How to handle the stress of a medical interview

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It’ll come as no surprise that interviews are considered one of life’s top five most stressful experiences, according to recent polling. Factor in a competitive field such as medicine and the anxiety of heading for your first medical school interview might seem entirely insurmountable. But believe us, you can beat it.

There are a number of things that you can do to better handle the stress of an important medical interview, so that you can step into the room confident and ready to ace whatever questions are thrown your way. Today, we’re going to talk through our top three recommendations for doing just this. Whenever you’re ready, have a seat, get comfortable, and let’s get you ready to smash your medical interview.

1. Practise your interview technique

The age-old saying is true: practice does indeed make perfect. For many of you, a medical school entry interview will be the very first you ever have — so it pays to walk in with any and all experience you can gather, in order to minimise stress. You might have practised with teachers from your sixth form or college, or even had a dedicated workshop to hone your standard interviewing skills for the world of work. However, medical interviews are a cut above the rest — so you should dedicate some time to learning what to expect from a medicine-specific admissions board.

One way to do this is by watching online practice interviews or having a friend or family member ask you medicine-specific interview-style questions. However, according to admissions experts at 6Med, “most students will have both panel and MMI interviews” — better known as Multiple Mini Interviews, which incorporate quickfire knowledge and application-based questions across a number of 10-minute stations.

To prepare for these as well as standard panel interviews, students should ideally practise with trained medical tutors who can bring the knowledge and academic rigour to emulate the dynamic discussion format. This is where it pays to receive some level of tutoring with real medical professionals — or at least have read up on some example interview questions that you can apply your own knowledge and experience too.

2. Prepare with your health in mind

A healthy mind starts with healthy habits, and if you’re wanting to perform calmly in a high-pressure interview scenario, you’ll need to commit in the run-up to the big day. To that end, your first priority should be rest. It’s common knowledge of course that better sleep helps with cognitive functioning and focus, but in spite of this, government data suggest that three-quarters of us get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Sorting your schedule and hitting this threshold will ensure that you turn up composed and ready to go. This communicates loud and clear that you value your own health — which is something of a prerequisite if you’re to be entrusted with the health of others!

With healthy living in mind, you should also keep up a balanced eating regime to fuel your body and mind. The right foods can elevate your performance, so say interview advisers from Firsthand. They explain that “a bad diet (and even one bad meal) can make you feel drowsy, lethargic, and fuzzy-headed. Whereas a healthy diet (and even one healthy meal) can heighten your mental focus and awareness”.

So, what foods do they recommend? You’ll want to enjoy some complex carbs for energy, like oats and wholegrain bread, and lots of vitamins E and B to promote healthy sleep and cognition, found in vegetables, nuts, and leafy greens.

3. Use your rest time wisely

Between each of the rapid-fire MMI stations, you’ll have a moment of rest time to recoup. It’s vital to use these breaks to refresh and clear your mind in anticipation of the next interview. These sessions may well be unlike anything that you’ve ever experienced before, but it’s important to not let this put you off!

If one of the interviews doesn’t go to plan, try to accept it and move on before heading to the next. The MMI format, while daunting, is designed so that you can demonstrate your abilities and enthusiasm for medicine to many different interviewers in short bursts. Even if you feel like you’re making mistakes, take a deep breath and try again with the next.

There’s a science behind this, too — strategic “micro” breaks have been found to boost wellbeing and reduce fatigue when completing tasks, according to a recent review. The literature suggests that recovery phases of just 40 seconds spent away from cognitive-demanding activities can be helpful — so during the interview process, try to take a moment’s respite between questions.

One way to divide up the time is to ask questions back to the interviewer — this can give you moments of break time while also showing that you’re engaged and opening up new avenues of discussion. 

If you can follow these simple stress-busting tips in your interview, you’ll be a shoo-in for the medical career you’ve always dreamed of. And who could be nervous when they’re this prepared? We wish you the best of luck!

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