What to Wear to your Interview

This is a question that causes a lot of people undue stress, and one that thankfully has a fairly simple set of answers. Of course, there is no ‘golden ticket’ dress code, just as there is no perfect answer for interview or infallible revision tip with which to ace the UKCAT. However, I still recommend planning ahead what you’re going to wear on interview day so you have at least one fewer thing to stress over.

You should always dress suitably to the situation you are expecting, so let’s analyse this aspect first. What do you want to communicate about yourself to the interviewer via your clothing, or rather what are they likely to think when seeing you for the first time? The medical school is recruiting for future doctors, so ideally you should look smart, reliable and be generally well-presented. It is better to wear more subdued clothing because that way the interviewer is not provided an instant reason to dislike you - leave the ostentatious items at home.

This is of course even more true if you’ll be attending an MMI-format interview, where you’ll be making a crucial first impression multiple times.

Please note - the following recommendations are not hard-and-fast rules for acing your interview. Instead, they are tried-and-tested fashion combinations that would be appropriate for business wear and considered ‘safe’.

Making a good impression is crucial.

Making a good impression is crucial.

For Men:

As with most formal occasions, I think men have it much easier, because you should be wearing a suit. Opt for a dark colour, such as black, grey or navy blue. Make sure that the jacket fits well around your shoulders when you’re buying it, because it is extremely difficult to alter the width of the shoulders, whereas the sleeve length is easier for a tailor to fix. Similarly, your trousers should fit you well in the waist, and the length can be fixed afterwards to suit (no pun intended).

A black or grey suit should usually be paired with black shoes, but you could opt for brown as well, particularly if worn with a blue suit. Your shirt should be a light tone that contrasts the jacket - plain white or a light blue is safe. I recommend wearing a tie, the colour of which should again contrast the colour of the jacket. For dark suits, I would recommend a red or blue tie with a simple pattern or no pattern at all, although any plain colour would be ideal.

Accessorise with a watch and tie clip, unless wearing a waistcoat. Your belt should match your shoes. The reason I say this about watches is that pulling out your phone to check the time if you need to looks incredibly unprofessional, even in this age. Make sure that any facial hair is well-groomed, with clean shaven being arguably the safest look, but I think virtually anything (including stubble) can work well as long as it’s tidy. If you wish to wear cologne or aftershave, choose something subtle and not heavily fruity - these are better saved for clubs.

If for some reason you are unable to find a well-fitting suit in time (as I was not, because I received the call to interview during the Christmas holidays) then I would recommend pairing a pair of black formal trousers with a dark V-neck jumper over a collared shirt and tie. All other rules apply as before, and definitely don’t wear a tie clip in this case.

Female-friendly update coming very soon!

Interview Question: Organ Transplant Dilemma

Suppose you’re a surgical consultant in charge of assigning organs on a transplant list, and a liver becomes available. Your hospital currently has two patients that urgently need the transplant; a 14 year old girl, and a 33 year old man with two infant children who is a regular drinker.

This is a pretty dire situation, because whatever your choice, someone is going to die and you might feel you like you have indirectly condemned them. However, without treatment, it is likely that both patients will die anyway, and therefore it is important that the chance to treat someone be seized.

The very first thing to do is work out which of the patients are a biological match for the transplanted organ. If either of them isn’t, that ends the dispute immediately. Mechanical factors could also be considered - meaning whether the size and shape of the donor liver would suit each patient and whether the procedure would be substantially more difficult in either of them, for example if one of them had hemophilia.

In the UK, only around 1% of organ donors die in circumstances where their organs can be safely donated to another person.

In the UK, only around 1% of organ donors die in circumstances where their organs can be safely donated to another person.

There are then an enormous number of circumstantial factors that could then be assessed. For example, the father patient has a history of drinking, although the question does not say to excess. Might the teenage girl be more responsible with the liver and avoid heavy drinking? Demonstrate to the interviewer that you are aware that many of these social elements can be important in making the choice.

Perhaps the most important concept is that of Quality of Life (QoL). Which of the patients stands to gain the most with regards to long-term prognosis as a result of the transplant procedure? This is difficult to measure, but the Quality-adjusted Life Year is the most commonly used method. Essentially you’d wish to know which patient would live the largest number of years with the highest level of health - the girl has longer to potentially live, but would this necessarily be in the same health state as the father if something went awry during the operation?

Is it right that a heavy drinker should get a liver transplant over a non-drinker? These questions are very important for systems with constrained resources such as the NHS.

Is it right that a heavy drinker should get a liver transplant over a non-drinker? These questions are very important for systems with constrained resources such as the NHS.

You may also consider the social impacts of your choice. The parents of the teenager are likely to suffer very badly emotionally if she were to die, due to her not having lived a full life, which would seem a great injustice. Conversely, the QoL for the two infant children would also likely be negatively affected by the lack of their father if he were to die.

Your interviewers will not expect you to choose ‘the right answer’ in these scenarios, as very often (if not always) the questions are designed such that one does not exist. Avoid jumping to a conclusion very quickly, as it’s all about how carefully you can assess the situation and consider as many factors as possible. Do choose an answer and provide solid reasoning to back it up, but always communicate that there are valid arguments on both sides.

Interview Question: Consequences of an Ageing Population

Medical advances inevitably result in citizens living longer lives, which we can all agree is basically a good thing. However, this results in a population that is not only larger overall, but also older on average. This change presents its own particular challenges for many aspects of society in the UK, including employment, economics and of course, healthcare. As of 2011, 16.4% of the population was aged 65+, but this value is increasing all the time. It is estimated that by 2039, 1 in 12 people will be older than 80!

Older patients have a much higher frequency of certain chronic conditions than average, such as heart disease and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). This will require more support staffing in these areas, which may divert funds away from other departments if the budget cannot be increased.

Another obvious factor is that of frailty - older individuals can typically not move around as easily, and may be at greater risk of damage from common injuries such as collisions and falls. They also are more likely to need longer periods in hospital or in care elsewhere, as well as provision of mobility aids (wheelchairs, scooters and the like) and in-home care or social workers.

Medical care is extending lifespans further and further, with ever-increasing costs

Medical care is extending lifespans further and further, with ever-increasing costs

Furthermore, as older patients are more likely to suffer from multiple concurrent illnesses, this can often make their healthcare needs more complex, which in turn increases pressure on multiple NHS departments to meet with the patient and communicate between themselves. Additionally, this means longer stays in hospital which reduces the number of beds available for other patients, which is one of the most common causes of delays in treatment.

This all means that in a time of intense budget cuts and staff shortages, NHS services can become very stretched, particularly during the winter. This is true both of ambulance services and GP offices - three out of ten ambulance trusts in England declared a critical situation in the winter of 2014.

3 of 10 English ambulance trusts declared a critical situation in 2014.

3 of 10 English ambulance trusts declared a critical situation in 2014.

Certain steps could be taken to mitigate the effects of the aging population, which mostly centre around lifestyle changes. The UK government published the public health ‘White Paper’ in 2004 which aimed to improve public awareness of these changes, which include healthy eating and physical exercise every day. Additionally smoking was banned in all workplaces in 2007.

These changes aim to improve the health of every member of society such that chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are less prevalent, and prevent them from acting as such a large drain on NHS resources in order that better healthcare can be provided for everyone. This way the problems can be reduced in advance rather than than requiring very expensive treatment later on.

Interview Question: Sharing Exam Information

You are a second year medical student and have just finished your final exam of the term. On your way out of the venue, you hear several classmates talking and it becomes clear that they are writing down the questions and answers to give to the students taking the exam next year. What do you do?

This is a question that above all things tests integrity. There are many good responses that candidates could provide, but here are a few example talking points to make sure you’re covering a few bases in the interview.

Firstly, speaking to the friends in confidence first is always a good starting point. Their intentions seem to be good in helping their fellow medical students, but of course sharing the information with other students is cheating. Of course speaking pragmatically, they might feel like they were reducing the stress of younger students and therefore doing a positive thing.

Exams are there for a reason, and in medicine they're important for patient safety

Exams are there for a reason, and in medicine they're important for patient safety

However, it interferes with the examination process which is not only dishonest, but medical exams are intended to prepare doctors for practice and exposure to the public. Cheating might leave gaps in crucial areas of knowledge which the exams were supposed to identify. Furthermore, if a large number of students gets all the answers right in the next year, then disciplinary action could be taken against your friends if the academic staff found out what had happened.

The next step might be to establish whether this type of information has been distributed amongst students before, for example to your friends by older students. If this is a problem affecting a large number of people, it warrants further investigation by academic staff.

In terms of resolving the situation, it would be ideal to recommend that your friends do not go ahead with sharing the exam information and give them the chance to do so. If that doesn’t seem likely, at that point it would be worth discussing in private with your tutor before taking further action.

Fairly obviously, don’t agree with the friends and don’t offer to help them.

Interview Question: Lost Blood Sample

Imagine that you’re a medical student on placement or junior doctor on a hospital ward. A patient’s blood sample has gone missing, and you need to explain to them that another one needs to be taken.

It doesn’t have to be blood - it could be stool, urine or some other bodily substance of your choice. This is a common type of question, which combines a number of issues. The best way to approach these scenarios is to consider what the patient might see from their point of view when faced with this scenario.

Firstly, the concept of their privacy. Blood bottles can feature a patient’s first name and surname, their ward, their date of birth and more besides. At the very least, this information is now in the open, and potentially visible to anybody else on the ward, including other medical staff, patients and even visitors. Because this information is supposed to remain entirely confidential, the patient might think that a breach of trust has occurred.

Secondly, having a blood sample taken is not a comfortable procedure at the best of times for many people, particularly if multiple attempts were needed. Because of a hospital mistake, they have to undergo this pain again.

Blood sample being taken (Image: US Navy)

Blood sample being taken (Image: US Navy)

The last talking point you could consider is that of delayed test results. Because the first sample has been lost, another must be taken which involves coordinating the required staff (a doctor, nurse or phlebotomist) and sending the collected sample for testing once again. This by necessity results in the tests taking longer to come back, which may cause additional stress in patients anxious about their condition.

The key thing to remember when approaching communication, as with all answers in these scenarios, is to be completely honest. Absolutely do not use euphemisms such as ‘a small mishap’, and remember to be polite when delivering the news. You should listen very carefully to any concerns the patient has, and do your best to explain that you empathise with them.

Some stock phrases you might use for inspiration:

“Mr Johnson, I’m very sorry but there has been a mistake and your blood sample has been lost in the hospital. We need to take another from you, and I apologise that you have to go through that again during a time that must be stressful for you. We will do our very best to maintain your privacy and will get the results to you as quickly as we can.”

“I’m very sorry Mrs Lindham, we don’t know the whereabouts of the blood sample that was taken from you yesterday. In order to get your results back to you quickly we need to take another one. I completely understand if this frustrates you and I’m deeply sorry for what has happened, but we want to do the best we can for you moving forward. Please let me know if you have any concerns.”

Simply put, own the mistake, be courteous and deliver the news in as straightforward a manner as you can. The patient has every right to be irritated or upset, so hear them out and make sure they know that you have taken their views on board. They must be absolutely clear on what exactly has happened, why it has happened, and what the next steps are.

Interview Question: Why Do You Want to be a Doctor?

This is part of my series on medical school interviews. Be sure to check out the rest of the articles on the website to make sure you’re properly prepared when interview day comes around so you can perform at your very best and nail that medical school offer! As with all articles in this series, the following is intended as a rough guide containing talking points and elements to consider, rather than content to be repeated as-is in your interview.

Odd though it may seem, this is a question that can catch medical applicants completely off guard during interviews, and many will unravel extremely quickly. Instinctively 99% of students will simply say ‘I want to help people’, which an admissions tutor can then redirect in any number of ways and doesn’t suggest that much thought has gone into the application, which it most certainly should have done if you’re seriously thinking about committing to a life in medicine.

Try to think what is it about medicine in particular that attracts you?

Try to think what is it about medicine in particular that attracts you?

For example they could very quickly just say ‘then become a paramedic or a nurse. They help people’. When you think about it, an enormous number of occupations involve helping society in one way or another.

What you need to do is convey a sense of purpose and confidence, that gives the impression you have a solid reason you feel that specifically medicine above all else is the correct choice for you as a person. What is it SPECIFICALLY about the art of medicine that attracts you, and why do you think you’d be good at it?

For example, doctors routinely have to combine information from many sources (patient histories, blood samples, physical examinations etc) in order to solve problems and work out the diagnosis. If you enjoy science as well as problem solving, that would be good to mention. Better still, if you could provide an example from your own studies that combines these two aspects, that will sound much more convincing.

"When you think about it, an enormous number of occupations involve helping society in one way or another"

In terms of addressing the idea of why other healthcare roles might be unsuitable for you, doctors are ultimately in control of the care that a patient receives, and wield the most administrative power in doing so. While nurses and auxiliary care staff deliver treatment, the doctors decide what form it should take. If you feel that you want more of a say in this first stage of care then you’d be good for medicine, but be sure to make the point that this places a very large responsibility on you and you alone, which you must bear should anything go wrong following your decision.

Of course if you’re a graduate entrant to medicine (like myself) then you may well have worked in a clinical setting before. This might also of course be true if you did some volunteering in a hospital setting as a younger applicant. In this case try to reflect on the working environment - doctors can often be team leaders and you could talk about having led teams yourself.

Doctors are responsible for the treatment patients receive, but crucially also any mistakes

Doctors are responsible for the treatment patients receive, but crucially also any mistakes

Equally if you’ve had some experience in your own life, which could be seeing relatives treated in hospitals or having witnessed an accident with doctors present and seen them take control of the situation and reassure everyone, they can be good to talk about. My own answer is along these lines, which you can read more about in another article to come.

You might reflect on that most sacred of bonds, the doctor-patient relationship. While this has been restricted somewhat in recent years by reductions on consultation times, as a doctor your responsibility is not to your NHS trust or to your hospital’s clinical targets, but to your patients. It is an immense privilege that doctors are afforded, and if you can recognise how important that is and why you think you should be trusted with it, that would go a long way.

"as a doctor your responsibility is not to your NHS trust or to your hospital’s clinical targets, but to your patients"

Finally, I think a great but simple thing would be being able to come home at the end of every day and knowing you made a difference to somebody’s life. Be careful with this, because it won’t always be positive, and an interviewer could then follow you up on it. That is the great curse of the medical profession, particularly in dangerous fields like neurosurgery where mishaps are relatively more common and the actions of doctors can have very long lasting, debilitating results for their patients.

With this question, perhaps more so than any other you’d be asked in a medical school interview you MUST be honest. Absolutely do not try to fluff up your answer by giving false narratives or regurgitating buzzwords. Take a breath before you speak, look your interviewer in the eye and tell them plainly and simply why you want to be a doctor. This is a question all about self-reflection, there are no extraneous factors at play. Tell the truth, and it’s smooth sailing from there.