answers effectively. For example, take an identical text given to two individuals. When asked to read it out loud, they will do this quite differently. In particular, their tone of voice, gestures and eye contact may be significantly different. If you now ask the same individuals to explain what they read, their explanations will be even more different from one another. The content of their explanations may vary as they may relate it to their own experiences, but there is also likely to be variablitiy in the speed at which they talk, their enthusiasm levels, their smile - all these impact on on the overall impression you get from listening to them.
Few applicants prepare adequately for the points made above, but with many students giving very similar answers to medical school interview questions, these factors becom much more important than most people realise. You are being judged on your communication skills, not just on the content of what you say. Watching videos online allows you to identify what you like about the delivery of the answer, rather than just the content. Thus, you can make your answers and your style of answering more personal to you, so that you can stand out from the pool of candidates.
A better delivery with average content can score higher than excellent content with poor delivery. Do not underestimate the preparation you need to deliver answers well. Too many applicants spend all their time preparing what they will say, but not how they will say it.
2. Prepare some good stories or anecdotes
Five good stories will help you a lot more than a dozen rough examples of your experiences. The interviewers are trying to get to know you as a person in a short amount of time.
Knowing how many doctors you shadowed, your grades, or even which extracurricular activities you participate in does not allow the interviewers to get a real feel for "who" you are.
If you use personal stories and focus on developing them in more depth, you are more likely to be a memorable candidate. Contrary to what many applicants think, a good anecdote does not depend on what you did. It depends on what you have to say about what you did. I often get asked by applicants if they should use a particular story in their answer. And the answer to that question is very much "it depends". A story about studying for an exam may seem uninteresting at first but can be a great anecdote when the narrator (you) adds in your motivation for it, the way you organised yourself and why you did it in this particular way, rather than another way.
If you explain your thought process, your feelings, emotions and how you developed as a person as a result, almost any story can be very interesting. At the same time, a story about extraordinary volunteer work in Asia for 3 months can also become not very useful in your interview, if you only state what you did but do not add elements about your feelings, learnings and thought process. Medical schools are looking for individuals who can reflect on their experiences and learn from them.
Most applicants I meet tell me they have good stories about patients that they can use in interview scenarios, but when I ask them questions to dig a little deeper, it often becomes apparent that they do not have that much to say about some of them. For each of your stories ask yourself the following questions, and spend time discussing the answer to each with someone, so that you can practice expressing this verbally.
1. What was the "relevant" context?
2. What information about the context are you giving that is not necessary to make your point? I.e. could your answer be more concise?
3. Why did you choose to do what you did?
4. How did you do it?
5. What did you do? did it impact others? or yourself? (describe that impact)
6. How did you feel before, during, and after?
7. When you look back at the situation now, what are your emotions regarding it?
8. Would you do anything different now because of this experience, or because you have learned something else since then?
9. Have you gained any skills that will make you a good doctor from it, or that you think are valuable as a doctor?
10. Has this experience helped you get a better understanding of Medicine as a profession, or of the NHS?
11. Has this experience increased or reinforced your motivation to be a doctor?
Compassion - Empathy - Personal Maturity (knowing your limitations and how to address these) -
Service Orientation - Professionalism - Altruism - Integrity - Leadership - Team Work
Even by preparing only 5 anedotes, you will be able to bring them up as examples in hundreds of questions.
3. Prepare structures for your answers
A structure with an introduction and a conclusion will stenghten almost any answer. I say 'almost' because there are times when there is more natural way of starting your answers than 'an introduction'. For example, if someone asks you: 'what is 2+2?' The answer is so obvious and natural to you that adding an introduction makes it look like you're just buying time. In the same way if you get asked a question for which you know exactly what you want to say and the context of your answer will be easily understood, then you do not need to have an introduction. Other times, when the answer is not straightforward or has several parts, then an introduction can be valuable. A conclusion on the other hand is always useful and even answers that can be given without one will almost invariably be made stronger with one.
A structure will be even more vital when you get asked something very difficult that you are not sure how to approach. If you fall back on your structure, it will give you a way to start answering while you think of something. Let's consider an ethical question, e.g. 'what are your thoughts on euthanasia?' Perhaps you have not previously given the matter detailed thought, but provided that you understand the basic concept of the question, the following structure should help you in formulating an answer:
1. Introduction rephrasing the question/defining the concept and listing the issues involved. Essentially explain what it is and why it is an ethical issue.
2. Argument FOR with examples
3. Arguments AGAINST with examples
Regardless of the topic that comes up, you can use a similar structure which means that if you get asked about a topic that you have not prepared, it will stop you from freezing by giving you a way to start.
Once you have practiced mock interviews for a few weeks, you will start to know your answers very well and so will your family (or whoever is helping you practice). This can lead to you speaking very fast and also it can lead to your answer becoming difficult to follow by a stranger. Real medical school interviewers are obviously strangers to you, and a clear structure also helps them to follow your answer, bearing in mind they do not have as much context to your stories as your family/friends with whom you have practiced.
4. Link your stories and examples to Medicine
Most medical schools will ask you a question of the type: "tell us about a time when you ..." or "give us an example of a time when you...". If you follow step 2 of this guide, you will have a valuable answer that includes an anecdote which highlights your skills and thought processes. Also from step 3, you will know the importance of preparing a conclusion for your answer. For medical school interview questions where you discuss a story, it is highly desirable to link the question back to Medicine in your conclusion, if not earlier. Your answer will be stronger if you can relate your example one of these 3 things:
1. How it reinforced your desire to be a doctor
2. How it helped you develop a transferable skill (e.g. team work, leadership) that will be valuable as a doctor
3. How it increased your understanding of the medical profession
You cannot link one example to all three as your answer will then not make any sense but you should be able to link to one of the three points above. The best interviewees make these connections in their answers even when this has not been specifically asked in the question.
5. Practice Mock Interviews
Whether you are a naturally good speaker or a shy person, practicing mock interviews always lead to a better performance in the end. Surprisingly more practice is actually likely to make you sound less rehearsed as well. This may sound counterintuitive but it is true. Students who dont practice at all tend to perform badly in interviews. Students who practice a little bit sound rehearsed on some questions and unprepared on others. They may do well in a few. People who practice a lot sound better in almost every question but may sound a little rehearsed.
People who practice the right amount and the right way do not sound rehearsed but instead sound confident and fluent in their answers.
Here is a bit of advice you can follow during your mock interviews to optimize them:
A. For the two weeks preceeding your interview, do at least one mock interview per day (see below for explanation of what that includes). This is likely to be at home with a family member or a good friend.
B. Have at least 3-5 mock interviews with people who do not know you well before your real interview. Their manner of interviewing you and their feedback will be completely different to that of someone who knows you well. People to ask could be parents of your friends, uncles and aunts, parents' colleagues, school tutors, medical school interview coaches, career advisers, etc.
C. For your daily mock interview at home, follow this format: A mock interview should last between 10 to 20 minutes and should be followed every time by a feedback session lasting at least 30 minutes but sometime 1 to 2 hours. During this feedback session you should go through each question one by one and discuss them together. Firstly, you should say what you think you did well and then what you could improve. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that you should always feedback on yourself before hearing from the interviewer, and you should always find a positive in what you did. This may sound unnecessary at first, but actually being able to see what you do well and not well on your own is the first step to delivering the best answers. Remember that your opinion is valuable, and that you are the one who has been preparing for the interview and may in fact know more about Medicine and medical school applications than your mock-interviewer.
Once you develop the skill of constructive self-feedback on your medical school interview questions,
your performance will improve significantly.
Then listen to the feedback from the interviewer - for each point they make, they should try to illustrate it with an example so that you can properly understand the feedback and use it to make adjustments as necessary. The last step is really important. Together discuss what you feel would be an ideal answer if this question was asked in the real interview and then take the time to prepare that information into a structured answer as discussed above.
D. Once the feedback session is completed, you should do a repeat mock interview with exactly the same questions (at a later time if you wish to take a break to do more preparation and consolidate the feedback given), followed by a brief 10 minutes feedback session to note points that still need improving.
E. The next day, repeat questions that are considered essential but still did not sount good. However:
As a rule, at least 80% of questions your interviewer asks you every day in your mock should be new to you and never practiced.
I am very surprised when I hear students have been doing mock interviews at home but keep practicing the same questions. When you practice the same questions you are refining your content, but you are not getting used to deliver an effective answer to an unknown, unprepared question - which is likely to come up in your actual interview.
The questions you choose to practice are almost irrelevant. The aim of mock interviews is to develop and practice the skill of getting used to answering unexpected questions. Thus, you need unpracticed questions daily.
F. If you do choose to do a mock interview with a professional medical school interview coach, ask them if the person helping you at home can attend the session too. If the person who helps you the most at home can hear all the feedback you get on that day, it will help them give you the right feedback during your daily sessions at home.
6. Research the Medical School
It is imperative you do a bit of research about the medical school before attending an interview. You should spend time on their website, speak to people who have been there and if possible, go there yourself pre-interview. With facebook and blogs, it is now very easy to find contact details of current students of any medical school, thus once you get an offer for an interview, one of the first thing to do is to find a contact from that medical school so you can ask them about their experience, the programme, etc. Many people are happy to help as they were once in your position. As you do your research, here are the things you should aim to find out:
1. History of the university and their medical school
2. Important research, innovations and discoveries from this medical school
3. Programme structure including when clinical exposure starts, how modules are broken down, whether it uses problem-based learning (PBL), integrated clinical/bedside teaching or a tradional classroom delivery
4. Anatomy: will you be doing a full dissection or using prosections and/or computer-simulated learning?
5. Any recently developed facilities, investments from or for the medical school. Also find out about sports, societies, etc.
6. Which hospital sites are attached to the programme and a little about the specialties and subspecialties covered there
7. Few clear positives, good points about this medical school. You will most often find this from speaking to people who are there, and referencing the fact that you have spoken to current students will highlight your initiative and commitment.
8. Few downsides or things that you don't like as much about the school. This is not necessarily to mention them at the interview but it is important you develop a comprehensive picture of the medical school so you can discuss pros and cons intelligently.
9. What can you contribute to the medical school
Finally make sure you are able to discuss clear reasons why you want to attend this particular school in a relaxed and conversational way.