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21. Medical school interviews: Help with interview skills

I am keen to provide help with interview skills to graduate students and school leavers who want to get into medical school. Medical school interviews are seldom like a typical job interview.

Help with interview skills tip 1: Get help!

Given how enormously competitive places are in medical school it can be advantageous to get help with interview skills before your interview. This applies even if you think interviewing skills come naturally to you.

I provide help with interview skills each year even though some of the medical schools specifically say don't get interview skills help! Interview skills training can give you the edge over the other applicants. I have seen it happen each year. 

The interviews are often quite challenging and are usually not standard job interviews. They may be quite foreign to you in the format.

Different medical schools approach their interviews in different ways. However, one of the commonest ways is put the applicants through a series of mini interviews or scenarios. These can be quite challenging so here are some tips on handling them.

Help with interview skills tip 2: Research thoroughly

Research thoroughly what each medical school tells you about their interviews.

I am always surprised when students come to interview skills training and they haven't thoroughly researched the information provided by the medical school that they're applying to. It is usually vital that this be done.

Many of the medical schools will tell you some of the key aspects that are involved in their interviews.

  1. They may give information on the format that they are using.  
  2. They may tell you the aspects they will be assessing for.
  3. If the particular medical school doesn't officially tell you, keep looking. There is almost bound to be information from previous students that you could read.

For example, I've recently been working with someone trying to get into the University of Melbourne medical school and this is the kind of information that we found.

The interview component may comprise up to an 8‐station Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Each station takes 5 minutes and has a single interviewer. The MMI aims to assess non‐academic qualities including: 

  1. Cultural sensitivity.
  2. Maturity.
  3. Collaboration.
  4. Reliability, and
  5. Communication skills. 
The stations could include practical tasks, answering questions, commenting on short films, and explaining your thinking. 

So whether you are trying to get into Monash University Medical School, Notre Dame Medical School in Sydney, or any other key Australian or international medical school make sure you search the web for any information you can find on that particular university.

Help with interview skills tip 3: Tailor your interview preparation

There is no one standard set of scenarios or questions used by all the medical schools. Interview skills training needs therefore to help you tailor your interview preparation for the medical schools that you have specifically chosen.

For example, this is what the Notre Dame Medical School in Sydney describes its process as being.

In addition to your comprehensive academic record we consider you as a person - who you are, what you have done and what you want to do with your life. You get the opportunity to meet us in person at an interview and here we get to answer your questions.

However, I have recently helped someone get into the Notre Dame Medical School and their interview was a comprehensive set of multi mini interviews, and it certainly wasn't a nice casual chat as this may suggest.

In contrast, a description I found during another student's interview skills training, for the University of Western Australia, shows that their emphasis is somewhat different from Melbourne's.

Although the format was similar the aspects they were looking for contained subtle differences. You need to accommodate to these differences when you are preparing for the interview.

Interview criteria (UWA Medical School).

The purpose of the interview is to allow applicants an opportunity to display some of the personal qualities considered desirable in medical and dental practitioners and in pharmacists.

There are seven criteria used in the interview each year. The list of criteria for the interview has been consolidated into nine topics, three of which will be constant across years:

  • Communication Skills
  • Explaining Skills (School Leaver applicants) or Graduate Presentation Exercise (Graduate applicants)
  • Motivation/Commitment to a career in medicine, dentistry or pharmacy.

The remaining four criteria will be selected each year from the following six:

  • Awareness of social diversity.
  • Provision of assistance.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Trust and trustworthiness.
  • Values and ethics.
  • Working with others. 

Preparing for a medical school interview and receiving interview skills training will obviously have to cover far more than just these few points. I am simply providing these tips as a starting place. I encourage prospective students to thoroughly research the medical school(s) they want to enter and then apply all the knowledge they have gained to preparing for the interview(s).

Also, the more that people have researched their preferred medical school before going to interview skills training, the more able they will be to get the most out of the training.

Not sure that interview skills training will help? Here is what one of my students wrote after her training.

Hi Rachel, I just thought I would let you know that I've been offered a Commonwealth-supported place to study medicine at UWA next year. Thank you very much for your help during the coaching sessions! It made a big difference.

Elizabeth Dernie, Perth, Western Australia.

(Personal details changed, by request, for privacy reasons but the feedback is genuine.)