Work experience is really important for giving you an insight into what working in the field of medicine involves. This is a vital part of preparing for medical school and showing that you are committed to one day working as a doctor. Therefore, it is quite likely and very reasonable that you could be asked to talk about it in an interview.
Although this is a guide for talking about medical work experience in an interview, it is also applicable to any volunteering that you might have done. Here is a 5-step method to help you think about how to talk about your work experience or volunteering in an interview.
1) Review your medical work experience
Your work experience may have been a while ago, so it is important that you remember exactly what you did. Hopefully, you made notes whilst you were observing, or at the end of each day. Re-read through these to remind yourself of exactly what you saw. If you didn’t make any notes, try to make some rough ones now on as much as you can remember. It is important that you have a very good idea of what you did and saw, as this is the basis for talking thoughtfully about your experience in an interview.
2) Prepare your reflections beforehand
The interviewers are unlikely to be interested in the exact details of what you saw, although they might ask you to describe an operation you saw if, for example, you said you had observed a week of surgeries. They are far more interested in what you took from the experience and how you have reflected afterwards on the things you witnessed. It doesn’t matter if you spent three weeks in many different medical wards or a couple of days in a GP, it is vital you demonstrate an understanding of the NHS and what it is like to work in the field of medicine. Consider how you saw different healthcare professionals interacting with each other and patients during your work experience and the different qualities these people had.
3) Extract the key learning points from your work experience
You probably observed many things and came up with lots of things you learned. However, when in an interview you won’t be able to spend half an hour talking about what you learned. Come up with 3-5 things that you learned and a short example from which you drew this learning point. For example, you might have learned the importance of teamwork by observing a multi-disciplinary team or how vital good communication skills are when observing a doctor speaking to an elderly person with hearing loss.
4) Have succinct reflections prepared
In an interview, you do not have lots of time. It is important that you can communicate to the interviewers clearly and concisely, whilst showing them how you have reflected on your experience. These can be broader themes than what you necessarily observed, but things that your experience prompted you to consider. Examples might be what it is like to work in the NHS or what the challenges and rewards of working as a doctor are. It is important to display to the interviewers that you have a realistic view of what working as a doctor involves and what skills and personal qualities are needed.
5) Be genuine and don’t script any answers
Talking about your work experience is like any other interview topic; the more you practise answering questions the better you will get at talking about it. However, you shouldn’t script any answers as this will stop you from sounding genuine. You did your work experience after all, so it should be natural to talk about what you saw and what you learned. Try to have some key points that you aim to cover but don’t practise word for word. You might find it useful to practise different variations of questions with friends. Here are some questions you might want to have a go at answering:
What was one thing you learned from your work experience?
In the context of your work experience, what are some of the challenges of being a doctor in the NHS?
Based on what you observed in your work experience, give 3 qualities of a good doctor and explain why you have picked these.
Practice and thoughtful reflection are key to being able to talk about your work experience in your medical school interview. If you can not only talk about what you saw but also about what you learned, you are well prepared.
Words by Safiya Zaloum
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