Last term The Careers Group ran the Exploring Graduate Entry into Medicine careers afternoon which was full of advice on medical work experience, personal statements, and interviews.
We heard from speakers based at medical schools including Nottingham, UCL, St George’s University of London, Imperial, Barts, and the University of Oxford on what they want from applicants to their graduate entry medicine programmes; here's what they told us.
Bear in mind that selection criteria and requirements for entry into the different medical schools change every year so you should always confirm any information here with the medical admissions team of the institution you're applying to.
What kind of experience you need
Medical schools know how challenging it can be to get relevant work experience. As you would expect, any experience related to health is valuable e.g. a week in a GP surgery, some time spent on a hospital ward on an organized visit or as a ward volunteer (befriending patients), working in old people’s homes and hospices. It's important that work experience carried out is recent – i.e. during your degree. Indeed, The Medical Schools Council guidelines have stated that there needs to be a demonstrable record of experience just prior to the application. No distinction was made between volunteering activities, work shadowing and formal work experience. One speaker did say that UK work experience was probably more valuable as you are entering a UK health system but if you do have relevant overseas experience you could compare and contrast that with what you have seen in the UK. Shadowing doctors is useful as you will be able to directly observe healthcare, but shadowing isn't essential, there are other ways to find out what the life of a doctor is like.
Relevant work experience (or a range of experiences) should be 1. people focused, 2. help to develop the attitudes and behaviours of a doctor and 3. give a realistic understanding of medical careers. Experience working directly for, and with people is important, such as first aid, working in special schools, voluntary work with community groups and paid employment that involves a lot of work with people and extensive teamwork. Research experience is relevant only if it involves some kind of work / contact with patients.
How to communicate your work experience in personal statements and interviews
A key message with regards to work experience is that you needed to show that you have carefully reflected on what you have seen in healthcare and how your own personal qualities, developed and demonstrated through these experiences, make you suitable for this career.
You can get asked what you discovered about the life and work of a doctor that you hadn't appreciated before. However, although you will have seen tough things, they want to know the good things that you have learnt and appreciate about medicine - don’t be too negative. An important aspect of work experience is to find out about yourself, other people and what doctors do.
The interview process at St Georges consists of a series of ‘Mini Multiple Interviews’ or MMIs. There will be seven different people assessing you, not all of them clinicians, assessing different qualities, whether you have the skills looked for and that you fall in line with NHS values. It is important to be yourself and not to rehearse your answers too much. The school is looking for applicants that display passion. Other things looked for during the interview are ‘probity’ and ‘honesty’, evidence of leadership and decision making, that you will be professional in a situation, and that you fit in with the ethos, mission and values of the school.
Still uses a panel interview format. One thing that the interviewers are looking for is whether applicants are really engaged with becoming a doctor and that the interviewees have reflected on their work experience, for example you might be asked why you engaged with a patient in a certain way and what it meant to you. You should remember that today there is a lot of emphasis in medical training on being a ‘reflective practitioner’. In the interview there will an examination of your teamwork and leadership abilities, your experience, what makes a good leader, team working in the NHS, your personal attributes - how can you both lead a team and interact in a team. One of the panelists may ask ‘what will you bring to the University?’ Later a comment was made that good candidates had a lot of experience and evidence of leadership skills.
This year the interviews will be in panel format, but they are also piloting MMIs (as are many other schools). The panel interviews consist of four half hour sessions. Key things looked for include;
- Can this person interact with patients
- Can they make a good doctor
- Can they assess clinical evidence
- Can they think on their feet and make decisions, solve problems
- How do they multitask under pressure
- Do they know what it is like to be a junior doctor in the NHS
- Do they know how medicine might affect their personal life, and how will they cope
- Can they interact with others, listen and communicate their thoughts about medicine and scientific problems
There was some discussion around ethics questions in interviews. Interviewers will probably want you to make a personal choice and then a good interview panel will argue against you to see how you defend your view point. You must say why you would take a particular course of action - articulating your reasoning is the important part, as long as it’s reasonable and a sensible way to approach patients. Weigh up the pros and cons and also take the patient’s perspective, not just the clinical perspective.
You should give yourself some time to think of your answers, e.g. 30 seconds to one minute. They do their best to get you to relax as it is ‘very difficult to assess nervous candidates’ and that you should see the interview as a conversation. If you get taken by surprise by a question, try to talk your thinking out loud. A concern is that often graduate applicants often don’t know anything about problems in the NHS, a question that often comes after questions relating to problems they saw in their work experience or ethical stories that have been in the news.
Med Schools Council Work experience guidelines for applicants to medicine
General Medical Council's Good medical practice guidance
NHS' guide to studying medicine
BMA's How to become a doctor
UCL Careers' guide to Work experience and volunteering in healthcare
Thanks to Dr Calum Leckie, careers consultant at UCL, for providing the information for this post from the careers day.