Work experience is a very common theme for interviews as it allows medical schools to see what you have gained from your insight into medical environments. When answering questions, it is important not to fall into the trap of simply describing what you saw and did, without analysing and reflecting on it.
Instead, you should relate your observations to your ideas about what makes a good doctor, and how you are suited to this career. This is similar to what you will have written in your personal statement, but in an interview you will be expected to expand your answers and show that you have really understood what you have written, as well as adding things that you did not have the opportunity to write about.
In this blog, I have highlighted some examples of important personal traits commonly observed in healthcare professionals, giving you tips on how to effectively talk about them in your interviews.
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You may have seen a doctor working well with others in the team. This, in itself, is just an observation; you must analyse it. What made them a good team player? Perhaps they communicated well, or were effective in delegating tasks. You may have seen them treat others with respect, or helped another team member who was experiencing difficulty.
Next, you should think about why such behaviour is important in medicine. Our healthcare system relies on teamwork, as no one individual can do all the jobs that are required. Good teamwork is important to ensure that the system works smoothly, thereby improving job satisfaction for staff, and ensuring that patients are well cared for.
Finally, consider how you embody the trait of being a good team player. Link your reflection on your work experience to your own strengths and experiences; for example, highlight the fact that you are on your school sports team, or have a job that involves working in a team. Discuss what makes you successful in your team and how you can transfer this skill into a medical career.
Good communication is vital to being a good doctor, but most people know that; you need to take this statement a few steps further in your interviews. Take an example you observed and show that you understand what was required for good communication in that scenario. For example, you may have seen a doctor breaking bad news to a patient, and observed that they gave the information gently, but clearly, giving the patient time to think and ask questions.
Another example of good communication may be a consultation with a very difficult patient, perhaps somebody who is aggressively demanding specific unnecessary medications or treatments. This is clearly a different skill entirely to the first example, but still falls under the umbrella of good communication skills, highlighting the importance of analysing what you saw. In this case, you may have seen the doctor demonstrating patience and politeness in what is clearly a frustrating situation.
Consider why communication skills are important for a career in medicine, thinking about how good communication ensures better patient satisfaction, and how this is in line with a doctor’s duty to always do good for their patients.
Finally, link this analysis to your own skills and achievements relating to good communication skills, for example, your voluntary work in a nursing home, or your job in an after-school club. Whatever your experiences are, talk about how you used your communication skills and what impact this had.
Dealing with high-pressure situations
There is no doubt that medicine is a high-pressure career. It is difficult both in its workload, and the challenging situations which arise on a day to day basis. You may have observed a doctor dealing with such challenges, for example, responding to an emergency on a ward, or dealing with a complication during surgery. How did the doctor respond? You may have seen them remain calm and composed, whilst calling for additional assistance. Perhaps they prioritised the importance of specific tasks in order to make the situation easier.
Next, consider why being able to deal with high-pressure situations is important in medicine. If doctors panicked every time something became stressful, then the healthcare system would not function. For a job which is inherently stressful, it is of paramount importance that doctors are able to deal well with pressure, which also protects the doctor’s own well-being.
Link this reflection to examples of your ability to deal well with high-pressured situations; this could include your involvement in a debate team, working as a waiter/waitress or even learning to drive. No matter what your example is, you can talk about which pressures you faced and how you were able to cope with them to ensure an effective outcome.
How can I apply this?
In this blog, I have given examples of scenarios that display various personal attributes, but you must, of course, look back at your own experiences and apply the same analysis.
Consider this simple framework to help you effectively reflect on what you have learnt from your work experience:
What quality did I observe?
Which actions showed this quality?
Why is this quality important in medicine?
What examples can I give from my own experiences which highlight this quality in me?
You can apply this framework to any other personal attribute you have observed in your work experience, including empathy, leadership, dedication, and many others.