A Complete Guide to Medical School Interviews

WRITTEN BY
MEDISTUDENTS TEAM
SEPTEMBER 6, 2021

All UK medical schools require applicants to attend an interview before an offer to study medicine is made. This means whichever medical school/s you’re applying for, you’re likely to attend at least one interview, and will need to perform well to secure your place at your chosen university. The following guide will provide you with topics which may arise at your interview and support you to develop techniques to answer different questions and scenarios effectively.

The purpose of the interview

If you’re invited to an interview, the medical school selection panel have identified that you have the necessary academic qualifications or predicted grades, and an acceptable score on any admissions test that you may have undertaken, therefore generally the purpose of the interview is not to assess your academic abilities. Predominantly, the focus of any interview will be to identify if you possess characteristics and qualities which will make you a suitable candidate for studying medicine and a subsequent career within the NHS. Interviewers will also be assessing skills, such as your ability to work within a team and take a leadership role, your communication skills, and your problem solving skills, which we will cover in more detail in the All About You section, along with personal qualities that will be assessed. 

Note: although the majority of medical schools do not assess academic abilities, some do highlight that there will be some element of academic assessment within their interview process. For any medical schools who identify this as an area of assessment, it will be highlighted in their ‘Individual Medical School’ section until the ‘Interview Information’ header. 

You may also find it useful to familiarise yourself with the NHS Constitution for England which outlines the principles and values of the NHS in England, and therefore the values that medical schools will expect you to demonstrate. Similarly, the Medical Schools Council and General Medical Council’s Achieving Good Medical Practice: Guidance for Medical Students identifies the duties of registered doctors, and therefore is beneficial for understanding the expectations of you as a future medical student.

Although primarily the interview will not be testing your academic ability, selection panels will expect you to demonstrate an interest in medicine; for example through extra curricular reading and projects; and an understanding of medical topics and politics, such as issues relating to the NHS. Our NHS and Medical Knowledge section will provide guidance on preparing for questions relating to NHS topics.

Different types of interviews

Although there are a few exceptions and additional elements involved with some interviews, medical school interviews tend to fall into the following categories:

  1. Panel Interviews
  2. Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)

Whichever interview type is used, the format of the interview can vary considerably across the different medical schools, but this is particularly the case with the MMI. However, regardless of the interview format, the assessors are trying to identify that you have the required skills and qualities to make you suitable for a career within medicine, and therefore being able to demonstrate this to the selection panel is key for a successful interview. 

Details of the type of interview each medical school uses, and any information relating to their assessment criteria for the interview, if available, is provided in the Individual Medical Schools section. When you receive your invitation to interview, this will also provide you with more details about the process; pay close attention to the information provided, as it may provide insight into the format of your interview, the assessment criteria and what to expect on the day.

Panel Interviews

As the name suggests, panel interviews involve being interviewed by a panel of two or more people, usually consisting of a medical and academic representative, and possibly with the addition of a senior medical student and/or a member of the public, known as a ‘lay’ interviewer. 

Generally, the interview will last approximately thirty minutes, although some medical schools request that applicants attend two panel interviews as part of their selection process. This will usually be across one or two days, so you won’t be required to travel to the medical school on two separate occasions, if for instance it is a considerable distance from your home address.

The interview will be formatted as direct questioning and answering, and may include scenarios, in which the interviewers will be assessing how you would respond within certain situations and the skills and qualities this demonstrates.

There has been a decline in the number of medical schools who use panel interviews, however, it remains the chosen approach for some; find out which type of interview your chosen medical school uses here.

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)

The majority of UK medical schools now adopt the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) method for interviewing potential students. Again, you can check which approach your chosen medical school uses here. 

The MMI interview process usually takes up to one hour, during which time you are presented with various stations, each with a different scenario, question or topic which you’re required to respond to during a set time (generally between five and ten minutes). The time you are given to respond to each station, the number of stations and the content of each station, varies considerably depending on the medical school. If a medical school identifies the format of their MMI, you will find this information in our Individual Medical Schools section. 

Your MMI may involve a combination of the following: 

  1. Traditional panel style interview questions or scenarios
    As with the panel interview, these may relate to your personal qualities which make you a suitable applicant, your motivation for medicine, or how you have developed your understanding of the medical profession and the skills needed through your experiences, for example. It may also involve scenarios or discussions relating to medical ethics, NHS topics, etc. 
  1. Role play
    Often these involve scenarios you will encounter as a doctor, such as breaking bad news or discussing concerns with a patient, and you will be expected to role play the situation, usually with an actor. There’s an endless variety of role play scenarios you may encounter, but crucially they will be assessing your ability to empathise with others, your communication skills and your listening skills. 
  1. Tasks involving relaying information
    These may include general topics, for example watching or reading a short piece before sharing or discussing the information, providing instructions for a simple task or explaining a common concept; it could also potentially involve an academic element, for example explaining a medical topic in an easy to understand way. However, the task is not evaluating your medical knowledge, but rather your ability to simplify information and communicate it to others in a clear and concise manner, making it easy to understand; this is a key skill as a doctor, as you will need to explain complex medical information in a patient friendly way. 
  1. A group task or group interview
    Although you won’t know what task you will be asked to complete with this type of station, you’ll be aware that it’s your communication skills, teamwork and possibly leadership skills which will be assessed and are therefore key to performing well. This type of station is sometimes used by medical schools which adopt a problem-based learning method, as it assesses your suitability for this teaching style, ensuring that you will thrive within the curriculum offered. 

When you approach each station you will typically be presented with instructions relating to the task and given approximately a minute to prepare; although this may not be the case with traditional panel questioning. It’s essential that you use this planning time to identify what skills and qualities the task is assessing and how you will demonstrate these to the interviewer, consider how you will approach the task and what you may encounter during it. 

At each station your performance will be graded by a trained assessor against set criteria; depending on the medical school, the assessors will be a combination of university staff, healthcare professionals, medical students, members of the public and patients. 

Bear in mind that there is a time pressure associated with the MMI, as you need to complete the task or answer the questions within the given time. This presents you with the challenge of demonstrating the skills and qualities which they are assessing, in a relatively short period of time. However, on the positive side, if you don’t perform as well as you would like on one station, each station presents a new opportunity to showcase your skills, so remain focused and optimistic.

Due to the ongoing efforts to reduce contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s the possibility that any interview you’re offered may be conducted differently during this time, particularly in relation to whether you’re invited to the medical school to interview in person and the scale of any MMI interviews. For any medical school which has confirmed that their interviews will be conducted online for entry for the academic year 2021/2022 this is highlighted in the Individual Medical Schools section. The Medical Schools Council has also produced ‘Guidance for candidates taking online interviews’, which you may find useful.

Interview Preparation Tips

Our guide will provide you with the topics you’re likely to encounter during your interview, as well as advice on how to approach each one, to support you to prepare fully and feel confident going into your interview. 

Before you get started, the following tips will help you to get the most out of your interview preparations:

  1. Keep a notebook of anything that you think will help you
    Possibly the biggest help when it comes to preparing for your interview is making a habit of writing down useful information or experiences as they occur, so you’re not struggling to remember things when you’re practising interview questions. This could include anything interesting that you read – perhaps it’s a journal piece, a medical related news article, or additional reading you’ve carried out following a project or piece of work – as well as your reflections from any work experience or volunteering that you’ve carried out. This will help you immeasurably when it comes to preparing good examples for areas you may be asked about at interview.
  1. Make the most of your opportunities
    Work experience is invaluable for understanding more about working in a care role; however, it doesn’t need to be your only source of information. Make the most of any opportunity to talk to people whose experiences you can learn from. For example, if you know someone or meet someone who works in the medical profession ask them questions and find out about first hand experiences. The same goes for if you attend an open day at your chosen university; if you have the opportunity to, ask current students about their experiences, what do they like about the university and the area, and if they’re medical students, what they like about the course. You can then draw on these conversations to support your answers and demonstrate your understanding and interest in medicine and the medical school you are interviewing for. 
  2. Practise with others as much as you can
    Your interview is the final hurdle to receiving an offer to study medicine, so it’s vital that you dedicate time to preparing well. If you can, getting other people to ask you questions will give you the opportunity to practise answering under pressure and without knowing what is coming next. The less familiar you are with the person asking the questions the better, as naturally you’ll be more comfortable with someone you know well, so this will help replicate the interview experience better. Also, practise by using different questions around the same topic and questions which are similar to each other but worded differently, as this will help you to experience different questions and avoid your answers becoming too rehearsed. 
  3. Avoid rehearsed answers
    As we’ve just mentioned, you want to avoid your answers sounding rehearsed, as this will be obvious to the interviewers and it’s not what they’re looking for. It’s also difficult to predict what each medical school will ask, so preparing set answers is not an easy task or the best method of preparing for the interview. Focus on preparing for topics, skills and characteristics which you may be asked about, and having good examples of work experience, extra curricular activities, volunteering etc., ready to support your answers.
  4. Answer the question given
    It’s important to prepare answers for general topics rather than set questions, as it helps you to actually answer the question the interviewer is asking, rather than trying to bend it to suit something you have already prepared; interviewers will not only notice this, but it also makes it harder for them to score you points if you’re not answering the question they’ve set. The more variety of interview questions you practise with, the easier it will become to identify what the question is asking you and ensure that you address it in your answer. 
  5. Identify areas for improvement
    As you’re working through the various topics, identify where you need to improve – possibly you need to read more around certain topics, or develop particular skills needed for medical school, or gain more experience in particular areas – whatever it is, make time to fill those gaps. If you can give examples in your interview of how you’re developing your weaknesses, this will be viewed favourably, as it shows personal insight and a desire to improve, which we cover in a later section.
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