100th Post: Interviews Megapost

For my century of blog posts, I thought I’d do a big one on interviews – here goes nothing.

Most people will have just submitted their applications for medical school pretty recently, so the next thing to think about is interviews (fingers crossed that you get one)!

Most universities do your traditional interview: two or more consultants/medical educators sitting across from you (normally a wee 16/17 year-old school leaver) and get grilled for a time period of their choosing about why you want to do medicine, why you chose that university and why you want to do medicine. In contrast, Dundee has a set up called MMIs which stands for Multiple Mini Interviews. It involves a set up of 10 stations – each of which lasts 8 minutes (I think) – where you are either to complete a task (with or without a partner/team-mate) or are asked some questions more like a traditional interview process.

First and foremost, I’m going to be a bit careful about what I say about interviews here. Obviously I can’t tell you what specific stations are etc. as that would defeat the whole purpose of the MMIs. Plus, it might get me into trouble. However, I’ll post a few generic tips here, to try and answer some common questions about interviews in general and interviews at Dundee.

Traditional interviews
My experiences of interviews – aberdeen, st andrews

First interview I had was at Aberdeen. My brain is a bit scattered about the whole interview thing. I really don’t remember that much – just a few snapshots. I remember that the waiting area was in a wee cafe which was quite nice and relaxed – although one thing I noticed when I was there was that everyone came with their parents, in fact, I think I was one of the only ones who came in without their mum or dad there. I really don’t advise coming with parents to an interview at all – it makes you look quite childish and like your parents are making you apply to medical school – you definitely seem more self-motivated if you come alone – my mum gave me a lift to aberdeen, but just either waited in the car or went into the town to have a coffee or do shopping or whatever while I was at my interview.

I’ve even heard stories about parents trying to come into the interview with their children. Their argument was that the interview was a 2-way process – the med school deciding if they want you and you deciding if you want to go to that medical school, which is true, to an extent, and you should bear this in mind during the interview that you are entitled to ask questions to them and they’ve got to try and impress you (For example, in my St Andrews interview – I did some lab experience on tropical diseases during my school years and they went on to tell me about the research they had in that area at the uni). Needless to say, the parents weren’t allowed in and the applicants didn’t get into medicine as far as I know.

Another thing I noticed is what people were wearing to the interviews. Guys, I would recommend a suit. If money’s tight and you don’t want a suit, a nice shirt with a tie is absolutely fine. (Top buttons done up, for any of you rebels out there) For girls though, thing are a bit more difficult. Skirt or trousers? Suit or no suit? Decisions decisions! Basically, I would stay away from short skirts and low cut tops like I saw some people wearing – it doesn’t really fit in with the professional image you’re trying to put across.

Anyway, my interviews came pretty late on – I think my Aberdeen and St Andrews ones were sometime in February – I was panicking at the time as other people on the forums were all getting interviews etc. and I hadn’t heard anything. In the end, this really meant nothing whatsoever. I don’t know how they decide on who gets interviewed when, but it seemed to have no relation to how successful people were at getting into med schools. From the forums, I had heard bad things about the interviews at aberdeen – they were notoriously tough interviews. although, in getting into the room, they were quite nice and asked me how I got to the interview, what I had been up to in my time before the interview, so I said how I had stayed in a hotel near the waterfront the night before which was really nice, and so this eased me in quite well. Most interviews tend to start something like this, so it’s good to have a wee piece to say about what you’ve been up to.

I don’t really remembered what they asked me very much to be honest. I do remember that at one point, I got flustered and had to pretend to be really thirsty to give myself time to think while I drunk some water.

The next day was an interview at St Andrews. Given that I didn’t really want to go to st andrews at all and that aberdeen was my second choice, I hadn’t really done as much research as I should have for this interview. What I remember from this interview was that the waiting area was really nice – I was quite early for my interview and so had time to have a wee look around and people watch etc. Then, when it was interview time, we were put in a wee side room and told to read a paper which we would be asked about in the interview itself. We then went into a big grand hall with lots of tables lined up in a row – there were 2 interviewers at each table who asked your standard interview questions and, at the end, asked about the article I read. This seems kinda silly to me, because we were allowed to take article in with us and look at it to answer the questions – I didn’t do this, but I don’t know what this was meant to assess. Anyway, I didn’t get in here as I didn’t know much about the course – I distinctly remember them asking a question which I didn’t know the answer to and so pretended that I was planning on asking them about it – I think they saw right through me on that one.

Edinburgh don’t do interviews – so if you think you don’t come across well at interviews, I would apply there.

My dundee interview was REALLY late on, to the point where I started to wonder whether they had actually received my application or not. I ended up getting interviewed in march – one of the last groups to get interviewed I think.

I remember that, on the morning of my interview, I checked my UCAS application thing just before I left the house, only to find that I had been accepted to edinburgh, which meant I was absolutely buzzing!

Perhaps it was because of this, but I really found the dundee interview a lot of fun – before we went into the interview they had us all in a big board room. We literally were in there for around an hour so got to chatting to quite a few people sitting at the table and had quite a good laugh with them before going into the interview.

The whole set up was quite informal – a big room with 16 applicants all chatting away meant that any silences you had while you were thinking of what to say weren’t awkward at all in comparison to hearing the buzz of the air conditioning while you think in a traditional interview. Also, at most stations, only 1 consultant is interviewing you as opposed to the two or three which interview you in traditional interviews, making the whole process a bit less daunting.

When I applied to dundee the MMIs were only 4 stations long – 3 standard interview stations, plus a student-run task orientated station. Basically the task involved assisting and/or explaining to somebody else how to best complete a task. I really found the task station quite difficult, but also quite fun. I think the important thing is to try and stay calm and not worry too much about how much you get done, but focus more on going about the task in the right manner.

After the interview we got a tour of the medical school which was good too – I would recommend doing that, as you can ask students about the course in general, how they’re finding it etc. etc.

Overall, I would say the benefits of the MMI over standard interviews are:
You get a new chance to impress an examiner at each station – if you bugger up one station, the next examiner will have no idea. Take a deep breath and try to impress them.

They are generally quite laid back and friendly – you’re in a room with lots of chatting going on at the same time – makes silences less awkward when you’re thinking of what to say. Current students help out at the stations – either as actors or as assessors – I think this is a really nice touch as they can relate to how you feel much better than a consultant who attended medical school in the 1960s can.

It levels the playing field between those who get medical interview training at school and those who don’t – because they can change the stations completely year in, year out, it makes the interviews far more difficult to prepare for and so relies on your ability to improvise and is a better test of character than traditional interviews.

Regardless of the interview type, some questions almost always come up. Preparing answers is a good thing – but be warned! Don’t prepare answers word-for-word. Examiners will be able to tell exactly when somebody is repeated an answer they’ve learned off by heart. Instead, have a rough outline of the points you want to get across to answer some of the more common questions. Some questions to prepare answers to for interviews:

Why do you want to study medicine?
Why do you want to come to (insert university here)?
Why do you not want to become a nurse?
Questions relating to things in your personal statement (know your personal statement inside out! – if you’ve made things up, you may get caught out here, with severe consequences)
How long does it take you to become a GP/surgeon? – so know about career pathways
Have you read any medical articles of interest recently?
They may ask some ethical questions such as your view on euthanasia, organ donation (opt in/opt out) etc.
What qualities are most important in a doctor?
Tell me about a time where you worked well in a team.
What volunteer work have you done?
What work experience have you done? What did you take out of it?
What are your strengths and weaknesses? – weaknesses is a tough one sometimes – you need to say something, but not a huge flaw that will diminish your chances of getting into medical school! You also don’t want to say “I don’t have any weaknesses” because you’ll sound like a prick.
How do you think this interview/station has gone? – an odd one, and an easy one to just say “yeah, it went ok” to. However, they’re probably looking to see if you can reflect, or admit when you’ve made mistakes and think how you could improve next time – an important skill for doctors to achieve.
What would you do if you don’t get into medical school? – if they ask this, it doesn’t mean you’re not getting in! this is probably just to test your commitment to medicine in general.

Anyway, I’ll reiterate that you shouldn’t construct a speech – just make some notes of things you want to say.

That’s the end of my interviews megapost. I’m sure some people will have some questions about interviews or the MMIs, so please, ask away – I’ll do my best to answer.

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