'AND THE OSCAR GOES TO-':
AN INSIGHT INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEWS
A sharp pain in the chest and jaw, sweating, nausea and shortness of breath are some of the symptoms of a heart attack (also known by its medical name as ‘an attack of the heart’). As I sat in front of three interviewers in arguably one of the best universities in the world, I repeated this list to myself over and over again. Not because the discussion of the interview was pertaining to heart attacks in any sense, but because I needed to know exactly what level to pitch my performance at, if I was going to fake one in order to get out of the situation I was currently in. This was my first ever medical school interview and from the way I was performing many could have made the case it was also the first time I had ever interacted with another human being.
Just a few minutes prior I had been asked to wait outside the door before I could be let in. As I sat staring at the door, on the other side to which at that point I believed lay the rest of my life, I ran through a mental list of things to never mention in a medical interview. I thought to myself; let me get them out of my head now so there is no chance of them cropping up during what were about to be some of the most crucial minutes of my life.
As I was doing so, one of the interviewers exited from the room and without acknowledging my existence, walked right past me to the toilet at the end of the hallway. My body shook as the sound of his urine, literally shattering the toilet bowl, filled the corridor. I don’t know if it was the nerves but when I say a ‘deafening rumble’- I’m not exaggerating, as I’m sure I saw the portraits of the privileged Caucasians that lined the walls crack. This went on for an hour (two minutes) and I was guided into the interview room straight after.
Now, you all have either already gone through or will go through a medical interview if you’re reading this. However, an ‘interview’ is an interesting term to describe the massacre that took place in that room that day; as my self-confidence, pride, respect and future were all shot point blank one after the other.
I entered the room, shook their hands, smiled and introduced myself as we are all taught to do so. And then it began.
Interviewer: ‘So, let’s get straight into it shall we? Why do you want to read Medicine?’
I got possessed.
That's the only way I can explain what happened.
Let me clarify something; money has never been, is or ever will be a defining factor in my life. I have been raised with the fundamental belief that no matter what you do or how hard you strive for it - it comes and goes, and what stays are the relationships that you form throughout your life. At no point have I ever wanted to pursue a career for something as clichéd as money. Therefore, being possessed seems to be the only logical explanation I can give for the answer that I gave.
Me: ‘Asides from the financial stability and comfortable lifestyle it offers, I want to read Medicine because I am truly passionate about…’
Wait. No, don't panic you can still salvage this. Just keep on going and get to the bit you have learnt word for word about it being a ‘rapidly evolving field meaning it will excite you for the rest of your life’.
Me: ‘…helping people and making a difference in their lives no matter the lifestyle they live which will excite me for your life.’
Interviewer: ‘What do you mean by the lifestyle they live?’
No sir, please, I ask you, what DO I mean by the ‘lifestyle they live’?
Me: ‘As in where they come from, their background, their status or their wealth’.
Some psychiatrists have said that under situations of extreme duress your true nature presents itself. So on top of what was happening here I had to come to the realisation that I was apparently aporophobic (fear of the poor).
Interviewer: ‘Why would their wealth or status, in any capacity ever effect your judgement?’
Because I hate poor people sir. Is that not what the demon inside of me is clearly trying to portray here. Keep up.
Me: ‘Not at all. I just meant that I didn't ever want to treat people differently based on who they are as that is one of the most fundamental qualities of a doctor.’
I did not at all use the word ‘fundamental’ because English was most definitely not what was being spoken during those few minutes. We managed to somehow move on from that disaster and proceed to the next question.
Interviewer: ‘Can you then list me some of the other qualities that you think would make a good doctor?’
Had my life been a movie, this exact point would definitely have been used as the opening of the trailer- because who doesn't love a good comedy?
Me: ‘Passion, intelligence, good communication skills and organisational skills I believe would make a good doctor.’
Interviewer: ‘We realised you didn't mention honesty and integrity. Why is that?’
The honest answer here would be ‘I’m sorry, I’m extremely nervous but yes of course that is vital’. But just like my father, logic and reason refused to make an appearance at one of the most crucial times in my life. So instead of owning up to my mistake I said;
Me: ‘Because I think honesty for a doctor is… is flexible.’
‘AND THE OSCAR GOES TO-’
AN INSIGHT INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEWS
I’m going to need you to brace yourself.
I, did not get an offer from that university.
I know, I’m still shook
Adhering to any advice I may give you from this point on about interview performance may not seem like the wisest option. However, after that car crash I now refer to as an ‘interview’, I went on to do seven more medical school interviews over two years. I received offers from them all including the one I currently am at (obviously). But this experience, without a shadow of a doubt was the reason why.
I know how it feels preparing for interviews. Going through the rigmarole (don't even ask how badly I misspelt this word on my first attempt) of preparing the perfect answers, rehearsing with your friends and families, going on online forums to get your hands on anything that could hint at what that specific interview will be like- can be arduous.
But despite the exhaustive preparations one might do, the panic strikes when you start wondering… ‘how do I stand out?’.
Most people applying will have the same grades, extracurriculars and all round abilities. If they’ve gotten to the interview stage they’re all likely to have similar answers as to why they want to pursue this degree, and they all have done their research when it comes to exactly what is expected of them. So, with a limited number of places how can I ensure I stand out?
This is the question that led to my downfall.
STAND IN, NOT OUT
You could be a poet, a writer- you could be Shakespeare himself, but I highly doubt you have synthesised perfectly unique answers to the common questions asked at interviews. All of us want to read medicine because: a) we want to save lives and help people, b) because it is intellectually stimulating, c) because of the opportunity to learn and teach for the rest of our lives, d) to be in a field that continuously demands that we lead and work together to impact the most important aspect of another human being; their life. So why we are all expected to have ground-breaking insights that must include a tragic story of losing a loved one that triggered a deep passion for Medicine? I didn’t understand. I didn't understand it- because we are not expected to do so.
The interviewers are fully aware that these are the reasons we want to do it. As clichéd as ‘I want to help people’ sounds, to its core it's the genuine truth. But what I learnt after seven interviews was, it’s how you say and present these things that matters, and not so much what you actually present (unless of course like me you’re presenting your plan to eradicate the poor from the planet). Be unique in the way you prove these things, be unique in the way you communicate to them and most importantly- still make sure you cover the basics.
‘Just be yourself’.
Imagine being held up against a wall, with a loaded gun rammed down your throat and being asked to ‘just be yourself’. ‘Myself’ at that point is not in any way shape or form ‘me’. How can it be? So if the circumstances can’t let that happen naturally- act it.
I feel the traditional advice we all get has never helped me; ‘Stay calm’, ‘be confident’, ‘make eye contact’… etc. Basic stuff anyone with common sense knows and I can assure you I made more than enough eye contact as I laid out my apparent plans to deport everyone on the governments social welfare schemes in my first interview.
Meaning I had to find a way to appear confident, collected and calm without actually being so. So I gave seven back to back critically acclaimed performances and all I’d like to point out is, Heath Ledger himself has been real quite since.
To the GMC official reading this, I want to clarify that I am at no point advocating lying, deceit or making false claims in order to secure a place. All I’m claiming is that you have to present yourself in a way that makes you seem like you ‘have it together’- when in fact you lost ‘it’ so long ago that at this point Madeline McCann has more chances of being found. (too soon?)
But nevertheless, after I experienced that trauma there are a few things that I found extremely helpful to know before my other interviews.
1. YOU SHOULD KNOW 80% OF WHATS GOING TO HAPPEN
I would like to begin by personally thanking the individual who came up with the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ because a simple search for any medical school using this term reveals so much. Their interview structure, their marking criteria, their statistics on who they accept, reject and defer, and in some cases even the questions themselves. Thorough research prior to each interview ensured I could predict at least 80% of what was going to be asked.
2. YOU SHOULD KNOW YOUR ANSWERS INSIDE OUT
I can assure you the basic questions do get asked. They will ask; why you want to read Medicine, your strengths and weaknesses, your time-management plans and skills etc. But that just means you have to make sure that you give the exact answer you want WITHOUT making it seem like you have rehearsed it. In one of my successful interviews I was asked; ‘How important do you think leadership skills are in order to become a successful doctor?’.
I took a pause, made direct eye contact and began giving my answers. Occasionally, I looked down at the floor for a few seconds and remain silent- almost as though to indicate I was contemplating deeply about this when in fact I could have rapped my entire answer in a heartbeat. I smiled slowly to myself as though I apparently just remembered a unique anecdote that helps me answer this question. I repeated the dialogue I had learnt verbatim, and threw them off from the beginning by saying things that others probably wouldn't have started with (such as describing the few unsuccessful consequences of my leadership and spinning them into life changing lessons). Every long stare, hesitation and pause was carefully peppered to make it seem as though I was coming up with phrases such as- ‘only by being a member of various teams, including someone on the bottom rung of the ladder, have I truly gained insight into what it takes to become a good leader. Working my way up through the team by learning the specific skill set of each individual helped me realise that the most important thing a leader can contribute is in fact the ability to let his/her team lead in their areas of speciality’. What that exactly means I’m not exactly sure, but the slight pauses, looks and confidence I said it with made it seem as if I had single-handily penned the next book on leadership.
3. RINSE AND REPEAT
Thankfully all interviews are now becoming MMIs (multi-mini interviews) meaning I was able to recycle one example of an effective extra-curricular (Head Boy) to answer literally Every. Single. Question. This ‘Do it like Adam Sandler would’ method has proven to be extremely useful.
BREAK THEIR LEG
The idea of going to an interview and being expected to sell yourself in such a small amount of time is terrifying. And that's ok. Let it terrify you before and let it terrify you after but make sure there is nothing there in that interview. Pretending to not be scared of something I have realised actually works. One thing I did that really helped was channel someone confident, smart and unique in my life and pretend as if though I am them. Unfortunately, at that point I had no one like that, so I opted for the fictional character of Harvey Specter (from Suits) to get the job done. We all love what we do and that's why the thought of not being able to do it one day can be devastating, but remember an interview is just a conversation meant for you to prove exactly that. I have lived through them enough times to know that the people on the other side were at one point in time, where I am right now so literally act as if they are you and answer in a way that would make you buy what you yourself are selling.
But then again, what do I know?
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