On the 14th October 2021, InvestIN hosted Breaking into Medical Sciences; a webinar specifically designed for teachers who want to enhance their students’ success in the medical sciences.
The event was led by Dr Julian Pearce (Dermatology Registrar and Academic Clinical Fellow), who gave expert advice on medical school application processes, the vital skills and requirements of a well-rounded applicant and how teachers can support their students’ career goals.
Below is a summary of the event’s key takeaways, with additional downloadable resources.
The field of medical sciences provides students with a vast array of careers and specialisms but also, unprecedented competition. Over the last few years, we have seen applications consistently rising, culminating in the biggest jump for 2021 entry which was up 20.9% on the previous year. However, due to strictly controlled intake targets, more applications does not equal more places available. For students wanting to study medicine, this means the competition is at its fiercest level.
The pandemic has added even more complications for students applying to medical school. Young people have been distinctly affected, having to abstain from extracurriculars, social activities and essential development experiences.
Therefore, it is more important than ever for us to share the knowledge and experience we have at our disposal to support aspiring medical students.
What is Medical Science?
Medical Science covers roles that focus on the maintenance of health, understanding diseases and having an in-depth knowledge of how the body functions; roles include but are not limited to:
- Veterinary Surgeon
Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine Entry Requirements
The expectations for medical science applications vary depending on the choice of university. Most require high GCSE grades in maths, English and science, high A-Level grades in a science-related subject such as biology or chemistry and work experience, in clinical and non-clinical locations.
What are assessors looking for?
The high increase in applications means that those pursuing careers in medical science must stand out from their competition with additional skills, extracurriculars and work experience.
There are many skills assessors are looking for; all which can be gained through work experience, school societies, chores at home or courses .
- Personal organisation
- Communication skills
- The ability to work as a team
How To Prepare
Most medical school application processes require students to attend a formal interview. While the potential list of questions is infinite they often revolve around certain themes that give students a chance to express their interests and motivations for medicine.
Typical Medical School Interview Themes:
- Background, motivation and personal insight
- Your insight to the industry
- Examples of teamwork
- Relevant work experience
- Medical ethics debates
- Medicine and society
Answering Interview Questions
Medical school interviews, like most interviews, can be a stressful process without preparation.
But they don’t need to be.
Medical school questions are always based around certain themes so the best way to prepare is to find a way to structure answers so they tick all the boxes.
One particular structure that enables interviewees to answer questions clearly and concisely is the STARR technique.
The STARR Technique
The STARR technique is a great way to help structure your answer to example-based interview questions as it helps interviewees to think of situations as a whole. See below how to use the STARR technique along with an example answer to the question “tell me about a difficult situation where you had to use good communication to resolve”.
S - Situation
Set the scene, provide context
Start the answer by setting the scene. It is helpful to think about ‘What’ (what was being done?), ‘Where’ (where did the situation take place?) and ‘When’ (when was it?) when setting up this answer.
Example: I was volunteering at my local dental practise during half term.
T - Task
What was the objective, why was it important?
This answer is probably the most straightforward of the STARR technique. This is your opportunity to state the objective of the task. To make this answer stronger add a small line answering why the task was done this way.
Example: I was doing some administrative work at reception when a patient arrived who was having difficulty communicating. English was not her first language and she was clearly quite anxious on arrival. It was important for me to help this patient to make sure she was comfortable and confident going into the dentist.
A - Action
Describe your action
Here is where you can describe the action you took. Focus on the action itself in detail and remember that it’s not what the team did but what you did.
Example: I remained calm and communicated with the patient in a calm, open manner. I then informed the dentist of the language barrier before her appointment and offered to come into the room. As I had created a rapport with her, I felt a familiar face in the room may make her feel more at ease.
R - Result
What was achieved as a result of the action?
This section of the answer focuses on the results of the action, what was the outcome? If possible, try mentioning a quantitative result.
Example: The dentist was able to spend more time preparing and I was able to assist through the appointment. The patient was happier and calmer and the appointment as a whole ran more smoothly.
R - Reflection
What was the lesson? Why would this make the interviewee a good doctor/dentist/vet?
The final section should be all about the experience. What did you learn and why does this make you a good candidate for the role in front of you?
Example: I learnt that patience is extremely important and non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expressions and body language) can be just as important as verbal. I think this makes me a good candidate to become a dentist and I understand the importance of good communication, patience and patient care.
Why do you want to be a doctor/dentist/vet?
This answer needs to be clear and articulate. Consider the attributes that would make a good doctor/dentist/vet and why this profession is the right one as opposed to another caring profession.
What do you feel are the good and bad points about being a doctor/dentist/vet?
This is asking your opinion on the positives and negatives of a job in medical science. This requires you to do your own research on websites such as NHS Careers. Positives could include job satisfaction and negatives could be the shift patterns.
What do you think makes a good team?
Consider a time you have worked within a successful group or team and reflect on what made them successful.
What have you gained from your work experience/hobbies/community work?
Cover what skills you developed during your work experience and how this will help you be successful in a medical position.
Do you read medical publications?
You will not be expected to be reading complex medical publications but there are ones made specifically for students, such as BMJ Student and The British Student Doctor.
What is a medical advancement or issue you have heard about recently?
This is quite a broad question so research is essential, journals are excellent sources of information regarding advances and issues.
What single healthcare intervention could change the health of the population the most?
This requires you to think about why this single intervention would be impactful, an example of this and, if possible, statistics.
How do you cope with stress?
A medical career will be demanding in various ways, admissions tutors will be looking for candidates who are able to point to specific examples that demonstrate that they cope well and perform under pressure. However it will also be important to showcase the strategies that you currently implement to manage your time effectively and that you recognise when to reach out for support when wellbeing and performance may be suffering.
How would you approach a patient who refuses life-saving treatment?
This type of question leads into the medical ethics debate, a topic you should read around to allow you to think about different perspectives and articulate your answers clearly and concisely.
- Educators should encourage students to role-play using medical school interview questions so they can assess their knowledge and how they articulate their thought process whilst listening very closely to the question.
- Support students by prompting them to develop and build employability skills through extracurricular activities and work experience. Students should be able to confidently talk about the skills they have gained.
- Create opportunities for students to practice interview scenarios and techniques. Students can give feedback to each other and learn from each other too.
- The opportunities in medical sciences are endless so open students minds to the roles out there!
Want to get your student started straight away? We have created a free resource breaking down the STARR technique, questions for students to practice and resources for them to expand their knowledge with.
Keep the discussion going with other teachers over on Twitter @InvestIN_Ed
Not sure how to help your students choose a career? An InvestIN programme offers a comprehensive insight into an industry, so students can test drive a career before committing to it. Industry experts will guide students through immersive career simulations, hands-on activities and inspiring site visits, whilst also giving detailed advice on how to succeed. View our Medical Science and Psychology Programmes.