Interview Question and Model Answer Bank: Work Experience
Converting an interview into an offer to study medicine can feel like the last but also highest hurdle in a successful application to medical school. There are lots of different question types to prepare for, key topics and knowledge to read up on, and also some reflection and organisation of your own thoughts and experiences. This article is going to discuss work experience at interview, how to discuss it effectively and gain the maximum possible marks. A detailed guide to UK medical school interviews in general can be found here and a good place to start is Interview Question and Model Answer Bank Skills.
Structure and Reference
One of the major mistakes that people make in medical school interviews is that they don't reference their work experience unless they are directly asked. They discuss things in a non-specific way or respond to scenarios in the hypothetical without ever directly linking it to experiences they have had. If you feel like you can draw parallels between your work experience and what you're discussing as part of a question then you should absolutely draw upon it. This shows wider reasoning skills and demonstrates you have seen or understand some of the key issues raised within the question.
Example: Are doctors always right, because they have more knowledge than their patients?
"I would say that although it can be tempting to assume that people with more knowledge are more likely to be right, we can't say definitely that is always the case. Doctors have a lot of medical knowledge and have spent years studying, but patients are actually experiencing the symptoms and living with the conditions they have, so they might know more about some aspects than others. I believe it's possible for doctors to get things wrong, and that they shouldn't always assume they are right." This is a solid answer, it has good vocabulary and knowledge, and it would score middling marks.
"I don't necessarily agree with this statement, as I believe that both the doctor and the patient can be equally valuable in making plans as part of shared-decision making. Doctors can be very knowledgeable about conditions and medications, but this doesn't mean they are infallible. On my work experience I witnessed a junior doctor making a prescription error, they prescribed a greater dose than was necessary. They spotted their mistake and rectified it before their medication was delivered to the patient, but they still apologised to the nurse who would've administered the medication and made a note about reflecting on their mistake later. I've learnt from this experience that even the most knowledgeable doctor can make mistakes, and we have to be mindful of that in our practice." This answer is more detailed, and the example used refers to work experience and demonstrates a greater understanding and awareness of the issues raised by the question than the non-specific answer above.
Another great way of securing greater marks in a work experience interview question is by making use of a structure. Structuring your answers in a general way, as opposed to learning a large script, can mean you give the examiner the 'headlines' of what happened and make it easy to discuss without getting confused or flustered about what you've told them. We recommend use of the SCARE mnemonic to help with structure in interviews:
Scene : what happened – describe who you were in the scenario, why you were there, what you saw or experienced
Challenge : why was it hard – although challenge might usually be in reference to something negative, you can also refer to positives in this section like how you saw a GP overcome a communication barrier with a patient who had English as a second language
Action : what did you do – you might not have been directly involved in the issue or resolution, if not then talk about what the people involved did
Result : what was the consequence, remember to consider the patient's perspective here!
Evaluate : what did you learn – in order to complete any discussion around work experience, you always have to mention something that you learned and will take forward yourself
"Tell me about your work experience."
This can seem like a really non-specific question and feel like a challenge to answer. There are a couple of different ways you can tackle it such as a skills-based approach or a scenario-based approach. In a skills-based approach you look at key skills you've read about in the GMC's Outcomes for Graduates, seen on the universities person specification for medical students or perhaps identified yourself. Then when you discuss work experience you can describe it based around these skills, where you saw them and how you demonstrate them yourself.
"I was very fortunate in my work experience to shadow some Orthopaedic surgeons in a hospital environment. Over the course of two weeks they included me in ward rounds, clinics and I also was allowed into theatre. During that time I enjoyed interacting with the junior doctors and witnessing their knowledge and clinical skills that they'd developed over their time at medical school to undertake things like cannulating patients. One of them allowed me to assess a patient and auscultate their chest and it was great to pair some anatomy I learned from my A-levels with a real patient. I also spent some time with the consultant in his clinic, where he discussed various different operations and joint replacements with patients before their scheduled theatre date. Watching him communicate effectively with a diverse group of patients from different backgrounds made it clear to me how important communication skills are. I've begun to develop these myself as part of my volunteering at a care home over the past year. I will incorporate some of the consultant's communication tactics into my own volunteering going forward."
A scenario-based approach looks at one particular example in a lot more detail and really gets into what happened and what you learned from it. With this style it's important to pick something you can speak about in real detail, not something you've got a general impression of.
"As part of my work experience I was working part time in a nursing home, and I was able to interact with a lot of patients with dementia. My role within the team was to support residents with washing, eating and general daily activities and providing some emotional assistance for them at times. I got on particularly well with one resident who I got to know over the course of several shifts. During one shift a few weeks ago, this resident became very agitated and was aggressive towards other patients and staff. One of the staff members came to get me to help deal with the situation because they knew I got on with this person well. When I arrived I was able to calm the patient down quite effectively by using soothing language, listening to their concerns and providing support for them. It became clear to me that this was very unusual behaviour for this patient, and when it was raised with the nursing team this patient was found to have a bad urinary infection that must have contributed to their distress and behaviour. Through this work experience I felt so privileged to be able to use my communication, leadership and wider understanding of this patient to help the nursing team and to get the patient the care they really needed. I look forward to developing these skills further throughout the medical course."
We can see that both model answers here are detailed and specific, but use a slightly different format. Depending on the type of work experience you've had, one model may suit you better. The important thing is to be specific, clear and structured in your response to this question!
"What are the most important skills you've identified for a doctor on your work experience?"
Whenever you're directly asked for skills, it's important to have a few ready to discuss at the forefront of your mind and a few examples that relate to them. Whilst writing your personal statement, a great tool can be to pair up several skills with examples from work experience to discuss. This can then be used for exactly the same purpose during your interview preparation. Aside from just listing skills, you really need to give examples of why they were useful in your work experience, and perhaps mention how you plan on gaining those skills or developing them yourself.
"I've identified several key skills during my work experience, the most important are probably communication skills, empathy and teamwork. During my hospital shadowing I was able to see several examples of great communication skills, most notably whenever a nurse was dealing with a patient who was deaf and made a lot of effort to get this patients as comfortable as possible. She took the time to get writing material so the patient could communicate effectively, and not feel so disconnected as no one spoke sign language. I think this also shows an element of empathy, which I saw frequently when doctors spoke to patients about test results in clinic. Acting with compassion always seemed to make these patients feel better, despite perhaps receiving bad news. I also saw brilliant team work, especially every morning on the ward round and at the end of the week when there was a meeting with the multi-disciplinary team to discuss complicated patients. I have identified all these skills as really important, and have tried to develop them myself. I am captain of my school hockey team, and we recently have a semi-final cup match. Throughout the match we had communication in attach and defence, and despite the fact we lost I think we all showed each other a bit of empathy for mistakes we might have made as individuals. We also went back to practice the next week and really worked hard to fix errors, which will mean we're stronger as a team going forward."
We can see that this answer clearly identifies skills in a rule of three right at the beginning of the answer. This makes it clear to the examiner what you're going to talk about, and keeps a structure in your head as you progress. They gave specific examples from work experience, and also linked it back to themselves in a non-clinical context which is a great way of demonstrating that you have the beginnings of these skills and you want to develop them at medical school.
"Based upon your work experience, what are some challenges faced by healthcare professionals?"
This question is slightly more complicated, because it asks a candidate to perhaps focus on some more negative elements of work experience. In medical school interviews they are just as likely to as you about something that didn't go well, as they are about something that went brilliantly. Questions like these test a candidates understanding of the reality of working as a doctor, and that you've been paying attention during your work experience to both the good bits and the bad bits!
"During my work experience I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in at a local GP surgery over the course of several days, and see lots of patient-doctor interaction. I learned a lot during this time, my knowledge of medicine grew as I saw the GP speak with patients with lots of different conditions such as asthma, heart failure and back pain; I also learned a lot about the empathy and communication skills doctors need to show on a patient to patient basis. Throughout my time at this work experience, I really began to appreciate how under pressure GP surgeries are to see a very high volume of patients. My GP started at around 7 o'clock each morning and finished at 7 o'clock at night. Even when they weren't seeing patients they were reading or writing letters, reviewing blood results and organising medication reviews. I also saw that sometimes patients can become upset or aggressive because they've had to wait so long for an appointment, and they can take this out on reception staff or doctors who are really working as hard as they can. I have read several articles in the news about the pressures the NHS is under, the issues with staffing and bed availability in hospital, but I didn't realise how much it affected community healthcare as well. It has opened my eyes to the realities of being a doctor, and I can see now I will have find coping strategies to deal with the pressure than can come with the job."
Although this is a 'negative' question, it's important to always finish with either a positive or an outcome that you plan to undertake to try and mitigate the negative. No one expects you to solve the problems you're discussing, but it's really important that candidates demonstrate they really are aware of the challenges they might face in medicine. This answer would score much more highly than a non-specific wishy washy one that discussed mainly positive things and showed no real insight into proper difficulties!
Interview questions around work experience can seem daunting, but it's important to identify a list of skills or experiences that you feel comfortable to draw upon. You should structure them effectively, make reference to them wherever relevant even if not directly asked, and also mention something specific you have learned and that you would apply to your own practice as a medical student or doctor.
FutureDoc's 1-1 coaching programme offers more help and support to ensure you really stand out as a candidate on interview day, we offer both online and in-person mock interview so you can practice how the real interview day will feel, and ensure you are as prepared as possible.